Interview: Mark Farner (solo, Grand Funk Railroad, Ringo Starr)

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HIT CHANNEL EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: September 2012. We had the great honour to talk with a legendary musician: Mark Farner. He was the frontman, lead singer, lead guitarist and songwriter of Grand Funk Railroad, one of the most successful American bands of all time. After the break-up of the original line-up, Mark started an acclaimed solo career and had been a member of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band. His last solo album is the amazing “For The People” (2006). Read below the very interesting things he told us:


How did the North American summer tour go?

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It was fantastic! The band, we came out and rocked and danced and we all had a good time.


Are you satisfied with the final result of your latest solo album, “For The People” (2006)?

As far as the music, yes I’m satisfied. As far as how many people have heard it, no (laughs). I want the world to hear my music, you know brother…


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Yes, that’s why you tour. How close is new studio album?

Very close. We were recording in Boston, Massachusetts as my good friend and agent, Joanna Codi helps me with the work to get these recordings done -a couple of songs- prior to the release of our movie, which is coming out on Public Television, PBS.


Will you have any special guests in your solo album?

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At this point we are very open because of the schedules. However, I asked Rick Derringer (solo, Johnny Winter And), he ‘s quite busy right now, so we have to work out when somebody is available and I’m ready to get in the studio. But, I want to. I have many friends that I would like to play music with.


In 2013 “I’m Your Captain: The Mark Farner Story” documentary will be released on PBS, and in theaters and film festivals worldwide. How much involvement do you have in its production?

Well, I have a lot so far. It’s about my life and my story. You know, I’m from a middle class family, I started a garage band which became very successful worldwide. It’s basically my story. I have a lot of involvement, but we are going to have other testimony from people who are friends of mine, people that I worked with, just to tell their story, to get the whole perspective.


Can you tell us the names of some of the musicians who will participate in?

Rick Derringer, Edgar Winter (solo, Johnny Winter And), Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals, Ringo Starr), Randy Bachman from Bachman-Turner Overdrive… There are a lot of people. It’s just as I said: logistics. There are a lot of people who would like to tell their story and to be a part of this. I think one hour it’s not enough time, but we have to do it in one hour.


Did Grand Funk Railroad feel part of the broader Michigan music scene of that time, along with MC5, The Stooges and Mitch Ryder?

Yes, absolutely. We were out at the same time, we were around Michigan at the same time, but Grand Funk had more than national fame, a worldwide one; the other bands had mostly regional.


Even the classic Grand Funk Railroad albums received some negative reviews when they were released. How much impact had criticism on your career?

It didn’t impact our career negatively. It was an inspiration for us to go and play more music because we had read some of that and we said: “This person definitely wasn’t in our show (laughs). They must had sent someone else in that show, because the audience was going nuts”. We had a very special relationship with the audience because of the lyrics of my songs. In the early days I wrote “People, Let’s Stop The War”, “Save the Land” and I wrote a lot of songs that people would have thought that would have written the same, by themselves.


What do you remember the most from the Shea Stadium show, when you broke The Beatles attendance record by selling out in just 72 hours?

When we flew over the stadium in the helicopter, we looked down and Humble Pie was on stage, which was on the second place, and the crowd was bouncing, bouncing. And I could see it from the helicopter and I said “Wow, we will be playing for 5 hours and they won’t let us quit!” because they were rocking hard.  That was very exciting to see. And as we were landed in the parking lot with the helicopter, limousines should have been there to pick us up. There was no limousine. So, a gentleman who was riding with us went to the corner and got on a pay phone, in a phone booth and in about three minutes we had cop cars all over the place. So, the police took us at the Shea Stadium with the lights of the sirens going. When we got out of the police cars, the audience went nuts! They went crazy, they were so good!


Why the film from the Shea Stadium has not been released yet?

Don (ed: Brewer, drummer and vocalist of Grand Funk Railroad) and Mel (ed: Schacher, bassist of GFR) control that film. They are trying to present a different Grand Funk to the world, right now. But, I feel sad for them because they didn’t tell the fans that I wasn’t in the band, that it’s a different band. They just advertise it as Grand Funk which is a bad form, because many fans don’t know that.


It’s very sad. They just have the brand name, but the main songwriter isn’t there. Just like Pink Floyd in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when Roger Waters wasn’t in the band.

That’s the very same kind of politics and I feel sorry about that. A year ago, I wanted to put the band together for the fans. We all are going to die. We live now and let’s give fans the real thing. But they passed on it. They don’t want to be a part of their show. It’s just like getting a divorce: hard for the woman, hard for the man too.


Do you think the “Live Album” is the best way for a fan to understand the true spirit of Grand Funk Railroad’s music? 

Yeah, I believe so. Mainly, because you get involvement from the fans. You feel the emotion that has been released, you hear that because when you were in our concerts, you became more familiar with our music.


Do you like today “Good Singin’, Good Playin’” album?

Very much. I like the way Frank Zappa did the production.


How was Frank Zappa as a producer? 

He was so good. He drank a lot of coffee. Every time you turned around, he was sending the engineer to make more coffee, more coffee (laughs). But he never did drugs, he didn’t get drunk, he was a very sober individual. He was a genius, a musical genius. He very much liked what we were doing and I think that production is definitely the most unique Grand Funk Railroad production of all time.


Did you enjoy the ’90s reunion of Grand Funk Railroad?

Yes, as a matter of fact. I did really enjoy it. I enjoyed being on stage with the original line-up, the founding members.


In 1995 you joined Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Did you feel a bit surreal being in a band with Ringo and other great musicians like John Entwistle (The Who), Billy Preston and Randy Bachman?

It was a high point for me because I had to play music with the people that I enjoy listening to their things, apart of just being with them. But I got to learn how to play the songs from the guys that wrote them (laughs). So, Randy Bachman taught me some guitar chords, thing that I will appreciate till the day that I die. He helped me be better. He helped me learn more about my guitar, I’m always open for that. I want to learn more things about my guitar.


Pink Floyd opened for Grand Funk Railroad at the State Fair Music Hall in Dallas TX May 23 1970 (look the poster)!! Do you any memories from that show and those guys?

No. I don’t remember anything that I heard.  I remember the audience was enduring force that night and I love that, when a band is close to the audience.


Is there anyone you would like to play with and hasn’t happened yet?

Not really on the top of my mind. Outside of, Bobby Kimball from Toto asked me to tour around USA with Peter Rivera from Rare Earth, the singer and some other guys. “Voices of Rock” that was going to be the name of the tour. But somehow, it didn’t work out.  That was something I really wanted to do because all of them have good voices.


Did you finally tour with them?

No, it didn’t happen ..


Would you like to add something?

At the merchandising is all made in the United States. I still believe in the freedom, not only for the United States, but for the world. Someone who is free, is free at ease. So I help my country, by selling that stuff on my website, but I also support my brothers and sisters who are in our family. Together we seek the freedom and we seek the peace. There are a lot more peace-seekers than those who want the war. We have consciousness and we must oppress that evil. We will rise up and we will do it with our music.


Some months ago your friend Ronnie Montrose committed suicide. Did you have good time playing together?

Yes, as a matter of fact. He had a good-hearted soul. I miss him. I talked with his wife, Lisa, two weeks ago and we had good time on the phone just remembering him, recalling the good spirits in Ronnie.  And I know that when I pass out of this own suit, when my spirit leaves the bones, I will be playing music with Ronnie Montrose.


How do you feel that Grand Funk Railroad is Homer Simpson’s favourite band?

I think because it’s such a big show and so many people watch it, I have many people who are waiting after the show and tell me “Did you know that Homer Simpson likes your music?” , I say “Yeah” (laughs). People keep telling me about this because so many people watch this show.


What kind of music are you listening to this period?

I don’t listen too much. I only hear what my son is playing in the other room, because he’s still paraplegic and he’s down in the elevator, on a life support system, two years now. And he listens to music. When I ‘m going in there, I ‘m listening to whatever he’s listening.  Other than that, I keep my mind open for the songs that haven’t come out of me yet.


Are you proud of the cover to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”? It’s one of the best!

Oh, yes!! I love it. I like the version and it rocks!


How possible is to play soon in Greece?

As soon as somebody ask me. That’s always the reason.  If there is a promoter, I’d love to play in Greece. We will do a big show.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Mark Farner for his time and to Lesia Farner and Joanne Codi for her help.

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