After more than 40 years, Grand Funk Railroad just keeps chugging along.
“I actually did try retirement for a little while, and retirement sucks,” says Grand Funk founding drummer and vocalist Don Brewer, 64. “It’s much more fun to be out in front of an audience doing what we love and getting together with the guys. It’s a wonderful thing.
“Now we see three generations of people out there that know the songs. We’ll see grandparents and parents and kids out there singing ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ and ‘I’m Your Captain’ and ‘We’re An American Band.’ ”
Grand Funk performs Saturday at Gold Strike Casino’s Millennium Theater (1010 Casino Center Drive, Tunica Resorts, Miss.), with fellow soulful ’70s rock band War opening.
“It’s a nice bill,” Brewer says of the pairing, which came about through shared management. “The music is very compatible. It’s very happy and uplifting. It’s all based on R&B. Ours is more rock flavored. Theirs is more Latin and funk flavored.”
Brewer, guitarist Mark Farner, both previously of Terry Knight and the Pack, and bassist Mel Schacher of ? and the Mysterians formed Grand Funk Railroad in 1969 in their native Flint, Mich., adapting their name from the Grand Trunk Western Railroad line there. Throughout the ’70s, the group’s working-class bar-band style made them one of rock’s top acts — they broke the Beatles’ record by selling out Shea Stadium in less than 72 hours — even if the critics largely dismissed them.
“We had a manager (former band mate Knight) that loved to tick off the critics; that’s why they hated us,” says Brewer, alleging that Knight, whom the band fired in 1972, tried to portray himself as the band’s Svengali.
“We took a lot of heat because him, but the it doesn’t matter. The audience got it. It kind of endeared us more to the audience because they would pick up the paper and see the critics slamming their favorite band.”
Grand Funk broke up in 1976. They reunited briefly in the early ’80s, releasing what has so far been their last studio album, What’s Funk, before parting in 1983. Then they got back together for good in 1996.
Farner, who in the intervening years had built a solo career, left the band in 1998. Original members Brewer and Schacher have performed for the past 13 years with a lineup that includes lead singer Max Carl, formerly of Jack Mack & the Heart Attack and .38 Special; one-time Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick; and keyboardist Tim Cashion of Bob Seeger and Robert Palmer’s bands.
“It’s true to the spirit of Grand Funk,” says Brewer of the band. “Grand Funk was always about a live show and getting out there and getting the audience on their feet and having a good time, and that’s really what we still do.”
Showtime for Grand Funk Railroad and War is 8 p.m. Tickets are $39.95 and $49.95 and are available at the gift shop, by phone at 888-747-7711, and through Ticketmaster. For more information, call 662-357-1111 or visit goldstrike.com.
Also in Tunica ...
Veteran Mississippi soul singer Willie Clayton performs Saturday in the Great Hall at Fitzgerald’s Casino (711 Lucky Lane, Tunica Resorts, Miss.).
The Indianola native grew up in Civil Right-era Mississippi but moved to Chicago in the early ’70s, where he quickly became a club favorite. A chance meeting with Hi Records mastermind Willie Mitchell brought him back down South, where Clayton made his first mark with singles like “I Must Be Losin’ You” and “It’s Time You Made Up Your Mind” on Hi’s Pawn subsidiary.
Beginning in the ’80s, Clayton recorded for a succession of companies and established himself as a star on the synthesizer-fueled soul-blues circuit. His latest album — fairly titled, after more than 40 years in the business, I Am Rhythm & Blues — came out last summer.
Showtime for Willie Clayton is 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $30 and are available at the casino gift shop, by phone at 800-745-3000, and through Ticketmaster. For more information, visit fitzgeraldstunica.com.