Don Brewer Interview
Grand Funk RR
At Quicken Loans Arena
Don Brewer, drummer and singer for Grand Funk Railroad has been in the music business a long time and is still rocking.
Grand Funk Railroad is still going strong and will be opening up for fellow Michigan native, Bob Seger as he says farewell from touring. Both artists will be playing Quicken Loans Arena on December 6th.
We recently chatted with Don Brewer to discuss this current tour, his long-time friendship with Bob Seger and the future of Grand Funk.
Greg Drugan: Hey Don! Happy Thanksgiving to you, where did you get to celebrate the holiday?
Don Brewer: Thanks! We went to my daughters house and she had a bunch of people over. We had a terrific time. I played football with the grandkids, and almost sprained my wrist. Those little suckers are good!
GD: Drummers don’t need to be spraining their wrists now, you better be careful.
DB: That’s right! (laughs)
GD: So, you just started your tour with Bob Seger, how have the first couple of shows gone?
DB: We haven’t done one yet, so this will be our first one. We’ve been touring all year so it will just be another show for us. It will be fun seeing all the guys in The Silver Bullet Band because I’ve been touring with those guys for thirty-plus years.
GD: You and Bob have been friends for a long time. Did you guys first meet playing around Michigan back in the day?
DB: Yeah, we both had bands way back when. I was in Terry Knight and the Pack and Bob had the Last Heard. We used to play all of the teen-hop places. Places around Detroit and Mount Holly outside of Flint, like a ski-lodge kind of a place that they would use as weekend sock-hops. So that’s where we first met. This would have been 1966, 1967.
GD: You’ve been the drummer in The Silver Bullet Band for the past several tours. Are you pulling double duty playing with both Grand Funk and Bob Seger?
DB: I’m just doing Grand Funk. When Bob wanted to go out last year, they were planning on going out in the summer and that’s Grand Funk touring time. So I couldn’t partake in that. We’ve been going non-stop the past three years. But he’s got a great guy now. We played a show with them last year, before they had to cancel, up in Indianapolis and it was a great show.
GD: I got to see you guys last year and you are still playing and sounding great. Bob has decided that this is his last tour. You don't have plans on calling it quits, do you?
DB: Oh, no! Not yet! (laughs) We still plan to keep going. We are actually planning our 50th Anniversary Tour, we are celebrating 50 years of Funk! This is going to be a great year for us, we have no plans to stop and we are going to continue.
GD: Like I said, you guys are rockin’ as hard as ever. Bruce, Max and Tim seemed to have reinvigorated you and Mel. It really looks like you guys are having fun on stage. How do you keep the energy up?
DB: It’s just great music. We usually do about forty shows a year, so it’s spread out. We don’t get on a bus and do 150 shows a year like some of the guys do. Every time we play, it’s fun! We have a good time. We are like weekend warriors. We fly out on Friday and come back on Sunday and have fun over the weekend.
GD: That’s the way to do it! That’s great! What’s the biggest difference between touring today and back in the ‘70s?
DB: The technology has just tremendously improved. When we first started doing small arenas in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, rock and roll hadn’t gotten to the point where you had big lighting systems and big sound systems. We’d go in to smaller places and it’d be like dirt floor arena for rodeo’s. There were only three spotlights, one for each guy in the band. That was the only lights that there were. You’d get the loudest sound system that you could, just to fill the arena. You didn’t care about the sound quality, just so it was loud. Today, it’s amazing. You have 15-20,000 seat arenas and the sound is just incredible and the lights are fantastic. That’s really the biggest thing. It’s also the equipment we have on stage, no so much the drums but all the electronics and they are just superior to what we had. It’s incredible.
GD: You said that you are more weekend warriors now. So do you bus at all or do you just fly in for shows?
DB: We do all fly shows. We got a back-line company that actually brings our gear so we’re not using different gear. We have our gear coming to us every night. We have a company in Indianapolis that does our east coast and a place in Las Vegas that does the west coast. We just fly in every place.
GD: So that has to be a big difference too, flying in instead of busing around the country.
DB: Oh, yeah. For sure.
GD: You wrote and sang on your first number one hit, “We’re An American Band” what inspired you to write that song?
DB: It really came about because we were looking for hit material. I decided to take my stab at it. We came out of losing really everything to our former manager, Terry Knight and a couple of crooked attorneys. This was 1972. At the same time of going through that, radio had changed from being FM underground to being a hit format. You no longer could do 7-8 minute songs and expect to get played on FM radio. You had to do three minute songs.
We were flying around from town to town and the thought came to my mind, “We’re coming to your town and we’ll help you party it down.” I wrote the song around that because literally, this is what the band does. We come to town and we expect everyone to come party with us. We had four young chiquitas in Omaha and sweet, sweet Connie in Little Rock, we were playing poker with Freddie King and all these little things were going on at the road at the time and I put everything into that song. Finally, I came up with the tag, “We’re an American band” because it sounded good! (laughs) That’s where the song came from. It was really sink or swim time to make that transition to hit radio if we were going to continue. We were just in a huge lawsuit with Terry Knight and we really had to come up with something, and we did.
GD: That’s a great one to come up with. When you guys were thinking about making a change, Peter Frampton was being considered to joining the band, how close was that to actually happening?
DB: It was close. We actually toured with Humble Pie in Europe and then they opened for us at Shea Stadium. We became pretty good friends with Peter. When we were making that transition from a three-piece hard rock trio, to a four-piece more pop rock thing, I actually called Peter and asked if he would be interested. I heard he had left Humble Pie and was going to do his own thing. He respectfully declined because he just finished his solo record and was just getting ready to go on the road, he appreciated the offer but he couldn’t do it. Of course, he goes on to be a huge success!
GD: Instead of Peter, you ended up added Craig Frost who eventually joined The Silver Bullet Band. Where did you find him?
DB: Craig was actually a former player in The Pack. He was in one of the renditions of The Pack, I guess in 1967 and he was friend of mine. We grew up together in the Flint area. When we went on to be a trio, Craig had dropped out and went on to get married and have children. He couldn’t take the chances that we were taking. He needed a stable job. When we decided to do the four-piece thing, I called Craig and asked if he wanted to play and do a little song writing. Of course he jumped on it. So that’s where we got Craig.
GD: Is he still in The Silver Bullet Band and touring with Bob?
DB: He still is! We asked him to sit in with us when we play these couple of shows. He may or may not, I’m not exactly sure if that will happen or not.
GD: That would be awesome!
DB: That would be!
GD: With the addition of Craig and adding Todd Rundgren as a producer, you guys really took off. How did you choose Todd to produce your albums?
DB: We were looking for “the guy” to help us make the transition from a hard rock band to a pop rock band. We listened to Todd’s stuff on the radio and we loved it. He had a reputation for being a wizard in the studio and we thought the combination would be great. We hooked up with him through our publicist and we flew up to Woodstock to meet him. Then we flew him out to our studio in Michigan and we got along really well. We decided to record that album We’re An American Band down in Miami and had a great time doing it. We put all the pieces together and hoped that it worked.
GD: It sure did! Todd is finally on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he is getting a lot of traction. I think he’s in the top three in the fan vote. When they talk about his resume, they mention you guys, so hopefully Grand Funk will be on the committees mind next year and put you guys on the ballot!
DB: Laughs! We’ll see what happens.
GD: You got to play at the induction ceremony when Bob got in the Hall of Fame.
DB: I did get to play on that. That was fun.
GD: Would you consider going if Todd gets in next year?
DB: That’s all a matter of invitations. If I were invited, I would love to go when Todd gets in.
GD: Very good. Next year marks the 50th Anniversary of Grand Funk! Congratulations! Do you guys have anything special planned?
DB: We are planning all of the marketing and imaging will be the “50 Years Of Funk Tour.” I’ve actually talked with Universal about doing a re-issue. So we’ll see how that goes. We are planning a big year! We’ve got big plans!
GD: Are you doing the whole tour with Bob Seger?
DB: No, we are just doing five cities on this tour. It came down to commitments with the act that they had booked last year. They were doing a tour last year and they had to cancel because Bob had surgery. There was a band they were committed to and of course we have our commitments. So we worked it out to where we can do five shows with him.
GD: So Cleveland got lucky because we got a double bill of Grand Funk and Bob Seger!
DB: That will be a great show, we’re really looking forward to playing Cleveland.
GD: How long will your set be as the opener?
DB: It will be about 45-50 minutes. It will be the hits.
GD: Awesome! Well, we would love to have you back this summer when you can play an hour and a half or longer.
DB: Sounds good!
GD: Don, thank you so much for your time. Enjoy the tour and I’m looking forward to seeing you on December 6th!
DB: Thank you!
Be sure to catch Grand Funk Railroad opening up for Bob Seger’s last tour at The Quicken Loans Arena on December 6th.