45 Years Ago: Grand Funk Railroad Begins Steady Journey to Success
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It took a while, but Grand Funk Railroad‘s August 1969 debut ‘On Time’ found its way — slowly, but steadily, becoming a million seller. Of course, this band’s core members were used to taking the long route.
In fact, throughout the second half of the 1960s, Grand Funkers Mark Farner (vocals/guitar), Don Brewer (drums/vocals), and Mel Schacher (bass) had held down jobs with a series of hard-working but underpaid Michigan-based psych- and garage-rock bands: Schacher with one-hit-wonders ? and the Mysterians (of ‘96 Tears‘ fame), and Farner and Brewer backing up their future manager in Terry Knight and the Pack.
It was Knight who reportedly named the group after Michigan’s Grand Trunk Railroad line, and then helped them formulate a simple plan of attack: Why not apply themselves to creating a quintessentially American expression of the then-widely popular power trio format, in ways the Cream-inspired Mountain and even Jimi Hendrix’s anglicized Experience never could?
And that’s precisely what happened. The fledgling Grank Funk subsequently stole the show at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, then found themselves immediately scooped up by Capitol Records and fast tracked into the studio. Knight would oversee production on the cheekily named ‘On Time.’
Unfortunately, the first single ‘Time Machine’ barely broke into the Top 50 and, with the exception of its rousing ‘Are You Ready’ and the hypnotic ‘Heartbreaker,’ the bulk of ‘On Time’ consisted of often-tentative blues rockers. None of it lingered for long in Grand Funk’s live repertoire. Meanwhile, radio stations generally turned a deaf ear, and critics panned the band.
It didn’t matter. Grand Funk Railroad’s album sales and career momentum were driven, then as now, by the fans they’d converted out on the touring trail. Within a couple of years, ‘On Time’ would achieve platinum status, anyway.