Grand Funk Railroad, ‘We’re An American Band’ – Lyrics Uncovered
The lyrics to Grand Funk’s 1973 smash hit ‘We’re an American Band,’ written by drummer Don Brewer, tell the story of actual events that happened on the road while Grand Funk was touring in support of 1972’s ‘Phoenix’ album.
‘We’re An American Band’ found the band adopting a more refined approach musicaly, working to stay within the accepted three-and-a-half minute model for radio singles of the time.
“On the road for forty days / Last night in Little Rock put me in a haze / Sweet, sweet Connie — doin’ her act.” “Sweet Connie” Hamzy was a famous groupie that had allegedly been with a number of famous people and musicians — including Bill Clinton during his time as governor of Arkansas. “She had the whole show and that’s a natural fact” alleges that Connie had been with the entire band, but she told VH-1 that wasn’t entirely true – according to her, she never got to Mark Farner.
“Up all night with Freddie King / I got to tell you poker’s his thing / A-booze ‘n ladies keep me right / As long as we can make it to the show tonight.” Blues artist Freddie King, who was the opener for Grand Funk on the Phoenix tour, had a ritual in which he would play poker with his band every night. The members of Grand Funk would join in occasionally on the games. The downfall, according to Brewer, was that King was a good poker player, something that cost he and his bandmates a good portion of their paychecks.
Grand Funk Railroad formed in 1968, at a time when their sound was categorized by some as “heavy metal.” After scoring a series of gold and platinum albums with their first six releases, most bands would have been content to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their success.
But for Grand Funk Railroad, they had concerns about the behind the scenes actions of their manager at the time, Terry Knight. Firing Knight brought about a legal battle in which the group dropped the “Railroad” part of their name to avoid further conflict, and moved forward as simply “Grand Funk.” (They have since returned to using the full name.)
In a conversation with Ultimate Classic Rock, album producer Todd Rundgren remembered the recording process for ‘We’re An American Band.”
“Well it was kind of amazing; it was really the heyday of the record labels and the power that they had. I had not been involved in anything that was so well organized and came off so according to plan. It was almost timed down to the minute.
We went into the studio at Criteria Studios in Miami to begin the record and the very first song we did was ‘We’re an American Band.’ We did the track the first day and the second day, we finished the overdubs and mixed it and mastered it. They had a mastering lab right there in Criteria. And [we] shipped the parts out, and it was in the days when advance orders for the record were actually counted in terms of figuring out where the record would chart.
So they had already set the release date for the single ‘We’re an American Band’ before we’d ever gone in to the studio, which was fairly bold and also the date for when the album would be released to follow it up. We were still in the studio, I think it was only a week or two later, finishing up the record when ‘We’re An American Band’ was already in the Top 10! This was like a week and a half we had been recording the song and it’s already in the Top 10 like a week later!
It was just an amazing and fortunate combination of the music and the promotion. Because if the music had not been there, if it hadn’t been good music, than all of this promotion would have been for nothing. I have not experienced anything like it since.”
Rundgren and the band had the right formula for success. The simple substance of crafting ‘Band’ out of the nuggets of life that they experienced on the road brought Grand Funk the first of two number one singles. Grand Funk nabbed that second number one a year later with their remake of ‘The Locomotion,’ a song taken from their follow-up collaboration with Rundgren, the ‘Shinin’ On’ album in 1974.