Talking With Mark Farner (formerly from Grand Funk Railroad)
A Legend & Patriot with A Soulful Spirit
By: Abbe Davis, July 2, 2019
Sometimes an interview gets to me about an artist’s life, and how there is more than what we see. In these moments, I like to imagine that I’m transported back into Music History,quietly sitting there as an observer of that person and their band.
The year is 1969 and three guys from Flint, Michigan are turning out some catchy, cool Rock ‘n Roll songs. Their sound is unique, with steel core lyrics and riffs with intertwining textures; a clean vocal tone with creative guitar from the lead singer/songwriter, Mark Farner. The band grooves with in-your-face, connected drumming of Don Brewer (who also sings on some on tunes like, “We’re An American Band”). Mel Shacher on bass provides tight grooves and feel. These guys in their 20’s have people responding immediately to their sound. Nobody needs to trip on drugs to dig it, although their generation is transitioning out of the tumultuous, drug-induced, flower power, beatnik 60’s generation.
You can’t help but feel how this music transcends the times. It has the voice of understanding in a society of re-creation and trepidation. Before GNR, there was GFR (Grand Funk Railroad; aka Grand Funk), a band that provided hope and compassion to the masses.
Can you imagine these guys back in the late 60’s, during peace movements, civil rights marches, psychedelic drugs all around them and groovy dancing (sitting there in Flint, Michigan) trying to come up with a name for their band? Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin had been in existence, and so had the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. What name could they have? I imagine it might have gone something like this:
“Man, you know that company/station in town, the Grand Trunk Western Railroad? Well, our music is far out, and we need a name that expresses it. What if we say we are, ‘Grand FUNK Railroad?’ That’s what our being is, we are this train of Rock ‘n Roll traveling down the tracks, and we need to speak to people about all the bullshit, the changes going on, our buddies in this insane war, we represent them. Can you dig what I’m saying? Music for the people. We are the essence of a Grand FUNK Railroad.”
See Don, Mark and the guys clad in yellow or orange and brown shirts of the 70’s, bell bottom jeans, the long hair, or major big fro, as they all smile and say, “Right On! We are Grand Funk Railroad! I dig it! “
Grand Funk Railroad was formed in 1969 as a trio, and by 1970 their song, “I’m Your Captain” was a huge success. The song was highlighted by a euphoric half-time bridge, and lyrics of hope about getting closer to home. During that time, the Vietnam war was waging and many social and civil causes were in need of big changes. Grand Funk spoke to the people and woke them out of a previous 60’s stupor. David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazine once said, “You cannot talk about Rock in the 1970’s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!”(1.) However, Rolling Stone magazine didn’t take the band seriously, and sloughed them off as a "jam band" back then.(2.)
Yet, shows and album sales and Billboard saw it differently. One example in Rock History, 1971 at Shea stadium -which sold out faster than when the Beatles landed there about a decade prior. The stadium shook, with everyone standing and singing their songs.This was a movement going on. GFR had such mass appeal that even later, the TV show The Simpsons in season 9, paid homage to them in a scene that went like this, Homer drives his children and their friends to school, Grand Funk is playing on his car radio. The children don’t like it and ask him to change the station, so he responds, "You kids don't know Grand Funk?! The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner, the bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher, the competent drum work of Don Brewer?!"(3.)
Mark Farner, the dominant songwriter and lead singer of Grand Funk Railroad has always had the same message: Bring hope to the people. Their hit songs, “We’re an American Band,” or “I’m Your Captain,” brought the 70’s generation a vision about collective consciousness. They even paid tribute to previous bands with their versions of songs like, “The Locomotion,” “Inside Looking Out,” and “Gimme Shelter.” At that time, Grand Funk was viewed as a Hard Rock band, before Metal showed up years later. Grand Funk RR's songs were considered lengthly, at 7 - 9 minutes in length until (a few years later) radio began promoting 3 minute tunes.(4.)
The R&R life soon had Mark return to his Christian faith. As for the many patriotic songs he wrote then or has written since, his family history of patriotism runs deep. Mark’s dad had been a WW II vet, and his mom worked on Sherman war tanks as the first female welder; with Cherokee blood in her genes. A family of musicianship and patriotism, Mark followed suit.
In the 70’s GFR did their part to help define a decade, though thier band life was short lived. Grand Funk called it quits by 1977, regrouped for a bit in the 80’s, and got back together in 1996 until they dispersed again by 1999. Sadly, there has often been a discourse between Mark and Don about who wrote some of their hit songs like, “American Band,” yet their legendary music lives on and still attracts vast demographics for its calling and unique definitive generational vibe. Their songs were a gift and they had the sound. Since then, prolific songwriter, Mark Farner has continued true to who he is, a singer/songwriter/guitarist with a passion for Music and life.(5.)
Since then, Mark has performed Christian Rock and the hit songs from Grand Funk, as well as many of his hit songs in shows he still does with his American Band. Most every 4th of July holiday you will hear that song, “Red, White & Blue,” as the fireworks light up the sky. That song is the genuine message of hope and faith that exemplifies Mark Farner’. It is an anthem for our country.
Mark’s Cherokee heritage was honored in the 90’s by the Lokota Nations who made a celebratory quilt to symbolize his ancestry. From 1994 to 1995 Mark toured with Ringo and his Allstar Band. In 2015 he was given the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame award as a solo artist; previously inducted as a member of both Grand Funk Railroad, and Terry Knight & The Pack.(6.)
On the day of the interview, I stop to remember my brothers playing their 70’s Grand Funk collection in our home in Miami ages ago. Anytime I have heard “I’m Your Captain” and that slow bridge, it has gotten to my heart. When he speaks of getting closer to his home, well, to my ears, that is history in the making. It is also undeniable how “We’re An American Band,” gets people up and rocking. It's contagious when you hear it.
To those who love any kind of Rock music out there, no matter your age or experiences with Rock, just remember one thing: Honor Thy Legends, for these people have seen and worked with previous legends, have been there thru the changes in the industry and life, and have witnessed and helped to preserve Rock ‘n Roll History personally; where many people these days simply read about it. I am sure I will vividly remember this interview for some time:
AD: It’s an honor to speak with you, Mark, how are you doing?
MF: I’m doing fine. How are you doin’?
AD: Good. So much to ask you. Who is your American Band now? Some of them are from the past and some new?
MF: It’s Hubert Crawford on drums, Lawrence Buckner on bass (he was with me since 1985, then his mom got sick, but he is back now).
AD: Who is on keys now?
MF: Bernie Palo on keyboards, a great player from Detroit. Dennis Bellinger is from Jacksonville, and he has been with me from the original Grand Funk, when Mel couldn’t fly anymore, (that’s what he told us) so we got Dennis to fill in for him.
AD: So, the Grand Truck Western Railroad, tell me about it, is that Railroad still there?
MF: Yes, it is the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. It goes from Canada thru the U.S. to Flint, Michigan, to Durand, Michigan where we’re doing a festival, August 17th coming up. This is the same rail line, the same company where my dad was killed. And it’s this kind of, ya know, it’s weird.
AD: Yah. That is wild. Wow, what are the odds?
MF: My dad was a fireman. He was a WW II veteran; a tank driver and with armor, but he was a city fireman for the city of Flint. And he and a fellow fireman were coming from a meeting that they all had, and they crossed the track; where there was no light, and they got T-boned bad.
AD: How old were you?
MF: I was 9 when my dad died.
AD: Wow, I’m sorry to hear that. How many siblings do you have?
MF: Five. It was three by my father, and then my mom remarried, and I have a half- brother and half - sister. I never looked at ‘em as half, I just looked at ‘em as, “I love ‘em,” ya know?
AD: Hey, you’re fortunate. It could have gone the other way. That’s great. So how did your mom begin working/welding tanks?
MF: She was the first woman welder.
MF: At Fisher Body in Flint, Michigan; where they were working on building these Sherman tanks.
AD: Wow, that’s big stuff. They were very important tanks back then.
AD: How did she get into that, was her family a bunch of welders or…?
MF: No. When her family moved to Flint, from Leachville, Arkansas, when she was 16 years old, they moved over to get the jobs in the auto factories, initially.
AD: Right, that was the big thing, to travel to the new auto factories.
MF: Yah, they migrated. People went from the South to the North, and I am convinced that the music that came out of Michigan, was this conglomeration of North and South, ‘cause the southern boys brought their axes with ‘em, and they were finger picking.
AD: Ohhh, the picking. Absolutely. That style, wow.
MF: And it encouraged the northern boys to start picking. Especially when the northern boys saw the attention that these southern pickers were getting.
AD: That’s an insightful idea about it. Makes perfect sense. A-ha. Well, you’ve seen some very interesting history, the change from the 60’s into the 70’s; growing up in that, and Music changed. It has been said, in ’69 at the Atlanta Pop Festival, that the success of Grand Funk Railroad was made at that show. Do you agree with that? Was that the big day that got your band its recognition?
MF: It was…it was July 4th when we did the Atlanta Pop Festival. There were people from every state in the country there in the first place. This was one of the first really big events where there were 160,000 people and for us it was an emotional high just to step up to the 15th step, going up to the stage to look out over the top of the stadium. We’d only been able to see the front lineup of the first few rows up until then, just peering out between the fence, and then to finally get the vantage point of looking over, seeing people, it was like, I’ll never forget it. That’s when it started. They didn’t want us to leave the stage. (laughing)
AD: I bet you remember the first song you came out and played, right?
MF: Are You Ready?
AD: Go ahead.
AD: Ohh, right that was IT! Wow…OMG, amazing.(laughing) Here is what I don’t understand. Then, you guys are known as “The people’s band,” and you’re hitting the top of the Billboard charts, why didn't Rolling Stone take you guys seriously? Back then your music was real, you didn’t have the production put on like they do now. So, they can’t say that what you were playing was not really you. You plugged in and played. It was all YOU. Why did Rolling Stone say, [they are a popular band, yet they are not a good band]? What was that about? Did you ever find out - because you guys were a sound from a generation in time. You defined that sound.
MF: Yes, thank you. Would it be possible that the message, not just the beat of the song that drew people to us for sure, (because we were three 20 year old kids pounding out some music, and our hearts were in it). When you’re that young, and you’re playing with that much behind you (when you’re 20 years old), you’re really projecting. (laughing) The people were not only enthused by the beat, they embraced the message. If you go back and look at the message, it was about saving the land, ending crooked politicians.
AD: All positive, yah.
MF: They didn’t want this band to become popular because of our message. Those who run the show there (similar to the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame), it’s all political anyway.
AD: Yes, and to speak to that message. We know it is paid for. What I wanna know is, how come legends like yourself, people who have been around a while and truly know the deal from decade to decade, why not just (you probably won’t want to deal with it), but you create a Legends Hall of Fame, an Authentic Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, and you make it real-where the people from all ages get to weigh in and figure it out, instead of it being paid for?
MF: I am WITH YOU, Abbe Davis, at 110%!
AD: Start talking to the legends (laughing)
MF: Yah! Wouldn’t that be nice to have?
AD: (I am loving this guy, so grounded, and easy to speak to…open to a new Hall for Rock ‘n Roll. Very cool).
MF: It would be completely because of the majority of people wanting them there, and the qualification wouldn't be about obtaining, or kissing somebody’s butt.
AD: Ah, where you can’t do that and there is no buck. The backing comes from legends and the legends say, “No.” Also it is ONLY Rock ‘n Roll, and you don’t mix genres. It’s about the decades, because the History of Rock is a scaffold; one decade built upon another to create what we hear now. It has all been influenced. It trickles down (unlike politics, ha). Maybe you can talk to these legends and you guys can do it. We’re waiting (laughing) we’ll be waiting.
MF: Okay, count on it, okay.
AD: In 1981, you’ve been asked this I’m sure, but how was it to regroup for a second time with Don, as Grand Funk again?
MF: Initially it was just a great thing, it felt good and people were loving it. I was under the impression that it was a good thing and that we were all friends. Then, ya know, stuff happened. I did write over 90% of the Music, and I did sing over 90% of the Music, so I just think it’s a terrible injustice for anybody to claim or to say that they’re the name of the band. I mean, at least Credence Revisited, at least it was a Revival, so at least there’s a little heads up with it.
AD: Yes, Credence Clearwater Revival, exactly.
MF: I think that in all honesty, we need some kind of an APP for our phone, like if a band gets some advertising, you can see who is in the original band and that band gets a star rating. It would also state how many of the original band members are still in the band. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
AD: I love it! Honestly, I don’t enjoy going and seeing what feels like a cover band, when you go to a concert to see a legendary group. You expect to see the original guys, and then it is a whole new band. My feeling is, if you ask me to go see Foreigner now, (cause a few years ago I did that), and Lou Gramm wasn’t there. I don’t really wanna go see a cover band. I am also just not into (I know many people love tribute bands) into going out to see a tribute band either. - I’m a fan of the real deal. I always will be.
MF: I hear that. (laughing)
AD: If I go see a cover band or tribute band, then that is at some occasion or a party to dance to. But a concert, nope, I want the real deal. I don’t know if you feel that way. You’ve seen the real deal. Lou Gramm (actual songwriter/lead singer of Foreigner) feels the same way. We just spoke to him a while back. He’s a great guy.
MF: All good! Yes, he is.
AD: I want to know about you in your mid 20’s. You were in the 1970’s, so did you know actual guys who were fighting in the Vietnam war back then?
MF: Oh yes, many.
AD: Oh, wow, how many guys did you know who went thru that?
MF: 50 guys, I mean…
AD: OMG, that many?
MF: Oh yah, because I was in a band, you know. A lot of the guys that I was in High School with, got drafted and were off in the war. You know, a lot of them enlisted and, because I was with older guys playing in a band, I hung out with older guys. I was learning from these guys. My guitar teacher, halfway through my 6th lesson, had a hunting accident with a 12 gauge in his foot, so then he called my mom and told her, “Mark has to go and watch these guys in a real band, and pick up and learn from them.” So I did that.
I had a lot of friends who were veterans. A lot of friends who were friends with my sister, Diane, she’s 17 months older than me. We had friends that we were sending cassette mix tapes back ‘n forth to over there.
AD: Whoa, it’s like the movie, Good Morning, Vietnam.
MF: These guys, my friends, some of ‘em didn’t make it home, but they had been telling me, “Whatever you do, don’t come here, Farner.” (laughing)
AD: How is it then, that you got out of doing it? What happened, how did you avoid it?
MF: Well, I had colitis, a bleeding ulcer I didn’t even know about.
AD: Yah, you probably developed that when you were thinking about going off to war. (laughing)
MF: (laughs) OMG, yah. I did used to think and worry a lot about the world, and I still worry a lot about the world, but not so much since I died and came back. When I had my pacemaker put in, I checked out of the Bone Suit (my body) for a little while, and I went on into Heaven-where everybody goes after they leave the Bone Suit. And I think that because of the love, I seriously…
AD: (Floored at this point, cause I’ve spoken to only one person about my own experience at age 18 in a hospital, I crossed over for a minute and came back. I’m beyond shocked to speak to an actual person I would trust to hear their same story and believe it.) Wait, what? Um, Mark, hm, (what to share here…) Eh, I did, too. I saw a bright light, looked around, it felt amazing, yet I didn’t wanna go there yet. Haven’t talked about this, so please, how exactly did you feel, what did you see?
MF: I didn’t see an all bright light, I transitioned into this state of knowing all things. I even had the satisfaction, in that tense of being, for what the purpose of what the earth is for.
AD: Yes. Did you get the understanding about how we are all here to evolve and learn? I felt that way, how ‘bout you?
MF: Yah. Immediately I felt relief without the pressure of the human side, because you don’t have all of the stress that is brought on by Debt Consciousness. Any stress you have, is because of debt. We’ve been taught all the while about accepting debt, and we shouldn’t. Debt is a bad word. To be free, you have to deal with it individually, all of us have to deal with it in ourselves. But, talk about it openly and speak that four letter word “debt.” Because once that debt has broken you away from the power and spirit of who you really are, in your true nature of love, then you can only be partial with your ability to love.
AD: It's so true. With the experience I went through for the two minutes, I came back (hearing the yelling and commotion in the hospital surgery room) understanding more about how those limits put the walls up so that we don’t truly connect or love. Boy, do I hear you about this. Do you agree that wherever we go, it is about evolving and loving? Loving ourselves and learning how to be compassionate, or more than the boundaries that we are. All that talk in the steeples, temples, churches. We get taught how to fear, right?
MF: That’s it! That is exactly it! And really, the mindset that we are looking to attain, that we should attain while we are here, is to owe no man anything, except to love him. And that first part, it’s not just about money, honey. You know how we’re talking. 'Cause if you don’t fulfill the expectation of somebody, then they put you on a shit list, and then if it’s in the family or something, you have all these family members ganging up on ya, and I don’t want that…(laughing)
AD: It happens all of the time. Mankind seems to destroy itself over these power struggles we all go through, and it’s really not about that. I mean, the ultimate power is beyond being here, after we live here and learn and try to evolve.
MF: Yes, it is.
AD: I know we have to move on with the questions here, but I love this discussion. If you ever want to keep talking about this, I am all in.
MF: Yes, exactly, you got it.
AD: I wish all of us had more of these discussions instead of getting on our damn phones.
MF: I hear you.
AD: You’ve also done Christian Rock, which song or songs resonate to your spirit when you perform them most, of all of your styles you’ve done? Any songs where you say, “THIS one is my essence the MOST.” Are there any songs that feel that way for you?
MF: Yes, yes. “I’m Your Captain.” When we played that at Shea Stadium in 1971, and the audience was singing that song so loudly, it even drowned out the PA system.
AD: One of my favorites, wow!
MF: That song touched Heaven before I got there.
AD: (laughing) I love it! You really do have a way with words, even when you speak. “It touched Heaven before I got there.” I love the bridge, who thought of the bridge (I can’t help it now, I just start singing his lyric to him) “I’m getting clo-ser …”)
MF: I did.
AD: Oh, gosh, it is Heaven. I love that bridge.
MF: I wrote the whole thing. One night, I said my prayers “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep,” and after I got done blessing everybody in the tribe I put P.S. on it. I asked God to give me a song that would reach and touch the hearts of those that the creator wanted it to get to.
AD: And it did. Boy, did it!
MF: I always had a notepad and something I can write with, ‘cause I don’t want to wake up my wife. I’m always writing things down. I don’t know if it’s gonna turn into a song or not. So, when I got up in the morning, I really didn’t pay any mind to the words. I just went in and started fixing my coffee. I got my coffee in my hands, I got my flat top in my other hand, I got my foot kicked up on the chair next to me in the kitchen there. I set the coffee down and picked my axe up, and I go, “Bah ba_ bump bomp ba, doo deh dee___” the opening lick.
AD: Very cool.
MF: It just came out of nowhere, my hand landed on the neck (laughing).
AD: Do you think that there is another force helping you write? How do you think it happens, the ones that come to you in seconds? Where do you think it’s from?
MF: It’s from that power, I think. We would have more of that if we hadn’t been introduced to debt, and allowed debt into our consciousness. But we can kick debt out of our consciousness.
AD: How do you kick it out of your consciousness? What works for you?
MF: You and I know that we are speaking truth now, Abbe.
MF: There’s nothing that could refute this. So, I dedicate myself to this. Before I put my foot out on the floor, before I wake up, I’m putting on my helmet to keep the bad guys out, because there’s so much infiltration that wants to play for our time. Yet, we owe our time to our self. Love wants us to get to know our self. In that devotion I ask, “Please show me the debt that I am not even aware of today, help me get clean, show me.” So, periodically, I’m getting these revelations that are setting me free because it is individually, we have that power. Once we get that and really understand it, we can be physically indebted, but we can separate it in our mind. Because of how our world operates, we have to ‘play act’ at times. We can have that state of mind, yet allocate a certain amount of RAM to deal with that part. Yet, we have to keep our self pure and rely on that power that we go back to. The place that you and I visited.
AD: That’s right. Once you go there and you come back here you say, “It’s not about that stuff, it is much simpler than we tend to make it, the greed and the egos get in the way.” Your family, what did they think when you got into this Rock ‘n Roll life, while all of those things were going on in the 70’s at that time?
MF: Well, my mother and my stepfather were very encouraging to me. My mother's side of the family came from Leachville, Arkansas. Dorothy and my mom each had six kids. There were always a lot of aunts and uncles around, since everyone from Arkansas had moved into Flint, Michigan. They would get together every Sunday and make music. Banjos, violins, guitars, and all of the women singing the most beautiful harmonies and eating Southern fried chicken or Sloppy Joes, guaranteed.
Back then, I was just a listener and I loved to watch the men play and watch the finger changes. My dad blew saxophone and also played guitar. And the women!…. I wish I had gotten it all on audiot, to listen again to the women and theirharmonies.
AD: Oh, how amazing! Was it Appalachian music?
AD: Wow, I can hear it as you tell me about it. Of all of the people you’ve gotten to work with or meet, even in the 90’s you did the Ringo Starr’s All Star Band, how was that, who was in the All Stars when you did it?
MF: John Entwhistle was on bass, and Billy Preston was on keys.
AD: Wow! Legendary.
MF: Felix Cavaliere was on keys, as well. Randy Bachman from BTO (Bachman -Turner Overdrive)
AD: He’s amazing. Great band.
MF: Yep. Zak Starkey, of course, was drumming. Mark Rivera was our backup guy and our pickup guy. He did everything, he played guitar, played his ass off. Good guy, really good guy.
AD: Did you enjoy that tour?
MF: Yep, I really enjoyed it because I’m this loving guy. I really am, and that’s what people get to know when they are around me a lot. I’m a learner. I’m in learn mode 100% of the time. The freer I become, the more spiritual I become, and acceptable by all people. When you’re being led by that truth, you kind of glow a little bit (laughing).
AD: Yes, I'm loving this interview. So, many times we all hear Ringo saying and sending out “Peace & Love, Peace & Love.” How is Ringo when you sit and talk to him about these things? Have you ever?
MF: Nah. As a matter of fact, when we were in rehearsal, he came up to me, (because I had my wife and kids out in Vancouver, where we did the rehearsal). Next, we went from Vancouver to Japan, that’s where the tour started out. So literally, he came to the apartment that we had, walked in and met my kids and wife. This is after we’d been rehearsing for a couple of weeks. He took his glasses off and looked at me and said (in British accent, Mark is now impersonating him) “Well Mark, they told me that you were a religious fanatic.”
AD: (both of us are laughing now)
MF: And I said, “Well, what do you think, Ringo?” and he says, “I think they’re full of shit.”
AD: (both of us laughing hysterically at this point) Love it!!! (In my odd British accent) I’m sure he’s seen a lot of full of shit things in his day." That story is awesome.
AD: I can only imagine. So, I hear that you curtailed the drugging back in the dayand hung out with Jimi Hendrix. I wonder about legends who got on the drug train, sadly. I mean, things could have continued. We got brief gifts from them, but what do you think? To hear Janis Joplin sing, that sheer emotion, so they all made their thumbprints, as you guys had. What do you think they would think about the Music business now?
MF: Well, you really hit on it, because with Janis, the emotional pitch and razor blade edge of that voice, it cut right through from where she was sending it from. You know it was something, tand that love. When you’ve got your eyes closed and you’re singing into that microphone, there’s nothing else but that vision that you envision. You’re becoming that character of the song. And she did it verrry well. She was a fun girl to hang with! I’m not kidding you.
AD: I’m not sure about why she felt she wasn’t beautiful enough. To me, that sassy way, her style was really special. Such beauty in her. When I listen to these legends, I always wish that they had had the confidence to not have to lean on drugs. I wonder what kind of music Jimi, Janis, which style would they gravitate towards now? Would Stevie Ray Vaughan still do Blues? What would John Lennon be doing? We hear so much production in tunes these days, do you feel that way about Music now? If you could change one thing about Music now, what would you change about how it gets out there?
MF: What I would change is the ownership of the stations that are playing it, that our radios are picking up. What happened was the deregulation in 1995, the ownership of our imaginations in the hands of a few conglomerates. That’s what I would change.
Back when Grand Funk started, I’m telling you, we walked into WTAC in Flint, Michigan. Bob Dell, the DJ, was on the air. We had been listening to Bob Dell from the state line when we crossed over at Toledo and we’re going north, and we know we’ve got this 45 in our hands, and we’re gonna drive into that station and ask Bob Dell to spin it, so we did. We told him we had just come up from Nashville. I mean, there were no cell phones back then. We had to do everything in person. We walked in with this small 45 record and said, “Will you play this?” and he put it on right there, and the phones lit up and it was great. That’s the influence of local musicians in their community, but you can’t get that now. We’ve been derailed from that line of communication. We’re not allowed to have that kind of closeness anymore. My perspective on it.
AD: All the DJ’s we listened to growing up are now on satellite radio doing podcasts, so how do we take the big business out of it? What do you think of how bands go all independent now and use Spotify and those channels?
MF: We have to collectively counterbalance or battle what has happened in Music. It has been adulterated so we have to re-regulate and put the ownership back into the hands of the people. Take it away from the corporate and put it back into places where we can count on honesty. When you put it into the corporate hands, the honesty is gone.
AD: Like Shnellenberger buying the best team, ha.
AD: Back to the 60’s and 70’s, from peace and love, it went into the 70’s and men were encouraged to speak about emotions, did you feel any of that?
MF: I was just into the Rock ‘n Roll life and songwriting, because the expeditions we would take! I mean, every time I got on an airplane I was going, “Pinch me.”
AD: (laughing) So you were on that wave and the drugs were flying at you, at maximum speed, but the bad trips you had, did that get you into Christianity or a different kind of spirituality, and not drugs? Is that what happened?
MF: My background was always Christianity. Christianity in the churches today is useless because they are not reaching all of it. They just extend “debt-consciousness,” because they were beaten by it and they’ve learned how to just go along with it. But when you sign a 501 - C3 Tax Exempt form, you’re giving a man the control of your ministry. You no longer are accountable to God, because if you want this tax exemption, man has to take the place of God. Places of worship just go along with it.
AD: So, do you feel prayer is at home and with your family, day to day, and then how do you spread the word?
MF: I am the witness through who I am. That’s what I leave with people when I get up on the stage and entertain. Because I am who my songs say I am. Hopefully, I’m meeting their expectations.
AD: And beyond! I wanted to know, do you remember the very first song you wrote, because you are a prolific songwriter. How many songs have you written, do you even know?
MF: I don’t even know.
AD: (laughing) It’s books and books probably, at this point?
MF: It’s in the hundreds. The first song I ever wrote was with Dick Wagner from Alice Cooper’s Band, the guitar player.
MF: He was in a band called The Bossmen, and back then I was playing rhythm guitar in The Bossmen. I was in between Terry Knight and the Pack, and the other bands that I’d been playing with in Michigan. For about a year and a half I was with Wagner and we would go out gigging. One night we were setting up his apartment in Saginaw, Michigan. His wife and his two kids were in the other room sleeping, and we were playing our electric guitars real softly, with no amplifier. Of course, I asked him, “How do you write these songs, Wagner, you write so many songs?” He says, “Farner, you can write songs too, it’s inside of you.” And that night, after he went to bed, I sat up and I wrote “Heartbreaker.”
AD: Really? That’s so cool. How long after that did you write another song? Were the gates open then, or did it take time for the next one?
MF: I didn’t look at if with that kind of perspective, I was just enthralled with the juice it was taking, and where I was touching to get this inspiration; to come up with lyrics and everything I appreciated about listening to music.
AD: Amazing. Now, my condolences about you and your wife losing your son, Jesse. I’m sorry to hear about his passing over a year ago. (Jesse sustained a critical neck injury in 2010, and suffered major health issues afterwards, leading to his passing in 2018). I imagine parents talk to you about their experiences, what do you say to them and how do you get your own strength?
MF: Well, the blessing of having Jesse in our lives, especially in the last 8 years, it pressed us beyond where people would normally be, and caused us to go into areas of our own interior and into areas of this world that we weren’t familiar with; that we had to become familiar with to interact. The lesson and strength that I got from it, was the love and trail of love he left throughout his life, which is still circling back to us. We’re having a get together (in Sarasota, Fl.) on the 4th of July, a memorial for him. The people he touched are gathering to have a little remembrance. It’s always good to remember those who’ve passed to the other realm, because we should look with expectation instead of with fear and - with regard to how we look at death with what it is and what it really is.
Of course you and I know, because of our practical experience, but I think it’s harder to turn that experience into words, because we're so limited as human beings to that expression. In our manifestation, we’ve been diverted by videos. A video used to be just the Music, and you ran stuff in your head. It’s like, someone reads the book and goes to see the movie and they say, “That movie sucked compared to the book.” Of course, cause to that person their movie is personal, and that is the part of our being that we don’t really stimulate enough. We become these vidiots, and we don’t have to think, because we look at a phone or laptop, and it’s doing the thinking for us. What a waste of time!
AD: Yes, I want my kids to – as they grow older, to just put their phones in a basket at dinnertime. Yet, the hardest one to get off of the phone is my husband, because of his work.
AD: I hear what you are saying about how you learned about other areas that maybe you would not have gone as deeply into or ventured into, and you were given the gift of having Jesse in your life. I wish more people could see that we don’t have control over how long we have these beautiful, amazing gifts called “our children” (or anyone). We can pray as much as we want for or to everything, yet we don’t have as much control, so we need to have faith and that belief in love; a bigger picture of everything. We will be reunited, and this here is harder in many ways.
AD: Now, did you meet your wife when you were very young?
MF: I was 28 when we got married.
AD: How did you guys meet?
MF: Well, we met on a CB Radio.
AD: You are kidding!!
MF: No, I was …
AD: Breaker, that is hilarious!!!
AD: What were her magic words to you?
MF: Well, I was breaking in on this channel, in Ottawa, Michigan, in Cheboygan County. There are a lot of people who still use Citizen’s Band Radio. There are no phone lines in a lot of these places so if you wanna 10-5 (relay) a message to someone, you have to call somebody up that has a phone, and take the message.
AD: (laughing) OMG!! This is so Smokey & the Bandit!
MF: I had CB radios for my tractor and I had a truck. I needed 3 radios ‘cause the farm that I bought, we purchased 1600 acres in that area, and it was 3 miles long. So, if you broke a plow point off in the South field, you needed to be able to call somebody for help. That’s why we had these CB’s, and hauled tractors and trucks. I broke for Cochese, and Cochese is her dad, and I didn’t know.
AD: (laughing) Oh, boy, did you have to go through the father to get to the daughter?
MF: Oh, yes.
AD: Did he grill you? Did he say, “How are you good enough for my daughter?”
MF: Yah, no. Before this, I mean, I went over to buy radios and I saw the face of the voice that had spoken to me on the radio that day. When I saw her I was in LOVE. I could not believe it. I was over there on business and I had to take the radios back. I was working with two other guys who toured with me, and they also farmed with me. That was the only way you could farm that much land, you needed a lot of help.
AD: How did you know how to farm land?
MF: I was born on a farm out there, just outside of Flint. We lived in the city for a while, but then finally my dad moved out to the house that my great grandfather had built, an 11 room farmhouse. He imported every block of that house himself.
MF: Moving out there we had the run of the land behind us, and all of the orchards (apples) that my great grandfather had planted, and he sold all of the fruit right there on the road. Queen Anne cherries, everything.
AD: Is that land still in the family?
MF: No, when we moved out of there, some realtors bought the place and tore down the house and the trees. I mean, it is still sitting pink after all of these years. They were gonna do some great things and I don’t know what happened.
AD: How did you take care of your hands doing all of that? Did you still work like that once you took up guitar?
MF: Yah, I still did, I was just very careful.
AD: I can imagine. So, what’s going on with the Music? So, the memorial to Jesse is in Sarasota, too, right?
AD: Beautiful. What will you be playing?
MF: I’m playing a lot of the Grand Funk hits that people know me by, and I mix it up. We have a video coming out, Mark Farner’s - From Chile With Love.” It was recorded in 2017 from our live show there. It will be coming out,
and a single from it called “Rock ‘n Roll Soul,” and a new song called, “Never and Always.”
AD: I can’t wait to hear it. Mark, your voice in Red, White & Blue, plus the bridge with “I’m Your Captain,” it’s all so beautiful. And no, you don’t seem like a religious freak to me either, ha. Thanks for your authentic light of being, I’ve enjoyed this beyond. Do you and Lou Gramm talk?
MF: Yes, we do.
AD: Great, so hit him up and maybe you guys create that Authentic Hall of Fame?! We will all salivate waiting for it to happen.
MF: Thank you so much and I appreciate your time, and the truth of your words today.
AD: Likewise, keep on keeping on. I’ll be enjoying every sound you play.
MF: Good-bye for now.
Abbe Davis is the singer/songwriter of Hard Rock/Alternative band, Sordid Fable. She has also served as writer/editor of various Fortune 500 companies. Abbe has performed at festivals alongside of Buddy Guy, and along the northeast coast. Sordid Fable's new album will be released in Winter, with shows in 2019/2020. Her ultimate goal is to support new Rock music (having helped to also promote other bands, as well), and to preserve the legacies of Rock music.