Don Brewer

Murf's Interview with Grand Funk Railroads Don Brewer 3 March 98

Murf - Why do you think the "professional" press always hated Grand Funk at the same time Grand Funk was selling millions of records?

Brewer - Well we got off on the wrong foot with the press. Our manager at the time, 1969, 70 and 71, was Terry Knight. Terry's way of promoting was to piss everybody off, bad press, good press, it didn't make any difference, it was press. So he created this thing like, the bands too good for you, you don't need to speak to them, I'm bringing this supergroup up here and I'm responsible for everything happening and you can only talk to me, and the press really hated that whole thing, that whole approach. So every chance they had to blast us, they did! Plus, we were, really a garage band. If you put us up against Jimi Hendrix and Cream and those type of bands, we were really more of a garage band. We were really kids that were screwing around with being rock and roll musicians, and because of that kind of a sound that we had, I think the audience related to it, but the critics just couldn't relate to it. So that was a little weird too. And as time went on, I think we got more critical acclaim, as we got into American Band, on and on, and had hit singles with "Some Kind Of Wonderful", and those kind of things. I think things changed. In the early days, I think things got off on the wrong foot, basically because of our manager.

Murf - How did the band decide to get back together?

Brewer - It was a process. I remember Mark called me in 1993, I think it was, no it must have been 1994. He said a promoter was contacting him and his manager, and they wanted to know if we wanted to get back together, because of all the resurgence of classic rock. Everyone wanted to see how many of these bands wanted to get together and go out and make a fast buck. And that's what we were afraid of. We didn't want to come back like that. If we were gonna get back together and do it, we wanted to get it right and be in a respectable situation. We didn't want to go out and play in parking lots and that kind of stuff. We checked out the promoter and checked out the kind of shows they wanted us to do and that one didn't feel right. And then another promoter came along and he was gonna do these things and guarantee us a whole bunch on money, but we had to play wherever he wanted us to. And we said, "No were not gonna do that". If Funk is gonna do this, were gonna come back and do it on our own terms. We kinda kept practicing and talking and working on new ideas, sorta feeling each other out, to see if we wanted to do it, and finally in 96 we said, well lets go out and do a little test market thing. We'll do fourteen shows up in the midwest, kinda out in the middle of nowhere at first, which was "get back together and see if we want to do this". The response was phenomenal, we ended up with a show in Chicago and Pine Knob in Detroit, and there was massive sellouts and the audience was just going crazy and were going.....this is kinda fun. So that's where we got back into it, in 96.

Murf - Do they still get the same feeling before a concert or during a concert that you did in the early days, or is it different now?

Brewer - Yeah, before the concert, you get a few butterflies going, you get nervous and you hear the crowd out there, yelling, hoop and hollering, and you get on stage. Now is not like it was twenty something years ago, I mean we were just kids and the audience was kids, and now the audience is our age, and they bring their kids with them, and there's a few college kids. It's a reunion, between the audience and the band, between the fans and Grand Funk. I mean that's how a lot of these shows feel. There just tickled to death to see Grand Funk, up there live on stage and were tickled to death to be there.

Murf - Is the band working on a new album or new songs?

Brewer - Were working on some new stuff. We've got five things in the can, and were working on more as we go along here. If someone comes up with a new idea, or we come up with an outside song, we'll start working on it. Were try to build up enough stuff, so that you know, actually were trying to define a new direction for Grand Funk. something that will fit into this music scene of the ninety's. Radio is so screwed up, its pretty tough to figure out where we can get airplay.

Murf - Who's going to be the producer of the new CD?

Brewer - Ron Nevison, he produced the Bosnia CD, and we haven't signed anybody to work on it. It's just whoever were working with at the time, that's what were gonna do.

Murf - What is the bands goals, is there going to be more aggressive promotion now that you have a new management team. I know that the only way I have heard about the shows is on the Roadkill list. [ ed. note. Roadkill is the internet mailing list fan club where fans can obtain information regarding Grand Funk. Send email to Grand-Funk@roadkill.com to get information]

Brewer - It's that bad up there huh?

Murf - We just started to hear about it in the last couple of days.

Brewer - We've been on those people, trying to get that radio station to get on the case here., and we find that every time we run into these things where things go slow, its because the radio station, is just not doing their job. I mean, we've sold out three shows almost a month in advance of going to Texas, and its because the radio stations there, went out immediately and man the tickets just flew. And now we got a problem up in Orlando and Jacksonville where we hear the same thing over and over. "We didn't know you guys were playing", where's the promotion...where's the promotion.

Murf - About the only way we have been finding out about the shows is from Roadkill, most times about two months ahead of time.

Murf - Is there any plans to do any acoustic shows? A lot of your music would lend itself nicely to that type of style. Neil Young (Mr. Soul) and Eric Clapton (Layla) for example, seem to be able to reinvent their old material into some new sounds that could really take off.

Brewer - It's possible, We've discussed the possibility that if we do this Vietnam vets show that were talking about doing in November. We would like to put together a special part of the set, more geared towards the Vietnam vets and that time period. And in that we would probably incorporate more of an acoustic kind of thing or a variation of the songs with something that's a little more gentle or however you want to describe it. Yeah, we've talked about it.

Murf - Yeah..as long as you don't do it to Paranoid.

Brewer - (laughing) Or "Inside Looking Out". "Inside Looking Out" might be a little tough without the cranked up guitar.

Brewer - We are trying to organize a show for the Vietnam vets, actually we were trying to organize it for memorial day, but we can't get it together that fast. We've had this idea since last year and we'd like to organize an event for the benefit of the Vietnam vets who seem to be totally forgotten. And we just want to show our appreciation to them, you know, for all the years that they have supported Grand Funk. There was such a camaraderie amongst the people in Vietnam, and they used Grand Funk albums, I don't know, I guess to feel a little closer to home, I hate to use that as a pun, you know, but that's kinda what it was.

Murf - Why not continue the "Finger Logo"? It's like the Stones tongue. It says "Grand Funk Railroad"?

Brewer - We are! We still use it on some of the T-shirts, and were talking about changing our merchandise company, and we were talking to the guy the other day, and we said we have to keep that logo going as much as possible with the "Were An American Band" hand, with a flag behind it with "Grand Funk Railroad" and "The American Band" going around it. And the other logo we need to work on is the Mark, Don and Mel, Maybe put it on the sleeve of the shirt and really focus on those two logos all the time. We wanna do that.

Murf - Will the remaining existing catalog be released on CD (Phoenix, Born To Die, All The Girls In the World, Survival)?

Brewer - Yeah, well were working with Capitol, you know how Capitol is. All the fans have the same response when you mention Capitol, it's like "Oh My God", ya know, the slowest company in the world. They're telling us that their going to remaster everything. and it will all be out. And we're saying "Who's gonna remaster it?". We want to be involved in the remastering cause what we've seen in the past. Hopefully its gonna happen. They also are very very much up on doing an anthology. A four CD anthology. I keep talking to guys every week out at Capitol and they are working on the project. But they are slow, they are slow.

Murf - Can you change record companies, or is that a contractual thing?

Brewer - You can't. They own the masters. The only way we could get the masters, like over to Rhino or Rycodisk or somebody else that does that kind of stuff, would be if Capitol is willing to sell the masters.

Murf - Rhino did a super job on the compilation disk "More of the Best"

Brewer - Rhino has done great work...they're good. Capitol has started a new wing, which handles all of their catalog artists. That's what they want to do, just repackage their catalog artists, you know, and they're not very good at it. (laughing)

Murf - Will the Shea Stadium Video ever be released so the fans can purchase it, or the LA 74 video from Japanese TV. Any possibility that either of these soundtracks being released.

Brewer - It wasn't Japanese TV, I don't know why everybody thinks that. It was bootlegged by a Japanese company, yes. Its not a Japanese film . That film is owned by Grand Funk. It was a concert that was shot in San Diego and it is possible that we'll market it, but it hasn't been to the point where it would be a profitable situation to just go ahead and start marketing these things. Number one, there's so many bootlegs out there. Shea Stadium, there are no bootlegs of Shea Stadium out there, and we are gonna keep it that way. There will be a time, I'm sure, that Shea Stadium will be released. I don't know when that is. We keep trying to get VH-1 or MTV or somebody interested in putting together, more like a anthology compilation kind of thing, using all the video, doing a story teller kind of thing, but we just haven't had any bites yet.

Murf - Is there a similar situation with the Don Kirshners Rock Concert that you guys did?

Brewer - Don Kirshners Rock Concert is not ours. That's a Don Kirshner owned film. We did that as a benefit for Phoenix House, which is a drug rehab in New York City. It was a show at Madison Square Garden. That's not ours, that's Don Kirshner. I don't know what the status of that is. If we get this compilation package going, I'm sure we'll get clearance to use it.

Murf - How about the Flint albums. Any change they will get release or included on a compilation? [Ed note Flint was a post Grand Funk band the members were in during the 70's]

Brewer - I don't even know that Sony knows that they own them. (laughing) You're talking real obscure there. Those are REALLY obscure.

Murf - What's on the schedule for touring in the future. What are the chances of a European or South American tour being put together? You guys are regarded as a super group down in Venezuela,

Brewer - Yeah, we'd love to go back. We did a brief reunion tour in 81, 82. We did a South American tour. Caracas, I think a couple of places around Caracas, and yeah, they were great shows. Europe, so far, I've seen on the schedule one show in Denmark, a festival in Denmark. If we could plug into three or four festivals over there, we may go to Europe. It's not really worth it to go for one show.

Murf - If you read the mail on the internet, many of the e-mails say When are you guys coming to "insert name of your town here", you know whatever town they are from.

Brewer - Yeah, its amazing, I read a lot of the stuff on the internet from the fans. My wife [Ed. note: Sunny Quin from WZZR radio in South Florida] is very involved with communicating with the Roadkillers and all these people. It's funny, how they think that we have say over where we play. I mean, it's not us, it's the promoters. The promoters have to make a bid to bring us to town. I mean its not us saying "Well, lets go over and play Dallas" or "Hey yeah, I just talked to a guy in Dallas and he wants us to play...yeah lets go!!!" (laughing)

Murf - I know you're familiar with Roadkill.

Brewer - I was with the Roadkillers last weekend. Out in Denver. Phil Catalano, the Catman.

Murf - How do you feel about the Roadkill group and that type of fan support.

Brewer - Are you kidding me...its GREAT. This is a great new thing that's happened. It's great to be able to communicate with these people and have people come to our shows and show the support and we try to have as many meet and greets as we can after the shows and just talk to the people and its wonderful. I mean, every town we in, they're creating this atmosphere of, a little bit of our home town, having all these fans around so it's great. I think the enthusiasm rubs off on the audience.

Murf - How do they feel about the things the Roadkillers do, for example, writing to radio stations, the meetings before some of the shows, the trading of mementos...etc.

Brewer - Sure, cause we've gotten a lot of information off the internet and there are things, just like your talking about where someone will post on the internet "hey, I'm here up around New Orleans, and I hear your playing around here, and the only way I found out was on the internet. I haven't heard anything on the radio." And we go to management and we say "Get on these guys, you know, how come there not promoting the show!" I mean its been very useful.

Murf - Then that must me you read the Roadkill e-mails.

Brewer - Oh absolutely! Yeah.

Murf - You must think they're helping.

Brewer - Absolutely, I think its wonderful.

Murf - What prompted you to tour with Bob Seger after Grand Funk.

Brewer - The reason I went with Bob Seger in the first place is that the Grand Funk thing that Mark and I were doing in 80, 81, maybe just a little bit into 82 I guess, Mel wasn't involved in it and I think it was a little too early for Funk to try and make a comeback cause we just basically quit in 76, we just basically let it be put on hold and "well let's wait and see what happens here." 81, 82 when we went out, and Mel wasn't involved and it just wasn't the right time to be doing it. And then I got an offer to go and work with Seger on a tour, and I said "well, I've never done that before." And I looked at it as a way to expand my musicianship. I've never really played in a lot of other bands other than Grand Funk. It was a change for me to kinda spread my wings and see "am I capable of being in some of these other situations. It was great, I loved it. It was a wonderful experience. I did two tours with Bob Seger. They were great.

Murf - How did you wind up singing in the band

Brewer - Mark sings about 85% of the songs, I sing backup and stuff, but I sing a few of the songs.

Murf - I thought your "Some Kind Of Wonderful" where you come from behind the drum and only use drumsticks was really cool.

Brewer - Oh you liked it! We liked doing that whole Bosnia record, doing the different arrangements of the songs, you know doing the orchestra with Mean Mistreater, doing that arrangement of "Some Kind Of Wonderful" which is kinda acapella up front, you know, and then the horns come in the second half, and then doing the different treatment we did with "Closer To Home". I thought that was a blast. To switch stuff around like that and give them a different treatment. They were real classy, the way everything came off.

Murf - You guys were probably one of the ultimate rock and roll musician horror stories.

Brewer - (laughing)

Murf - Coming out with albums that just sold a ton of stuff, and then you wound up being broke.

Brewer - We're not the only ones, I mean that happens a million times, you heard about Billy Joel, his wife and his brother....took everything. He ended up looking down at an empty pit. That's when he went back out. You know we're not the only ones.

Murf - Do you guys get royalties from all the sales of the early albums?

Brewer - Yeah, we still get our mechanical royalties. The fact Grand Funk had a deal as a band, and we get paid for that. Where we got ripped off was on the deal that Terry cut [Terry Knight, early manager of Grand Funk] for himself. He took a far greater share of the pie, and that still exists today. We get a small cut, but not the cut we should have had and it was a legal rip off. He got us to sign contracts that we shouldn't have signed cause we were stupid kids. But anyway, that's the way it is, and we moved on afterwards. We were able to come back with three or four big hit albums. We did OK.

Murf - When did you start playing drums, did you take lessons and if so with who?

Brewer - I started playing drums, I think in junior high school because I got sick of playing clarinet. I started out being a musician when I was about ten years old, wanting to play guitar. I started playing guitar, I started my own first band at that time playing guitar. Playing things like Peter Gun and that kind of stuff. And then, as I got a little older, after I learned how to read music a little bit. I said, I'm gonna try the junior high school band. I was playing clarinet, and I hated the whole thing, you know. I looked at the drum section, and the band leader, the band instructor said.....The drum section was all girls, there were three girls in the drum section, and nobody could carry the bass drum in the marching band. And so he asked for volunteers. He said "would anybody like to switch to drums, to play drums, any guy, so that we can have someone who can carry the bass drum." I said "That's me...I'll do it!" So that's how I got started playing drums, I was playing bass drum and I started paradiddles and learning how to do that type of thing in junior high school. And then my dad was a former drummer and he was really into it when I switched over to drums and he bought a kit for me down in the basement. I started smashing on those, listening to records, you know Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, and those, learning how to play rock and roll. Really, that's what it was. And that's where I started just wackin along with it. I got fed up with....the band instructor would never let us play any hip music in the band, in the high school band and I quit the high school band and started my own rock and roll band. And that's where I got into it. The band was Jazzmasters.

Murf - The bottom line is you got into it to meet girls.

Brewer - You could say that. Yes. (laughing) It certainly not so I could carry the bass drum.

Murf - Do you have any favorite drummers?

Brewer - Ginger Baker, Dino Dinelli from the Rascals who I first idolized. I thought he was great. I saw the Rascals on Ed Sullivan, and they did "Good Lovin" and at the end of "Good Lovin", Dino Dinelli threw his drumstick up in the air, caught it, and I said "Man..that guy is cool." I also loved Buddy Rich, a great big band drummer. I thought it was great that he never practiced, he just went out and played like crazy. Mitch Mitchell from Jimi Hendrix is good. John Bonham from Led Zepplin of course. With the foot stuff, he was terrific.

Murf - Did you ever consider putting out an instructional tape of any kind?

Brewer - Instructional tape...no. I have thought about it off and on, getting into the teaching end of it but I may.

Murf - Do you enjoy your endorsement with Peavey drums?

Brewer - Yeah, actually I was pretty impressed with Peavey. I tried them, and they were nice enough to send them out on the road with me. The first tour I went out on, I said "wow, these things sound great". I've been offered other drums, and I just tell them, I'm real happy with Peavey. I like that fact that they look different and I love the way they sound.

Murf - You put so much energy into your solo's, where does it come from?

Brewer - It certainly isn't drugs! (laughing) I don't know. I'm really kinda a reserved guy. Everybody that knows me outside of the band. They come to the show and say "I never knew that guy existed". That's just the way I play. When I get behind a set of drums on stage, that's what I become. I don't know why.

Murf - Do you work out every day?

Brewer - No I don't. I go to the gym. I work out in the gym everyday, but on the drums, I usually start practicing every day about three weeks before we go out on a tour...just to get my chops back and get the hands working good. I find I'm fresher that way rather than trying to practice every day where you go stale.

Murf - Do you have a Peavey drum set at home?

Brewer - No, I got an electronic set at home. They're kinda antique now, Dynachord and D-Drum, and I use the Dynachord for the symbols and the D-Drums for the toms, the snares, and the bass. And I got a whole setup here with a midiverb echo on it, a mixer and a tuner and a stereo. I put my tapes in and I can put my headphones on and play along with it.

Murf - So you can play and not wake up anyone in the house.

Brewer - I don't wake up anybody.

Murf - Besides Grand Funk music, what other music do you like to play drums to?

Brewer - I pretty much play Grand Funk, that's what I practice to. I love listening to other drummers, but I really don't play along with them, no.

Murf - On the Were an American Band LP, the early ones were yellow plastic.

Brewer - Yeah, virgin vinyl they call it. It was, it was virgin vinyl. It's vinyl that hasn't been recycled. All the black vinyl is recycled. A lot of it came from recycled vinyl and it had a lot of pops and scratches and it just wasn't good. If you wanted to have the best possible record you could get, you had to have that clear, see through, vinyl. It was called virgin vinyl. That's what it was, and there were 100,000 of those pressed. They're more expensive....absolutely.

Murf - Why don't you play more songs from the Phoenix LP?

Brewer - Yeah, we have worked with a couple of things. "Feelin All Right" is on there right? No that was on Survival. Well, we do "Rock & Roll Soul". We don't do "Flight Of the Phoenix". Were running a request on the internet to ask "what songs aren't we doing, that you would like to hear?" And the number one biggest response so far is "Winter Of My Soul" followed closely by "Into The Sun".

Murf - That's a good one too...all of them are good.

Brewer - Yeah, we plan on adding some things as we go along. There's just not room for everything. We generally try to keep the show to and hour and a half. Maybe a little bit more and we try to hit the stuff....you know the thing that the internet fans and a lot of the closer fans have to realize is that the majority of the audience isn't them. A lot of the audience doesn't know that stuff. They don't know the obscure stuff. We can do them, actually we did "Winter Of My Soul" in the 1996 tour, and half the audience would just kinda sit there and look at us and go "what in the world are you doing? What's that song.". They just didn't have a clue to what the song was.

Murf - I know there's a lot of songs that I would like to hear, just because I've played the albums so much.

Brewer - Sure, and we'd love to do that. What we'd like to do is do a couple of show, up around Detroit and just do...all of that stuff. Just do the shows of all of the obscure type of stuff.

Murf - Orlando would be a real good place to do that.

Brewer - Oh...do you think so. (laughing)

Murf - On the Japanese CD's. I guess you don't get as much on those?

Brewer - Right, and that's been a real issue with Capitol. They've allowed that to happen because....EMI Toshiba is still part of Capitol records. Just because they allow that stuff to come into the United States, They're still making money on it, but they don't have to pay us at much. So we tried to get rid of a lot of that stuff cause its a rotten crooked record company. The only business that's more rotten and crooked is the movie and film business.