"Captain" Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad talks about Joplin, Zappa, 60s era, his Cherokee roots, and Jesus

"Follow your dreams and put your heart and soul into it because you're only going to get out of something what you craft-fully put in it..."

Mark Farner: The Captain of Free Spirit

Mark Fredrick Farner was born in Flint, Michigan is an American singer, guitarist and songwriter, best known as the lead singer and lead guitarist for Grand Funk Railroad. Farner has Cherokee ancestry deriving from his maternal side.
Farner began his career in music by playing in Terry Knight and The Pack, The Bossmen, The Pack (aka The Fabulous Pack), before forming Grand Funk Railroad with Don Brewer (drums) and Mel Schacher (bass guitar) in 1969. Farner was the guitarist and lead singer for Grand Funk Railroad as well as the songwriter for most of their material. His best known composition is the 1970 epic "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)". Grand Funk's "We're An American Band" reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 on Mark's 25th birthday on September 29, 1973.
After Grand Funk initially disbanded in 1976, Farner released his first self titled solo album in 1977, and his second, No Frills, in 1978.  In 1981, Farner and Don Brewer launched a new Grand Funk line-up and recorded two albums. In the late 1990s, Farner reunited with Grand Funk, but left after three years to resume his solo career. An authorized biography of Farner, entitled From Grand Funk to Grace, was published in 2001.
The new film project, dubbed “I’m Your Captain – The Mark Farner Story”, is inspired by the life of a man who ascended the highest pinnacle of stardom in his early 20’s, dominated the international music scene for 10 years, became a passionate advocate for Native American issues, military veterans, and the rights of American workers, and along the way became a husband (married 34 years), inventor and devoted father.


Interview by Michael Limnios


Mr. Farner, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & who were your first idols?
I became involved in music at a young age listening to my Mother and Father sings and plays music with all the relatives every Sunday. We would eat southern fried chicken or Sloppy Joe’s and have a day of music and fun.
My first idols were Howard Tate vocals, Jimi Hendrix, Rick Derringer, early Clapton, and Jeff Beck were all up there on my list of idols!


Happiness is knowing that when Jesus went into the earth he met his brother Lucifer there and forgave him and said “it's finished” Lucifer handed over the keys to the kingdom of Hell and of Death to the Redeemer of all mankind... unconditional Love... 

Why did you think that Mark Farner continued to generate such a devoted following?
I would have to say it is the topics I chose to write about and I followed my heart most of the time and people know who I am by the songs of mine they relate to... we have something in common... we have the desire for world peace and an even stronger desire to put an end to the drama between Israel and Palestine. If forgiveness isn't established in both Nations we're all sunk!


Which was the best moment of your career?
The best moment of my career was when Grand Funk was opening act at the the 1st Atlanta Pop Festival, July of 1969, the brothers and sisters loved us and we were instantly transformed into rock stars...!

...and which was the worst?

The worst moment was probably when we found out that our manager Terry Knight deposited the money we made on a European tour (over a million and a half dollars) in a Swiss bank in the most stable world currency (which at the time was Deutschmarks) IN HIS NAME! He scammed us big time!!! All that work for seemingly nothing... but I got the lesson forgave and moved on...


I miss the freedom I once knew from listening to the radio when someone from my home town was spinning the music and telling us all about it... those days are gone

Some music styles can be fads but the Grand Funk’s music is always with us. Why do think that is?
I somehow have known in the Spirit within me that my days in the bone-suit would only be for a while and I needed to have an inner peace to go on with my life knowing I would cease to exist someday. I used to think that there was a HELL! HA!! Jesus took care of that for me... so I always prayed to God for music and for a conscience that would not let me think too much of myself but would always remind me of who I really am. 

I am not necessarily the guy people might want me to be... The confidence of who I am shows up in the songs I have prayed for and the Spirit influenced... people who know me in Spirit know my heart and love me for my music... it brings hope and the light of truth to many...


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Follow your dreams and put your heart and soul into it because you're only going to get out of something what you craft-fully put in it... I slept with my guitar under the covers with me and woke up desiring to know her better...


My roots come out in the way the music makes you feel as a listener... it is who I am … it is how I speak and relate … I won't allow myself to accept debt from any person whatsoever...

Are there any memories of Grand Funk which you’d like to share with us? What are some of the memorable stories from the band you've had?
It's difficult to play without an audience but I'll do my best... in 1970 we were on a bill where the Rolling Stones were going to close the show... Janice Joplin road back to the hotel in a helicopter with Grand Funk after our set... we landed on the beach, it was dark as the inside of a boot...! everyone got off the huge chopper deafened by the roar of the turbine and whop whop whop of the rotor … we all headed up to the big pink hotel … I thought … I hollered out to Janice as she was a good friend of mine... “Janice!” … I headed back to the chopper … when I got there I looked up and inside the cabin of this huge flying limo was sweet Janice... smearing chocolate bars into the hot upholstery... she smile at me when I asked her “What the hell are you doing sister?!” she said... “the Stones are riding in this thing  next and I wanna mess up Mick's white satin britches!” and that's the truth...! 

Many British bands try to do rock & roll and it is certainly a compliment to us Americans that they sing in the free man's English and speak in the Kings...American bands will therefore always have the upper hand when it comes to rock and roll as “we don't have to fake the accent...” MF... 

Frank (Zappa) told me to keep on singing with all my heart and he actually wanted me to sing on one of the songs he had written... wish we could have done it before he died... oh well … I'll finish it out when I see him in Heaven! 

How do your Native American roots come out of the music and your songs? 
My roots come out in the way the music makes you feel as a listener... it is who I am … it is how I speak and relate … I won't allow myself to accept debt from any person whatsoever...

What would you ask of Sitting Bull? 

I would ask Sitting Bull if he felt the same way...


How did you first meet Frank Zappa? What advice Zappa has given to band, & which memory from him makes you smile?
Frank was one of many names that came up as we were discussing producers for the next GF album. Frank told me to keep on singing with all my heart and he actually wanted me to sing on one of the songs he had written... wish we could have done it before he died... oh well … I'll finish it out when I see him in Heaven!
It makes me smile to remember the day Susan Kellerman came to see Frank at the studio and we didn't know the mic was hot... we could only see this woman's butt in the control room window... I started jokingly singing... I wanna grab you by those big buns … big buns … 'cause they're so tight.... so tight...
We found out later that Frank had recorded it and we all had a good laugh over it...!


Secret music dream would be a rock opera with elaborate staging and lights with a sound system second to none... The theme would be the manifestation of money and the importance of it's purpose in freedom and duty to help form our peaceful societies around the world. 

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music? 
Prior to 1995 the Federal Communications Commission of the United States had what was known as the seven, seven, seven rule which only allowed the corporate and individual ownership of seven AM, seven FM, and seven TV stations. This was set in place to prevent the monopoly of the airwaves and help keep the people of the United States free. Prior to 1995 there was moral conscience governing what our children's eyes and ears watched and heard ... now there is no moral conscience... as the world is in the trickle-down effect from those men and women who control the United States by virtue of the issuance of our currency which is ladened with phony debt ... it is the very same insanity our forefathers declared themselves independent from in 1776... greed and corruption is driving the world and the common folks are screwed at every junction. Israel must declare peace with Palestine and Palestine peace with Israel or the insanity will continue...

What do you miss most from the 60s – 70s?

I miss the freedom I once knew from listening to the radio when someone from my home town was spinning the music and telling us all about it... those days are gone...


Do you remember any funny or interesting from Atlanta Pop Festival 1969? Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs, jams and recording time?
The trailer with all the equipment in it turned over and rolled down through the ditch on the way to the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969. After almost not getting to the festival we arrived with broken gear and amps... our roadies literally had to splice the wires of the transformers back together as they had been pulled apart when they ripped the fastening bolts through the chassis’ of the amps smashing tubes and other components... they were soldering wires right up until stage time!


Tell me a few things about the “New York's Shea Stadium concert 1971”, how that came about?
Sid Bernstien a NYC promoter liked the band so he worked it out for us to play the stadium and beat the Beatles record sell out by a landslide...!


Would you like to tell something about the pretty interesting documentary "I'm your Captain - The Mark Farner Story" Where did you get that idea?
My friend Joanne Codi who is the producer of the project is so intent on doing something for my wife Lesia and I and our injured son Jesse that she started the ball rolling and is now pursuing funding and whatever else it takes to get this important documentary finished... It is going to be a fun ride!

You had pretty interesting photo with the band on “We’re American Band” album. Where and how did get that idea?
Lynn Goldsmith, Grand Funk's publicity person and photographer came up the idea and we shot it at my farm in Michigan.


What is your “secret” music DREAM ? What turns you on? Happiness is……
Secret music dream would be a rock opera with elaborate staging and lights with a sound system second to none... The theme would be the manifestation of money and the importance of it's purpose in freedom and duty to help form our peaceful societies around the world.

Happiness is……

Happiness is knowing that when Jesus went into the earth he met his brother Lucifer there and forgave him and said “it's finished” Lucifer handed over the keys to the kingdom of Hell and of Death to the Redeemer of all mankind... unconditional Love...
I give myself to this Love now as I know it brought me here and most certainly will take me from here... I look forward to the consciousness following the bones...


Mark Farner's website       Mark Farner's movie


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