By John Cody
An American Band chronicles the ups and downs of one of the biggest ’70s acts. Grand Funk were reviled by critics and loved by the fans. Twenty-five years on it’s easier to assess what made them so popular. In addition to Farner’s powerhouse voice, they wrote a handful of the decade’s most memorable songs. Tracks like ‘Bad Time’ and ‘We’re an American Band’ showcased a group with its finger on the pulse of Middle America, mostly because they were a part of it.
The book is a joy for the Funk fan. James is one of their biggest supporters, at one point referring the group as “the greatest band in the world.” While the statement could be disputed without much effort, the stance doesn’t hurt the overall read.
Touching on Farner’s religious beliefs (he came to Christ at nine years old while watching a Billy Graham crusade on television), all aspects of his faith are treated with respect.
On the creation of one of their biggest hits, Farner comments: “I said my prayers one night and asked God to give me lyrics to a song that he wanted to touch people’s hearts — and lo and behold, in the middle of the night I wrote ‘I’m Your Captain.'” ‘So You Don’t Have to Die,’ from Phoenix, was the first direct reference to Christ.
After the records stopped selling, the group disbanded. In 1983 Farner got serious about his relationship with the creator. “I felt I needed God — and I knew that whatever I needed, I couldn’t go out and buy it, because I had already bought everything.”
He embarked on an abbreviated career in CCM — cut short once he realized, as he told BCCN in 1995, that the so-called Christian music biz was in fact as corrupt as what he had left behind. In addition to witnessing numerous shady dealings, he was criticized for continuing to perform in night clubs. Thankfully, the industry mindset he came up against has changed considerably over the last decade.
Farner’s handful of releases on Christian labels are less than memorable. While the music on Wake Up and Closer to Home (reissued by KMG last year) was heartfelt, the performances and writing pales next to his better known work. In this case, it’s best to stick with the hits.
© John Cody 2000