Friday, October 19 , 2018, 12:22 am | Fair 56º

 
 
 
 

Paul Mann: Grand Funk Railroad Rocks Fairgrounds

The band treats patrons of the Santa Barbara County Fair to an explosive opening-night set

This summer’s Santa Barbara County Fair featured several headline pop-music acts for the price of fair admission.

The sprawling Santa Maria Fairpark offered an intriguing backdrop for bands such as War and The Beach Boys. But opening night, July 14, which happened to be dollar night, proved especially exciting when one of the most successful American bands in rock history opened the fair — literally with a bang. The veteran rockers of Grand Funk Railroad played loud and fast, living up to their moniker as the ultimate party band.

The group featured two of the three original members — bass player Mel Schacher and drummer Don Brewer. Together, with guitar player Mark Farner, the power trio was one of the most successful hard-rock bands of the 1970s.

Grand Funk Railroad sold more than 25 million records and headlined arenas around the world, including the 1970 Atlanta International Pop Festival in front of more than 300,000 people.

Many critics early on panned the group for being too loud, rough and meandering, with their musical vent. But for that same reason, millions of fans adored them, as one of America’s best hard-rock jam bands. Their biggest hit, the 1973 song “We’re an American Band,” was actually a sarcastic slap at the critical media of the time. The current band replaces guitar icon Farner with two veteran guitar players.

Max Carl, who is the band’s new lead singer and rhythm guitarist, was the catalyst that launched his former band 38 Special into the limelight. He penned and sang their biggest hit, “Second Chance,” which he included in the show with Grand Funk Railroad. A powerful singer and consummate performer, he brought the crowd to their feet throughout the evening.

To complete the new band, Bruce Kulik was inducted to play lead guitar. This veteran rocker, who has played with a number of rock groups, is most well known as the lead guitar player for Kiss. He played with the legendary rock group for 12 years — from 1984 to 1996 — and helped write several of their platinum selling albums.

His incredible skills as a master guitar player were well-utilized by the new Grand Funk Railroad, especially in their most brilliant jamming moments. The band played a solid 90-minute set featuring their biggest hit songs, but it was when they returned to their early roots that they shined brightest.

When they played “Are You Ready” from their first album and “Inside Looking Out” from their second, the group melded into an explosive jam band. Centered on the extraordinary rhythm talents of bassist Schacher and drummer Brewer, the two guitar players weaved a trail of screaming guitar riffs sure to please any hard-rock fan.

Schachers’ bass was uncharacteristically recorded as the loudest instrument on the band’s early recordings, and in many ways his funky rhythm was the lead in the band. Brewer showcased his incredible talents with a good old-fashioned drum solo, showing that he is still one of the best rock drummers in the business.

The band played a fitting finale of “We’re an American Band,” and had fair patrons young and old dancing and clapping in a frenzy, before everyone headed out into a classic American county fair.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor.

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