When a band's been around as long as the Flint-formed Grand Funk Railroad (43 years), special anniversaries seem to pop up just about every year. So this time out it's been 40 years since "Phoenix," a transitional set that drummer Don Brewer remembers as a "scary" time for the group.
"Talk about sink or swim time, that was it," says Brewer, 63. Grand Funk was in the midst of a lawsuit with former manager/producer Terry Knight, battling over rights to the band name and its music. On top of that, the group had added a fourth member, keyboardist Craig Frost, and had a batch of songs Brewer acknowledges was "drastically, radically different than what we had done before."
"We wanted to make a change -- probably too much of a change for Grand Funk fans," he says. "Luckily we had (the single) 'Rock and Roll Soul;' it wasn't huge, but it kept us going and we were able to go out on the road and support (the album). But if you listen to the record we were experimenting and thinking about what we were going to do.
"It did lead us to the '...American Band' thing, so that was good. But it was one of the hardest times we had."
Brewer, meanwhile, had one of his busiest of recent years during 2011 and early 2012, when in addition to Grand Funk he was on the road with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. He was happy to get some time off after Seger finished in January, but Brewer also has plenty of good memories from his efforts.
"I thought it was great," he says. "I thought Bob got even stronger on the second leg of the tour last year. I think he's having fun, whereas when I compare it back to 2006 and 2007, I think he had more fun this time. Certainly going back to the 80s and stuff, I think there was a lot more pressure back then. It was a crazy time.
"But this time he seemed really happy. I think all of us, when we get this old, we just have a different mindset. You realize, 'God, I'm lucky to still be able to do this,' whereas when you're young you're always pushing and pushing. Now it's just like, 'Wow, I'm lucky...'
Grand Funk Railroad performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 29, at SoundBoard in the Motor City Casino and Hotel, 2901 Grand River Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $43 and $41. Call 1-866-782-9633 or visit www.motorcitycasino.com.
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