Grand Funk – We’re An American Band

In many ways, Grand Funk was the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll – they got no respect.

Starting out as a power Trio from Flint, Michigan in 1969, Grand Funk Railroad, as they were known before they shortened their name on their seventh album, toped the charts album after album into the mid ’70s. Yet still they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1971, Grand Funk equaled the Beatles’ record setting concert venue attendance at Shea Stadium – but Grand Funk sold it out in 3 days whereas the Beatles took 3 weeks. Yet they were still panned by the critics and got no respect.

In 1972, Grand Funk became a quartet, filling out their music by adding organ and keyboards. They became the sound of the working class in the United States – loud and proud and ready to take on the world. They defined arena rock and changed the music scene in ways they are rarely given credit for. They were the sound of Grit, Noise, and Revolution in the face of adversity. And still, they were panned by the critics and got no respect.

But their fans knew them, and they respected Grand Funk for what they were. 

They were an American Band.

Grand Funk’s “We’re an American Band” was released on yellow colored vinyl for its first pressings only. I admit, I was too young to know what Grand Funk was all about when this album was originally released. However, when I ran across this copy a few years back, I knew exactly what it was – a necessary addition to my record collection.

Bob Seger – Back in ’72

Don’t look for Bob Seger’s “Back In ’72” on CD. You won’t find it. Along with most of Seger’s really works, “Back in ’72” was never officially released on anything other than album, cassette, and 8 track tape. 

Considered by many to be one of his best early albums, “Back in ’72” is the first album by Bob Seger that features his longtime saxophone player Alto Reed. But don’t look for all to read listed in the credits. On this album he appeared under his real name, Tom Cartmell.

By this point in his musical career, Bob Seger had become known as Detroit’s best kept secret. This was his sixth album oh, and he had not really gained any notoriety outside of Southeastern Michigan. That would change a few years later when he would release the album “Beautiful Loser”, and one of the best live albums ever, “Live Bullet”. The latter of which contained Seger’s breakout hit, the live version of “Turn the Page”. If you ever want to hear the studio version, you’ll have to queue up “Back In ’72” on your turntable.

The Rockets – Live Rockets

The music business is filled with unsung heroes – local bands that never received the true recognition they deserved. I can’t speak for other major cities, but in the case of Detroit, there is no truer case of this than The Rockets. 

A local supergroup of sorts, guitarist Jim McCarty and drummer John Badanjek, from Mitch Rider’s backing band, the Detroit Wheels (and later a member of supergroup “Cactus”) along with front-man Dave Gilbert from Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes, were the core driving force of what was truly a force to be reckoned with in the late ’70s and early ’80s. They just never had the chance to really prove it.

In the course of their career, The Rockets released five great studio albums and one incredible live album, recorded at the Royal Oak Music Theater. If ever there was a swan song live album to be released by any band, “Live Rockets” was it. This was the sound of a band hungry to prove they had what it takes to make it. The problem was the record company just wasn’t listening. All you really have to hear in order to realize the success this band could have reached was the response from the audience. The energy in the auditorium that night was massive.

Still, at least to the fans in their hometown of Detroit, “Live Rockets” left a lasting impression of what rock and roll was at its core to those who play it live. The sound of a band hungry to play music and to get a crowd fired up, always leaving them wanting more.

The Rockets

The Rockets were the best band to break out of Detroit following Bob Seger gaining a national audience. Although, after six solid albums, including a great live one, they would never really reach the success and recognition they deserved. 

If you had asked me in the late ’70’s to define Detroit rock and roll, I would have told you the Rockets. They had the grit and noise synonymous with the factories that churned out the cars which also defined the Motor City. But the Rockets threw in a soulfulness rememinicsent of Detroit’s Motown roots and Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels, whom drummer John Badanjek and guitarist Jim McCarty had both played together in early in their carrers. 

While Bob Seger started to move toward more softer ballads going into the ’80s, The Rockets refused to soften their sound. Don’t get me wrong I love Seger’s stuff, I just felt Rockets never strayed from a sound that defined the determination of a struggling midwest industrial city. A coty that welcomed, and even celebrated that struggle. But that attitude was what probably prevented them from maintaining the national popularity they achieved with their self-titled debut. I always respected their music for that.

The Rockets’ debut scored three hit singles for the band: “Turn Up The Radio” and “Can’t Sleep”, both written by their Drummer, John Badanjek, and a cover of a Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac song, “Oh Well”. Although a cover, The Rockets refused to do a carbon copy rendition of the song, rearranging it to conform to their mix of grit and soul. One song I alway thought they should have released as a single is “Lost Forever, Left For Dreaming”, which closes Side one.

Side two kicks off with “Long Long Gone”, a song written for them by Bob Seger, and another one that could have easily been a hit single. Another stand out on the flip side of the album is a rocking cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille”.

The Rockets will probably always be my favorite band from my hometown. Although all of their albums are great and grace my record collection, their debut will always remain my favorite of theirs.

Cactus

So the other day, I found myself at a local music store, perusing the aisles of used records, and there it was! A record I have been looking for for a very long time. I knew that if I bought only one record that day, it had to be that one, the self-titled debut by the 1970 supergroup Cactus. (Of coure I still had to buy more than one album. I think it’s impossible for me to buy only one record at a time.)

I had to buy it not because I like it. I have no idea if I like it. I’ve never even heard it. But I have heard of it. And I’ve heard who plays on it: Drummer extrodinaire, Camine Apice, who took the jazz stylings of Buddy Rich and Gene Kruppa and applied them to hard rock and blues, Bass legend Tim Bogart who had played with Carmen Apice in Vanilla Fudge and with him again along with Jeff Beck in “Bogert, Beck, And Apice”, Rusty Day, vocalist and harmonica player from the “Amboy Dukes”, and Jim McCarty, a totally underrated Detroit Guitar legend who had played with “Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels” and Jazz fusion group “The Buddy Miles Express”. 

Since I first heard him, Jim McCarty was one of my favorite guitarists, partly because he hails from Detroit, but mostly because, well…because he is an awesome guitarist. 

As I sit here listening to this album, now for the second time, I have to say, I am so glad I finally ran acoss it and decided to buy it. Most of it rocks out hard – balls to the wall kind of stuff, heavy in the blues but with little flourishes of jazz weaving in and out. Not surprising, considering the players.

Personally, side two is my favorite. It starts out with a blues tinged rocker “Let Me Swim”, which opens with licks that sound like they were probably the influence for Edie VanHalen’s opening to “Eruption”. The album closes with “Feels So Good”, a song that ends with a drum solo proving that Carmine Apice can hang with the best of the a time best of drummers.

I am so glad to have finally had a chance to hear this album, which I had heard so much about. I’m even more pleased that I now have a copy of it in my personal collection. But more than anything, I am so happy I decided to peruse the aisles of used records the other day.

W4 Homegrown

There once was a time when local rock radio stations were just that – local. Not part of a homogenous sounding subsidiary of a communication conglomorate. It was a time when local radio stations strongly promoted local bands – adding their music into the daily playlists along with the national acts, having special weekend radio programs that played local acts exclusively, and even coming out with compilation albums promoting those bands. In the 1970s, WWWW – or as it was more affectionately known to anyone who lived near Detroit, W4 – was one such rock radio station.

W4 Homegrown was a compilation album of bands from in and around Detroit that had appeared on the W4 Homegrown radio program which aired every Monday night on the station. This album is a reminder of the wide variety of rock music that existed in the Motor City in the 1970s. 

For a couple of the bands, the song they have on here is the only recording they would ever release. Others would release at least one album and become only local favorites before breaking up. Some, like Toby Redd, The Buzztones, Northwind, and Lady Grace, seemed to get just the slightest glimpse of the national spotlight but never really broke out of regional noteriety. The Rockets would go on to record six solid major label albums, including one live album and had three songs that broke Billboard’s top 200. They also had a national television appearance on the late night cocert program, “The Midnight Special.” But perhaps the best remembered band on this album is The Romantics. They went on to record 4 songs that broke into the Billboard charts, including “What I Like About You,” one of the most popular rock anthems of all time.

One morning, in 1980, to the shock of the station’s listeners, and even the disk jockeys that worked there, W4 changed its format from rock to country music, abruptly ending an era for a legendary Detroit radio station. One of the stations disk jockeys who was blindsided by the change was a very young upstart named Howard Stern.