David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine once said, “You cannot talk about rock in the 1970s without talking about Grand Funk Railroad!” Known for their crowd-pleasing arena rock style, the band was well-regarded by audiences despite a relative lack of critical acclaim. First achieving recognition at the 1969 Atlanta Pop Festival, the band was signed by Capitol Records.
After a raucous, well-received set on the first day of the festival, the group was asked back to play at the Second Atlanta Pop Festival the following year.
Patterned after hard rock power trios such as Cream, the band, with Terry Knight’s marketing savvy, developed its own popular style.
By late 1971, the band was concerned with Knight’s managerial style and fiscal responsibility.
A 1971 performance at New York’s Shea Stadium sold out faster than the Beatles.
The group’s widespread appeal is also evident in its prestigious recording achievements.
Over their career, Grand Funk has had 19 charted singles, 8 Top 40 hits and two Number One singles (We’re An American Band and Locomotion, both selling more than one million each).
The group has now accumulated 13 gold and 10 platinum records with record sales in excess of 25 million copies sold worldwide.
This growing dissatisfaction led Grand Funk Railroad to fire Knight in early 1972.
Knight sued for breach of contract, which resulted in a protracted legal battle. At one point, Knight repossessed the band’s gear before a gig at Madison Square Garden.
In VH1’s Behind the Music Grand Funk Railroad episode, Knight stated that the original contract would have run out in about three months, and that the smart decision for the band would have been to just wait out the time.
However, the band felt they had no choice but to continue and fight for the rights to their career and name.
The double album should have fulfilled the contract with Capitol; however, because it contained previously released material, Capitol requested an additional album to complete Grand Funk’s contractual obligation.
While pressures between the band members still existed, the members agreed to move forward and complete one more album for Capitol to avoid legalities similar to the ones that they endured with Terry Knight in 1972.
The band recorded Born to Die and agreed not to release any information regarding their impending breakup in 1976.
In 1996, Grand Funk Railroad’s three original members once again reunited and played to 250,000 people in 14 shows during a three-month period. In 1997, the band played three sold-out Bosnian benefit concerts.
These shows featured a full symphony orchestra that was conducted by Paul Shaffer (from the David Letterman Late Show).
The band released a live two-disc benefit CD called Bosnia recorded in Auburn Hills, Michigan. This recording also featured Peter Frampton who joined the band on stage.
In July of 2011, GFR drew 25,000 people to their Molson Canal Series Concert outside Buffalo. In August of 2005 the band drew 20,000 in Albany, New York, and in September drew 20,000 fans to downtown Orlando, Florida.
In April 2006, EMI/Capitol released a new Grand Funk Greatest Hits package that includes a bonus DVD of rare concert footage.