GRAND FUNK: "We're An American Band"
My Dad thought all rock stars were British.
This wasn't as outlandish a notion as one might think. After The Beatles reclaimed the colonies on behalf of Her Majesty in 1964, it did seem like your prototypical rock 'n' roll performer would have been more likely to have been raised on a diet of tea and crumpets rather than apple pie and Yoo-Hoo. It was easy to get caught up in Anglomania, and forget that for every Beatles there was a Byrds, for every Rolling Stones a Paul Revere and the Raiders, for every Led Zeppelin a Grand Funk Railroad.
The genesis of Grand Funk (formerly Grand Funk Railroad)'s 1973 # 1 hit "We're An American Band" is legend (at least as reported by writer Dave Marsh), but worthy of infinite repetition: Yanks Grand Funk were on tour with Brits Humble Pie, and drinking occurred. Liberated by libations one evening, the members of the two groups began squabbling over the relative merits of British and American rock 'n' roll. And maybe it was tough to counter the argument on behalf of the UK, from The Beatles and Stones through The Who and The Kinks and Cream and Zeppelin and Bowie and The Faces and, I dunno, Gary Glitter. Slam-dunk debate.
Rock 'n' roll was invented in America. As much as I love the British Invasion and much of what it wrought, it should never be forgotten that all of the above--all of the above--was directly inspired by rockin' rhythms from the United States. That night in 1973, buoyed by booze and incited by conflict with a group of rockers from across the pond, GFR drummer Don Brewer saw red, with flashes of blue and white. More importantly, he saw inspiration. In my mind's eye, I picture Brewer knocking back a bourbon, lifting his frame from a bar stool, and leaning into the face of Humble Pie's Steve Marriott, stating his case in clipped tones:
Jerry Lee Lewis.
Fully incensed and committed, Brewer leaps atop the bar for his closing argument:
ELVIS FUCKING PRESLEY!
And he raises his fist to say: We're an American band!
If that's not the way it happened, I don't care. That's the way it should have happened. And Brewer wrote the song "We're An American Band" that night.
"We're An American Band" wasn't just Grand Funk Railroad's first # 1 hit; it was their first single to crash the barrier of the Billboard Top 20, a radio smash beyond anything this pride of Flint, Michigan had experienced in an already-successful career. It was--God knows!--not a political song at all, nor a reiteration of the rock 'n' roll born-in-the-USA history that prompted its creation. It was a simple, even simple-minded party song, extolling the virtues of vice, embracing the hedonistic atmosphere of a rock band on tour: young chiquitas in Omaha, a groupie named Sweet Connie (actually Connie Hamzy), booze and ladies to keep one right, as long as we can make it to the show tonight. Come on, dudes--let's get it on!
|Sweet, sweet Connie|
It is not uniquely American. AC/DC could have done it as "We're An Australian Band," and its debauched tour diary could apply equally to Scotland's Nazareth, Germany's Scorpions, Switzerland's Krokus, or, y'know, those British guys in Humble Pie. Dozens and dozens of international acts from across the globe could perform the song with conviction and vigor.
But none of them invented it. It was made in America.
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