Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad on Gregg Allman: 'He Was an Inventor'
The Allman Brothers Band and Grand Funk Railroad each released their debut albums three months apart during 1969, and as contemporaries and road warriors at the same time, the two bands developed a respectful kinship with each other. Here, Grand Funk's founding singer guitarist Mark Farner tells Billboard about his relationship with Gregg Allman and his high regard for the rock great's music.
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When we first heard The Allman Brothers -- that sound -- we said, "Hey, these guys got something." And because my mother's from Leachville, Ark., I've got a kinship to boys from the South, anyways. And in Detroit, Flint, there was some Southern guitar player in everybody's family, because they all moved up from Arkansas and from Georgia and from Mississippi, Louisiana ... people moved up to get the high-paying auto factory jobs, and brought a lot of instruments with them.
When I think about The Allman Brothers, there is something inherent about their music that touches where you live down there. There's an innocence to it, and I love that about them. We used to gig with them way back when, when they were first coming out. It was good to hang with a bunch of guys like that, and The Marshall Tucker Band and those guys. Y'know, good ol' boys. Good people to be around. I remember a pop festival up in Canada, I believe, and just hanging backstage with them 'cos they were going on, they were fixin' to go on and we're talking about fishing. We're not talking about guitars, women or anything else about rock 'n' roll. We're talking about fishing, and what a great fishing hole I got, and he needs to come fish it.
Gregg is a unique individual, and he'll always be a true spirit in my book because he stayed true to the music. Gregg will always be in my heart a leader. He was an inventor. He came up with stuff, and that's what songs are, they're inventions. He had that voice that would take you there. He could portray the character very well. You didn't need a video with Allman Brothers; that movie was going on when he opened his mouth and started singing.
His voice, and I mean besides the lyrics and where they take you, his voice was perfect for that style. And he, he really didn't lean on anybody, he didn't steal from anybody. It attracted me because I love to hear somebody who's going there, who can get inside himself and bring it out and it's really there. And Gregg Allman is definitely one of those that brought that into my life.
And he definitely expressed his respect and his gratitude for our contribution to rock 'n' roll and his life, told me about listening to Grand Funk. That's pretty special, when you hear somebody that's talented like that, and they attribute part of their sound anyways to your music and to listening to you.
The last time I saw him, they were doing some stuff in New York City, and I just caught him, and I believe it was his manager or road manager traveling with him. We passed like two ships crossing in the night at LaGuardia, but it was like no time had passed, because there's an element that we both share. For musicians that have that respect for music in the first place and how it feeds us, even without an audience it's pretty dang special to be able to connect to a note -- it's got a relationship to something deep within you, and it helps you go there. I love that about music, and that inspiration with Gregg Allman.