Jupiter’s leader of Grand Funk Railroad: I’m a ‘weekend rock star’ now

Updated Jan 17, 2018
Grand Funk Railroad (left to right) Mel Schacher (bass), Bruce Kulick (guitar), Max Car (vox), Don Brewer (drums), Tim Cashion (keyboards)

Most weeks, from Monday through Thursday, Don Brewer is living the South Florida life. You can find him in his Jupiter home, hanging out with his wife, playing granddad, and enjoying the mild weather.

But Friday through Sunday, he’s a rock star.

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Scratch that: Brewer, a co-founding member and backbone of the Michigan-born Grand Funk Railroad, is always a rock star, even when off-stage.

But for an average of 45 shows a year, when he climbs behind the drum set to play “We’re An American Band,” “The Loco-motion,” “I’m Your Captain” and more, he’s stepping into a role he’s played for nearly 50 years.

“It’s a nice schedule, mostly weekend work,” says Brewer, who joins Mel Schacher, the other original member, and their band mates Max Carl, Bruce Kulick and Tim Cashion for a hometown show at the South Florida Fair on Wednesday.

“We fly out on Friday and come home on Sunday. It’s not like I have to get a tour bus and go do 100 shows, like some bands do for months and months. I told everyone a long time ago that I don’t do buses.”

What Brewer does do, he says, is maintain a steady schedule, “giving us time to get home, while staying weekend rock stars.” That entails spending time with his wife, former local radio icon Sunny Quinn, who is often at their five-acre horse ranch in Jupiter Farms with their appropriately-named horse Drummer.

But being a member of Grand Funk Railroad also takes up parts of his week as well, because he doubles as the band’s manager. “So I spend a lot of time every day (doing that),” says Brewer. “I’m also the accountant for the band, but beyond that I’m free to do what I want. I can run to Home Depot as many times as I need to, get things to fix the house and do the landscaping and stuff normal homeowners do.”

There are a lot of local rock stars. Why?

“The weather, for sure,” says Brewer. “The other thing, for me, is that I prefer the east coast (of the United States) to the west coast, and this is the warm place on the east coast. Where else can you go where you can be warm 12 months out of the year? It’s east to get in and out of, to Atlanta or Detroit or wherever you want to go. You kind of have everything you need. That’s why I chose to live here. I’ll be here 38 years this year.”

The South Florida Fair show provides a unique opportunity “to get in the car and drive to a gig. We generally do that in the state of Florida, even if we’re in Tampa or Orlando,” Brewer says, adding that the band had a “disastrous’ time about three years ago trying to avoid the five-hour drive to Key West.

“We tried to fly it one time, on a little charter plane, and we just couldn’t get there,” explains the drummer, laughing now perhaps because he’s no longer on that trip. “The plane broke down, and we were late, and when we got down there, they canceled the (return) flight on us, so we rented a car and had to drive home anyway. They were like ‘The plane is coming in, the plane is coming in….The plane is not coming in.’ That’s the last time we try to do that.”

No matter how they get there, Brewer says it’s all worth it once they get to the show. On the band’s official Web site, there’s a photo from a show last year in Lake Charles, La. Brewer is standing behind the drum set, beaming proudly at the crowd. That smile, he says, is a constant.

“We get sick of travel and the hotels and the airlines, but there is no replacement for getting out on stage and hearing that audience light up, to see the smiles on their faces and the recognition of songs. You see what it means to them, up on their feet doing a conga line on ‘The Loco-motion.’ You can see the guys that experienced that song from Vietnam — you can tell who they are. And when we do ‘Some Kind of Wonderful,’ you can see the generations of fans that know the words. When I look at what we’re doing to the audience, I get a charge. I don’t get a charge from anything else like I do onstage.”

While it’s an easy schedule that Brewer’s not planning to give up anytime soon, he says that there will be a time in the future when “I’m gonna have to stop. I know something’s gonna give, arthritis or something.

“There are people you’ve seen over the years where you think, ‘That guy oughta hang it up.’ I’ve said to my family ‘When you see me get there, please tell me.’ Luckily I don’t think I’m there yet. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than to get up onstage and watch the audience light up.”