During the first half of the 1970s, few rock bands were bigger than Grand Funk Railroad.
The unit dealt in a brand of crunchy, high-decibel rock that nonetheless had plenty of room for mainstream pop modes, as found in its covers of '60s hits "The Locomotion" and "Some Kind of Wonderful," as well as the iconic anthem, "We're An American Band." As a live attraction, they played in the same league as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who, regularly filling basketball arenas and football stadiums.
Four decades later, however, GFR is no longer considered an equal of those bands by the still-passionate classic-rock audience. While the Stones and Who (and Led Zep, if the members so desired) can still sell out giant venues, Grand Funk is a regular on the state-fair/casino circuit. And that, as it turns out, is just fine with drummer Don Brewer, who, along with fellow charter member, bassist Mel Schacher, brings the band to Resorts Hotel Casino Dec. 30 and 31.
Brewer acknowledged his group may not be icons on the level of the Who and Stones, but, he reasoned, 40-plus years down the road, he is still in a good position.
"I think it's pretty awesome I'm still doing what I love to do," he offered during a recent phone chat. "I get up in front of an audience, and I make a ham of myself and I'm having fun."
One of the reasons touring with GFR remains such a joy, he continued, is that the band's audiences are chronologically heterogeneous.
"I see three, sometimes fours generations of fans who know the words," he said. "I'm singin' 'Some Kind of Wonderful' and 'I'm Your Captain' and 'American Band' and there's parents and grandparents and great-grandparents out in the audience who know the words to the song. That's pretty cool."
Not that Brewer and the group exist in a perfect world. For instance, he has resigned himself to the fact that despite Grand Funk's continued popularity, there will likely never again be any new recorded music issued by GFR.
"That whole system is gone," he lamented. "We tried several times, even with the original band in '97, '98. We tried with this band too. There's just not an interest (in new music from classic rock acts) People are just not interested.
"We can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on recording, and what we'll end up doing is selling the stuff at our shows. To go in and record an album and put it out there and hope we're gonna get on the radio? That ain't gonna happen. That is disheartening, but you just have to work around it.
"At the same time I feel very fortunate that we can still play live. There are a lot of bands that don't have a name and they can't play live. It's really nice that we can do that."
Grand Funk was formed in 1968 in Flint, Mich. as a trio consisting of Brewer, Schacher and guitarist Mark Farner. A few years later, keyboardist Craig Frost—who, like Brewer remains a member of fellow Michigander Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band—was recruited.
Farner left in 1976, and the group underwent several personnel changes, one of which saw Schacher leave. The original trio reunited in 1996-'97, but Farner again left the fold. That led to the development of the current lineup, which also includes lead vocalist Max Carl, guitarist Bruce Kulik (a one-time replacement member of KISS) and keyboard player Tim Cashion.
Because Farner's departures never involved personal animosities, there appears to be room for yet another reunion, although Brewer insisted there is absolutely nothing to suggest such an occasion is imminent.
He suggested a reteaming could be effected, "if there was the right situation. There'd have to be a reason for it, and right now we don't have that situation on the table.
"There have been a couple of times that the proposition has been put out there. But we did our homework and it didn't make sense to do it. We'll just have to wait and see if a time comes along that it makes sense to do it."
Show times are 9 p.m. Dec. 30 and 10:30 p.m. Dec. 31. Admission is $60 and $50 both nights. For tickets, call 800-736-1420, or go to www.ticketmaster.com.
Ringin' in the New Year
Speaking of New Year's Eve gigs, Resorts is hardly the only regional gaming hall that has public events scheduled that night. Below is a sampling of what's going on in the casinos:
***Philly legend Jerry Blavat, who for many years spent Dec. 31 running dance parties at Trump casinos in Atlantic City, is taking his turntables and one-of-a-kind stage patter to Valley Forge Casino Resort, where he'll be joined by local disco stalwarts, The Trammps.
8:30 p.m., $125 (includes sit-down dinner and open bar), 610- 354-8118, www.vfcasino.com/NYE2012.
***SugarHouse is hosting a bash in The Refinery with music by theFunkyHorns Band. 10 p.m., $65 (in advance; includes party favors, appetizers and two-hour open bar) and $75 (door),www.sugarhouserocks.com.
***The Village People will do their dance-pop thing at Tropicana Atlantic City. 9:30 p.m., $75, $55 and $45, 800-736-1420, www.ticketmaster.com.
***Tiesto, arguably the world's top Electronic Dance Music DJ, will be presiding over the party at Revel's Ovation Hall. 8 p.m., $200, $125, www.ticketdriver.com.
***Billy Gardell of "Mike & Molly Fame" will laugh in 2013 at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. 10 p.m., $49.50 and $45, 866-900-4849, www.theborgata.com.