You gotta have faith, and Mark Farner does. The former front man for rock legends Grand Funk Railroad performed on Guam recently to sell-out crowds at the Sheraton Laguna Resort, bringing fans to their feet in two shows that proved Farner’s rock and roll heart is still beating as strong as ever.
Farner wrote one of the most iconic rock songs out there, “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home,” a 10-minute anthem that is a must-learn for every aspiring rock guitarist. Many people debate the meaning of the song, but Farner makes it clear it was divine inspiration that guided him to pen his grand opus.
“I went to sleep, I said my prayers,” Farner narrates to The Guamanian. “I blessed the family, and I put a PS on that prayer. I said, ‘God, would you give me a song that would reach and touch the hearts of people you want to get to?’ I get up in the middle of the night, and I have a tablet right by my bed and I start writing, ‘Everybody listen to me, return me my ship,’ and it’s like three in the morning, and I’m just writing down these words.”
He continues, “I got up in the morning, set my coffee out on the table, looking at the horses out on the pasture. I picked up my guitar and played that opening riff, and I grabbed those words I’d wrote and started playing the guitar and hit that inverted C note. First time I ever played that, and I thought, ‘Where the hell’s this coming from?’ It was coming from inside. When I took that song to rehearsal the guys were like, ‘Mark, man! That song’s a hit!’ and of course you’ve heard the finished product!”
The finished product turned out to be Grand Funk’s most recognizable song, hitting Number 22 on the U.S. Pop Singles Chart in 1970.
Even after a contentious public falling out with his band mates, Farner continues to tour the world, playing “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home” and many of the songs he wrote that fans have loved for years. “It’s all about the love for me,” Farner says. “The music comes from inside. I believe that God is love, and everybody’s got it.”
Not many musicians can say they’ve been successful for nearly five decades, which is how long Farner has been performing. He sold out New York’s Shea Stadium faster than The Beatles in Grand Funk’s heyday, and he even enjoys a career as a contemporary Christian singer in between nostalgic rock shows.
While he is surely one of the hardest working guys in the business, Farner gives all the credit to The Man Upstairs. “My music comes from that place of love and peace in this world,” he says. “I believe that’s why people still like to come see me, and that’s why I still have the energy, because I serve love, man.”
Widely recognized as one of rock’s premier guitarists, it took an injury from football for Farner to pick up the six strings—and millions of rock fans are glad he did. “They told my mom [after the injury], ‘No sports for him for a couple years,’ and she knew I loved to hear my name called on the loudspeaker when I’d make a tackle,” Farner says. “So she got me this guitar and six lessons.”
Soon enough Farner found himself in a band, the Terry Knight and The Pack, which also included future Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer and keyboardist Bobby Caldwell. He would go on to become Grand Funk’s lead singer and guitarist, helping the band to an amazing four gold and four platinum records, including Closer To Home, which went double platinum and peaked at Number 6 on Billboard’s Album Chart.
In addition to his musical accolades, Farner, whose mother is of American Indian ancestry, also received a Medal of Honor from the Cherokee tribe and an Honor Mark from the Lakota Sioux. His father was a tank gunner in World War II, and it was his tragic passing that led Farner to his faith.
“When my dad died, I was nine years old,” he recalls. “My mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles were all crying in the living room. Billy Graham was on the television, and he said, ‘If you have pain in your heart, give it up to God. Come up here and touch the TV.’ I’m nine years old, mind you, so I go up to the TV and put my hand on the screen and prayed with Billy Graham, and received Christ as much as I could at nine years old.”
While Guam sees its share of talented musicians, Farner’s unique style of rock and roll had fans at the Sheraton on their feet, many of them singing along and shooting videos of the rocker’s epic guitar solos on their smart phones. “Any time you want us to come back, Guam, you holler at us,” Farner told the crowd. “We won’t be that far away. We’ll come back.”
And that is something we all look forward to.