A rockin’ good time
Mark Farner plays charity show in Newark
Mark Farner belted out songs in a soulful voice, wailed on his electric guitar and strutted around the stage like a man blissfully possessed by the music, back when he was the 20-something frontman of Grand Funk in the 1970s.
From a performance standpoint, little has changed since those days when Grand Funk (originally Grand Funk Railroad) sold out stadiums and arenas and released chart-topping albums and singles, before disbanding in 1976.
On Saturday, a fit-looking Farner, now 69, hit the stage at the Newark Country Club and gave an energetic, hour-long charity concert that had the crowd of approximately 300 people dancing, singing along and videotaping his every magnetic move. The show benefited the Delaware Rock ‘n’ Roll Hame of Fame.
Backed by Club Phred, a Newark-based band that has seven members, Farner opened his set with “Are You Ready,” a romping song that set the festive tone for the rest of the show.
After running the band through a few more Grand Funk fan-favorite deep cuts, all of them foot-stomping tunes, Farner delivered some of the easily recognizable giant hits that traveled frequently over the radio airwaves back in the ‘70s.
The list included “The Loco-motion” and the epic “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home).” Arriving at the signatory chorus of that multi-part song – “I’m getting closer to my home” – a beaming Farner led the singalong crowd. Farner dedicated that song to all the U.S. troops serving overseas.
Farner also gave an impassioned performance of his self-penned “Bad Time,” which, he told the audience, received “more airplay than any other song in 1975” and earned him an EMI award. Farner then noted, with comedic timing, that “Bad Time” charted at No. 2, unable to claim the top spot.
In addition, he performed a gritty cover of “How Come My Bulldog Don’t Bark,” a 1967 hit by Farner’s musical hero, the late Howard Tate, a soul singer Farner discovered during his formative years growing up in Flint, Mich., and listening to R&B and Motown records spun by WTAC disc jockeys in Ontario.
Farner remembered taking up an offer for free records, indiscriminately reaching into a box filled with them and snagging a few. One of them was a Howard Tate record, which, after he played it back at his home, gave him a profound revelation.
“I said, ‘I want to sing like him,’” Farner told the audience, recalling that pivotal moment.
When Farner wasn’t singing at his microphone stand during Saturday’s show, he was moving rhythmically back and forth across the stage, making personal musical connections with each Club Phred band member.
Farner stood side-by-side with lead guitarist Brian Scott, 26, on a few of the lead guitar solos. Farner also visited Fred Dawson on at least one number, playing his keyboard as if it were a drum. He wandered from the stage and into the crowd a few times in mid-performance, too.
After the gig, Farner said he and Dawson struck up a friendship after meeting several years ago at a rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp. “He is a genuine, real person,” Farner said. It wasn’t until later in their friendship, however, that Dawson revealed that he was in a Delaware band, according to Farner.
“I found out he was a B-3 (organ) player,” said Farner, who was impressed because the B-3 was a staple instrument in 1960s and 1970s rhythm & blues, rock and even reggae.
Saturday marked the 12th time that Farner performed with Club Phred, so a familiarity has been established. Farner and the band held a short rehearsal on Saturday morning to prepare for the late afternoon show.
“He’s comfortable with us,” explained Kathy Layfield, a Club Phred vocalist and synthesizer player.
Club Phred’s saxophone player, Gaetano “Vince” Vinciguerra – his energy belies his age, 79 – described Farner as an affable “regular guy.”
For Scott, the baby of the group, which he joined about a year ago, playing his electric guitar alongside Farner on stage was thrilling.
“It was amazing because of the energy that he has. His energy is contagious,” Scott said, adding that, contrasting Farner’s stage charisma, “He’s a real down-to-earth guy.”
Rounding out Club Phred are rhythm guitarist Mark Sisk, bassist Brian Daring and drummer Jim Palmer.
Farner said he was happy to perform with Club Phred to help the Delaware Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
“This is not a spinoff of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It has a different brain,” Farner said, noting that music fans will have a strong say when it comes to nominees for the Delaware one. “There are some (in the national hall of fame) that don’t belong, and there are some that do belong and have been kept out.”
The brainchild of Newark residents George and Paula Wolkind, the Delaware Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame started about three years ago with the couple creating a Facebook page to share memories of the local music scene. It took off from there, with nearly 900 people now following the page and contributing to the conversation.
The Wolkinds’ long-term goal is to secure a building that would double as a museum, where the legacy of Delaware musicians could be retained and a school where up-andcoming musicians could learn from older musicians.
In the general spirit of that nostalgia, Mike Hill, 57, of Newark, turned out to see Mark Farner on Saturday with a worn cover for Grand Funk’s 1972 album “Phoenix,” for Farner to sign.
It was emotional for Hill, whose brother, Joe, died from cancer four years ago, shortly after their mother died.
“Joe was my older brother and he had a big influence on my musical tastes. He turned me on to Grand Funk, and I’ve loved their music ever since. My brother’s two most favorite bands were Grand Funk and Yes,” Hill said. “I want Mark Farner to sign this album and dedicate it to my brother.”
Mark Farner loses himself in a guitar solo during a charity performance at the Newark Country Club on Saturday.