We're An American Band

Album: We're An American Band (1973)
Charted: 1
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  • "We're An American Band" was written by Grand Funk drummer Don Brewer. In a Songfacts interview, he told the story behind the song:

    "We started out as a trio in 1969. Everybody calls it 'heavy metal,' but heavy metal didn't come around until the '80s, so we were just a hard rock trio. We were kind of riding along with the FM underground situation, so we were able to make 7-minute, 9-minute songs and we'd get the airplay because that was the in thing to do - we could get whole albums played. As we moved into 1972, FM underground radio was beginning to be very commercial, so they were looking for songs that were 3 minutes 30 seconds long. We needed to go that way. We left our former manager Terry Knight in 1972. We were going through lawsuits and all this crap and we came out with an album that was very different for Grand Funk Railroad called The Phoenix Album. We were lucky to have sort of a semi-hit off that record (Rock 'N' Roll Soul), but we knew that the next record had to be something big or the career was going to go down the toilet. We were touring, supporting The Phoenix Album, we were going from town to town, there were lawsuits flying all over the place, it was a very tumultuous time period. I remember lots of discussions in the back of cars going, 'What are we going to do next?' Our manager kept saying, 'Why don't you just write songs about what you do: you're out here on the road, you're going to this hotel, you go to different places, there's people, you come into town...'

    So the thought came into my mind, 'We're coming to your town, we'll help you party it down.' That's really what we were doing - we were coming into town and we were the party. That's where the line came from, and the next thought I had was, 'We're an American band.' It wasn't to wave the flag or anything, it was just simply what we were. It was a true description and it kind of rolled off my mind. I went home and worked on the concept for a while and picked up a guitar; I'm not really a great guitar player, I can play tow-finger chords and that kind of stuff. I worked out the chord structure and I brought it in to rehearsal one day and there you go - we just let it go from there. It had a mind of its own."
  • The lyrics are about little things that were happening on the road during the Phoenix tour. All of them are true. Brewer explains the line, "Up all night with Freddie King, I've got to tell you, poker's his thing":

    "Freddie King was the opening act for us, the great Blues guitar player from Texas. It always struck me as funny that he would make his band play poker with him every night. We used to sit in on some of the poker games, and that's where that line came from. His band, he'd pay them, and then he'd go win all the money back so they were broke and they'd have to keep playing for him - it was a great deal. A lot of people don't understand the Freddie King part because they don't know who Freddie King is. Anybody who knows about Freddie King immediately picks it up. People who don't say, 'What are you saying, that Focus can't sing?'"
  • Regarding the line, "four young chiquitas in Omaha," Don Brewer told Songfacts it came from a situation where they checked into a hotel in Omaha, Nebraska. "There were four groupies in the lobby waiting to see the band," he said. "'Four young chiquitas' sounded a lot better than 'four young groupies' or 'four young girls.'"
  • The line, "Sweet Sweet Connie was doing her act" is about Connie Hamzy, a famous groupie known as "Sweet Connie." Some of her rumored conquests include Brewer, John Bonham, Keith Moon, Huey Lewis, Peter Criss, and Bill Clinton 9when he was governor of Arkansas). This song made her famous, and in 2010 VH1 ran a special about her life. According to Hamzy, she didn't have "the whole band," as stated in the lyrics, but she came pretty close - Mark Farner was a holdout.
  • Brewer sang lead on this. Grand Funk guitarist Mark Farner sang most of their songs, but Don was the lead vocal on "Shinin' On," "Walk Like A Man (You Can Call Me Your Man)" and "Gimme Shelter." He and Mark shared vocals on "Some Kind of Wonderful."
  • This is one of the great cowbell songs in rock. Mark Farner says he came up with the idea while they were working up the song. He had Don Brewer pick up six different cowbells so they could pick the one with the best sound.

    "He brought in six cowbells and we ended up picking one of them and putting a little duct tape on it to give it more of a cank," Farner said in a Songfacts interview. "It doesn't go 'cink, cink, cink,' it goes 'cank, cank, cank.'"
  • According to to Don Brewer, there was always something special about this song. "From the time when I brought the song in and we worked up an arrangement to it and we got it recorded, the song just had a life of its own after that," he said. "Nobody can just sit down and say, 'I'm going to write a song like this and it's going to be a major hit.' They just either have it, or they don't, and that one just had it."
  • Todd Rundgren produced the We're An American Band album. He is an accomplished musician who produced albums for Badfinger and The New York Dolls before working with Grand Funk. He has played on albums by Joan Jett, Cheap Trick and Hall & Oates, and had success as a solo artist with the hit "Hello It's Me."

    Brewer explains his production style: "Working with Todd was very relaxed, he did the engineering himself as well as production. He would just kind of sit there and let us do our thing and work our way through all the arrangements - every now and then he'd drop in a suggestion.

    His real thing was the sound. He had a way of turning knobs that would make everything sound huge, even in the headphones. A lot of the engineers would come in and say, 'I've got to record everything flat, don't worry about what it sounds like in the headphones, I'll make it sound great later.' Todd was of the school that, 'I'm going to make it sound great right now, it's going to tape right now. I'm not going to screw around with it later and get a whole different sound. You guys are going to hear the way it's going to sound on the record in your headphones.' That was new to us and it just blew us away that we're hearing these great sounds in the headphones as we're playing. Back then, we used to do an entire album in a week, so you didn't have a lot of time for splicing and editing and changing arrangements after you got it done. It was done in a week and it was done with mistakes or without."
  • Grand Funk was one of the best-selling bands of the '70s, and "We're An American Band" was their most enduring hit. Critics were often very harsh, especially Rolling Stone magazine, but they had a huge fan base and got lots of radio play. Says Brewer, "The time was right, it was the summer heading for the 4th of July. We'd really come off of about a year of publicity in Rolling Stone and other music mags with publicity flying over our lawsuits with Terry Knight. There were a lot of things going on where as long as we came up with something that was very commercially viable, it was going to hit, and this came and really took it over the top. We enlisted Todd Rundgren to work on the album - we wanted that commercial appeal Todd could give us with FM radio - he really understood what the sound of the time was. When he came in, the magic was there. We recorded in Miami, one thing was leading to another and it was all snowballing and happening for us. The fact that the song was so good, and so commercially good just added to it."
  • This was the first of two #1 singles by Grand Funk - the other was their remake of "The Loco-Motion" a year later.
  • This was Grand Funk's first major hit after shedding their original manager, Terry Knight (they were originally Terry Knight and the Pack). It was also their first single as Grand Funk, rather than Grand Funk Railroad.
  • In the first pressing, all the copies of the 45 RPM records were pressed on gold vinyl. Says Brewer: "That was Capitol's idea. A couple of bands had done that prior to us. It's called virgin vinyl and it's expensive, so record companies didn't want to do virgin vinyl. You could see through it. Black vinyl, they can put all kinds of impurities in there that nobody cares about. Virgin vinyl, where you can see though it, if there were impurities and stuff there would be specks all through it, so they didn't like doing that, but we went to them and said, 'Look, we want to make a special statement,' so they agreed to print 100,000 units of both the single and the album on virgin gold vinyl to go along with the gold record situation we had going - we had about six gold records prior to that, and it was like, 'Let's give everybody a gold record.' They were rare, and they still go for a pretty good buck with collectors."
  • After Mark Farner left Grand Funk in 1998, he and his former bandmates got into a dispute over how Farner was allowed to use the name. He ended up forming Mark Farner's American Band, a name that doesn't incorporate Grand Funk but references their famous song.

    Farner claims he did about half of the songwriting on the track, but gave up his share of the credit at Brewer's request. "The cowbell is my idea, that drum lick on the intro is my drum lick, because I wrote that in my head," he told Songfacts. "All those chord changes and the background vocals, I wrote all that. But after we got the recording down there at Criteria in Miami, Brewer came to me and he says, 'Farner, I've never had 100 percent writing credit on any song. Do you mind if I take it on this one?'

    So I gave him my half. And I kind of half kick myself in the butt for it at times over the years, but really my heart was: I'm a nice guy and I'm not going to let life screw it up."
  • Grand Funk was never even nominated for a Grammy Award, but Kid Rock paid tribute to the band when he played some of this song during his performance at the 2000 ceremony. Shouting out Detroit, he launched into his own version of "We're An American Band" with this lyric:

    We're coming to your town
    We'll pull your panties down
    We're an American band

Comments: 22

  • Just Me from UsaMust be a political thing that GFR isn't in the RRHOF. They've earned it and deserve it. Even the over-whelming majority of the fans know and believe this, so somebody (people) are holding them back. I will boycott the RRHOF until they get in.
    Just my little rant!
  • Lilysnana from ConwaySadly she passed away. And she was a teacher. Sad she was barred from a return concert. RIP to her. The 70s were wild!
  • Mister_mojo_risin from Atlanta UsaLOVE this Riff, one of the first ones I learned to play when I was a kid on a cheap Univox Les Paul copy through a crappy Sears Amp.
    Blew out the speaker.... What memories!
  • Ozo from OhioTodd Rundgren...you had to explain who he is? lol. You also forgot to mention the whole Utopia thing. *sigh*
  • Sharon from BostonCan anyone answer this for me? I know Todd Rundgren produced and engineered the song (and that "dit dit dit dit dit" morse-code effect in the background sounds like something straight out of his "A Wizard/A True Star,") but it also sounds like's he's singing backup on the choruses, too. Is that true, or am I just hearing things because I know Rundgren was involved?
  • Anonymous from UsaI have been reading about GFR lately and Connie. Tonight I read there was an album cover photographed in a barn with the guys naked among some hay bales. But Farner kept his "britches" on. So he said. That got me to thinking about him and I figured he wasn't in on the Connie situation because he sounds modest. Or maybe he would go privately somewhere else. Now I read in Debby from USA's comment he is a Christian. He seems like an authentic person. It's easy to see he is proud of his Native American heritage. Also, I picked up that the band were super talented young men who wanted this so badly that they put every ounce of energy into their work. I feel like they put the band first when they could have gotten discouraged. They were smart enough to look for help when things were going bad. They found Rundgren. And even when he was super eccentric they weren't put off by it, but kept a positive outlook. It paid off. Now they need to get into the RRHOF because they are foundational to the Rock and Roll story. That's unfinished business.
  • Debby from UsaThe line "Sweet Sweet Connie was doin' her act. She had the whole show and that's a natural fact" was in reference to a backstage activity during a concert in Little Rock, Arkansas in which Sweet Connie Hamzy reportedly gave b jobs to everyone in the crew and two band members. Not Mark Farner, who she claims was a born again Christian.
  • Paul from Southern Pines, NcThis song was recorded in Florida and Produced by Todd Rundgren on June 12, 1973.

    Grand Funk had ended their earlier 1972/1973 Tour on February 3, 1973.
    Grand Funk now with Craig Frost as Keyboardist.

    The truth, is that the Band was dry for material in 1973 when they hooked up with Todd Rundgren.
    Producer Todd Rundgren then told Don Brewer to write something about Grand Funk's experiences on the road.
    Don wrote the song that night, and the next day they started to record portions of the song.
  • Paul from Southern Pines, Nc* The reference to "Sweet Sweet Connie" did her act. Was regarding an August 14, 1970 concert in Little Rock, Arkansas.
    * The reference to "Freddie King, poker's his thing". Was regarding touring with Freddie King in 1972. Freddie a 'Rhythm and Blues' guitarist from Texas, opened up for Grand Funk. in
    many Concerts, was a notorious Poker Player who never lost.
    * The reference "Out on the road for 40 Days". Regarding the late-1972 Phoenix Tour (October 11, 1972 thru December 23, 1972).
    * The reference "4 young Chiquita's in Omaha". Regarding the Hotel scene in Omaha, Nebraska on October 28, 1971.
  • Paul from Southern Pines, NcWhen this song first came out, it didn't sound like a Grand Funk song. I know the critics ripped it apart as a Pop-Type Anthem Rock Song.

    But within weeks, it was on the top of the AM Playlist. It was 'the' song for a long time.
  • Camille from Toronto, OhC.L.A.S.S.I.C. rock. This is an anthem for all times. It just rocks out and makes you feel good anytime you hear it.
  • Yvonne from Hastings, MnDon't forget the nude shot inside the album cover. Very risqué for the times. From interviews with the band all they complained about was how much the hay itched.

    Also a tidbit on Connie Hamsey, when the band played in Little Rock years later during their reunion tours in the mid 90's Connie tried to get in back stage and see the band but was barred. Can you believe it she claimed to be a school teacher but still liked to hang out with rock stars.
  • Mark from Byrdstown, TnHomer Simpsons favorite song(with the possible exception being "It's Raining Men") by his favorite band.
  • Scott from Palm Desert, CaGreat band, great song. Nuff said.
  • Brandon from Peoria, IlAwesome cowbell :)
  • Robert from West Hartford, CtBlotto does a great cover to this song, personalizing the lyrics "we proceeded to tear Poughkeepsie down!" nicely.
  • Nick from Roch, Nygrand funk rocks
  • Barry from New York, NcListen to Don when he sings "Feeling good feeling alright it's Saturday night." Sounds like he has a frog in his throat for a second!!
  • Mike from Mountlake Terrace, WashingtonSeptembr 28th. 1973, Grand Funk went to No.1 on the US singles chart with this song, the groups first of two US chart toppers.
  • Joel from Montreal, CanadaPhish played this with Kid Rock on vocals in Las Vegas on 09-29-2000.
  • Jonnie from St. Louis, MoConnie Hamsey and her friend Sherry were friends of mine when I was at KAAY Radio in Little Rock. They were both really cute, sweet young girls from good families and lived in North Little Rock.
    They used to visit me on remote broadcasts and at the station sometime. Connie got a bit of a wild streak going, but Sherry didn't follow along. Connie's parents were nice people, but Connie just needed a lot of attention. Later, when she started some of her exploits with the groups that came into town I wasn't shocked...just saddened. We met again on one of my visits back to L.R. after I moved to St. Louis and she told me about one of the TV shows she was going to be interviewed on and an article that was coming out in Cosmo on her. She didn't look the same. Most
    of the sweetness was gone, a harsher look took its place. But somewhere underneath I could still see that cute little girl who I had met years earlier...I just wished that it was the same "Connie". The "new" Connie, I don't think, was truly very happy with herself.
  • David from Lubbock, TxSome "We're an American Band" albums were also released in gold vinyl. This started a trend with other artists releasing albums in colored vinyl and picture discs(Mr Mister, Journey, Living Colour and Sphinx, among others)
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