Mark Farner’s American band at the Canyon on August 5
It was around 3 o’clock in the morning. Mark Farner woke from a deep sleep with words crossing his mind in a dream. He knew that if he waited until morning to take a note, what he thought would be gone.
And so, still between sleeping and waking – what Farner called “between heaven and earth” – he turned on a dim red light he had on his bedside table, grabbed a nearby Steno notebook, pulled out the pen from inside the metal spiral that held the notebook together, and he wrote the words – the exact lyrics – he would make famous in the 1970 song he recorded with Grand Funk Railroad called “I’m YourCaptain”.
Fans may well hear that song and certainly more during “Mark Farner’s American Band Acoustic Show,” scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, August 5, at the Canyon on Valencia Boulevard in Santa Clarita.
“A lot of the songs we hear on the radio start on acoustic guitars,” Farner, now 73, told The Signal in a recent interview he gave by phone from his home in Michigan. “They just end up with electric guitars. Because it’s much more convenient to get your acoustic guitar out of the kitchen while you’re sitting down having a coffee than it is to go for a run and plug in your amp cord and pick up your electric guitar. You know, if you think of something, you can access it immediately, like I did for “I’m Your Captain”.
After writing the lyrics to the song in the middle of the night, which took him about 10 minutes – entirely in that state between sleep and awake – Farner said he got up the next day, went in his kitchen, had poured his morning cup of coffee, then he picked up his acoustic guitar and, while tuning it, made a discovery.
“I start playing, buh-bap, buh-bap, buh-doo-doo-doo-doo, and I played this little ditty that starts the song,” Farner continued. “And I went, ‘That’s pretty cool.’ And then I grabbed this chord, this inversion of a C chord that I’d never done before. And it was like, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ And I looked at my fingers and I was like, “Wow, I have to memorize that,” because that really spoke to me.
Farner said the harmonics coming out of the strings created a sound unlike anything he had ever heard.
“So as I think about it, bang, it comes to mind, ‘Go get those words in the other room. It could be a song,” Farner recalled, lighting up and looking like the late radio personality Jean Shepherd as he recalled fond childhood memories. “And so, I think, ‘Oh, those words. Yeah.’ I’ll catch them. And I have my tape recorder on the table next to my coffee. I put the words there, and I hit the record, and I just started playing.
He said the song came from him.
“I recorded it,” Farner continued, “even with the chorus in there and the breakdown and the bridge where it breaks out — it all came to me as a stream.”
Farner, one of the three founding members of Grand Funk Railroad – a prominent rock band in the 1970s known for their arena rock style – took the song to rehearsal later that day. He said his fellow band members heard him and told him the song would be a hit.
And it was.
Other popular Grand Funk Railroad songs include “We’re an American Band“, a cover of “The Loco-Motion”, and “Some Kind of Wonderful”.
It’s Mark Farner’s American band, however, that will take the stage at the Canyon on August 5th. Farner said he will be joined by two other performers – there will be an acoustic guitar, an acoustic bass and some keyboards. Together, he said, they plan to share a message of love.
“I’m a loving person,” Farner added. “That’s what drives me – the love and the potential we have with music to spread that love and ignite it and encourage others and water that seed that’s been planted in them. And because, really, love is what we are made of. If we can go back to the point where we were the baby in somebody’s arms, and we were that little bundle of energy, that’s what love is.
That perspective, Farner said, was reinforced about 10 years ago by a near-death experience. He said he actually died twice before doctors implanted an internal pacemaker in his chest.
“I had a bundle branch block that prevented my lower ventricle from – I mean, it just didn’t get the signal,” Farner said.
One morning in October 2012, he and his wife were in Detroit on business, and his wife, who had already risen from a night’s sleep, was coming out of the bathroom when she saw one of the arms of her husband getting up in the air as he lay there in bed. Then one of his legs went up in the air, Farner recalls. His wife told him he looked as white as a ghost and she called 9-1-1.
Later in the hospital, while trying to get his heart to work, Farner said doctors gave him so much electricity that he actually stopped twice.
“And when I died,” he recalls, “I was immediately in heaven. I mean, it was like I knew everything. I had even understood what the purpose of the earth years was. I knew him in this state of being. But on this side, I think it was probably too much information. It would be like plugging a 110 fan into 220 – it would just smoke that sucker.
In other words, when Farner came out of this state of being, the knowledge of what he had been through was gone, as were those dreams he didn’t jot down in his Steno notebook in the middle of the night. . But he probably understood the fragility of life.
“We’re not here forever,” Farner said. “We are here for a short time and then we go back to where we came from.”
Farner raised the 28-year-old son he lost in 2008, which made him still appreciate what we have here on Earth.
“He broke his neck knocking over a picnic table,” Farner said. “Too many beers, camping with his buddies…Poor baby. He has just arrived in the prime of life.
Farner and his wife cared for him in their home for some time before he finally died. Farner would often play songs for their boy towards the end.
“He liked to hear me play,” he said. “And so, I would just – whenever he asked – come in and jam him and cheer him up.”
It’s that transfer of love that Farner was talking about earlier that he tries to offer his fans when he plays music. He is especially considerate of fans who are military veterans and government officials. Farner’s father, who was a veteran and later a firefighter, and his mother, who was a welder in World War II, taught him the importance of service.
“Those who serve us in the service know and recognize my songs and my attitude and who I am,” Farner said. “The proof is in the pudding. What I’ve done for them over the years comes straight from my heart.
To learn more about Farner and Mark Farner’s American Band, or to purchase tickets for the show at the Canyon, go to WhereMusicMeetsTheSoul.com and search for the location of Santa Clarita and Farner’s August 5 event. Or head to the Farner website for other shows in the area at MarkFarner.com.