It was about 3 in the morning. Mark Farner came out of a deep sleep with words passing through his mind in a dream. He knew that if he waited until morning to make a note, what he was thinking would be gone.
And so, still between sleep and wakefulness — what Farner called “between Heaven and Earth” — he flipped on a low red light he had on his bedside table, grabbed a nearby Steno notebook, took the pen from inside the wire spiral that held the notebook together, and he wrote the words — the exact lyrics — that he’d make famous in the 1970 song he recorded with Grand Funk Railroad called “I’m Your Captain.”
Fans just might hear that song and certainly more during the “Mark Farner’s American Band Acoustic Show,” scheduled 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5, at The Canyon on Valencia Boulevard in Santa Clarita.
“A lot of the songs that we hear on the radio start on acoustic guitars,” Farner, now 73, told The Signal in a recent interview he gave over the phone from his home in Michigan. “They just end up on electric guitars. Because it’s way more convenient to grab your acoustic guitar out of the kitchen while you’re sitting there having a coffee than it is to go run and hook up your amp cord and get your electric guitar. You know, if you’ve got something that you’re thinking about, you can immediately get to it just like I did for ‘I’m Your Captain.’”
After having written the words to the song in the middle of the night, which took him all of about 10 minutes — entirely while in that state between sleep and wakefulness — Farner said he got up the next day, went to his kitchen, poured his morning cup of coffee, and 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 played that 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 had never made previously. And it was like, ‘Wow, what the hell is that?’ And I looked at my fingers and I’m going, ‘Wow, I’ve got to memorize this,’ because it was really speaking to me.”
Farner said the harmonics coming off the strings created a sound unlike any he’d ever heard.
“So, as I’m thinking about that, bang, it comes into my mind: ‘Go get those words in the other room. This could be a song,’” Farner recalled, lighting up and sounding like the late radio personality Jean Shepherd as he reminisced about fond childhood memories. “And so, I think, ‘Oh, those words. Yeah.’ I go grab them. And I’ve got my cassette recorder on the table next to my coffee. I put the words down there, and I hit record, and I just started playing.”
He said the song came right out of him.
“I recorded it,” Farner continued, “even with the chorus in there and the breakdown and the bridge where it breaks out — that all just kind of came as a flow to me.”
Farner, one of three founding members of Grand Funk Railroad — a prominent rock band in the 1970s known for its arena rock style — took the song to rehearsal later that day. He said his fellow band members heard it and told him the song would be a hit.
And it was.
Other popular tunes from Grand Funk Railroad include “We’re an American Band,” a recut of “The Loco-Motion” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.”
It’s Mark Farner’s American Band, however, that’ll take the stage at The Canyon on Aug. 5. Farner said he’ll be joined by two other performers — there’ll be an acoustic guitar, an acoustic bass and some keyboards. Together, he said, they plan on sharing a message of love.
“I’m a loving person,” Farner added. “That’s what motivates me — the love and the potential that we have with the music to spread that love and to ignite it and to encourage other people and to water that seed that’s been planted in them. And because, really, love is what we’re made from. If we can go back to the point where we were the infant in somebody’s arms, and we were that little bundle of energy, that is what love is.”
That outlook, Farner said, was strengthened 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 did not get the signal,” Farner said.
One October morning in 2012, he and his wife had been in Detroit on business, and his wife, having already gotten up from a night’s sleep, was coming out of the bathroom when she saw one of her husband’s arms shoot up in the air as he lay there in bed. Then one of his legs shot up in the air, Farner recalled. His wife told him he looked as white as a ghost, and she called 9-1-1.
Later at the hospital while trying to keep his heart going, Farner said doctors had given him so much electricity that he actually flatlined twice.
“And when I died,” he remembered, “I immediately was in Heaven. I mean, it was like I knew all things. I even had what the purpose of the Earth years was. I knew that in that state of being. But on this side, I think that was probably too much information. It’d be like plugging a 110 fan into 220 — it’d just smoke that sucker.”
In other words, when Farner came out of that state of being, the knowledge of what he experienced was gone, just like those dreams that he didn’t write down in his Steno notebook in the middle of the night. But he no doubt understood the fragility of life.
“We’re not here forever,” Farner said. “We’re here for a short time and then we go back to where we came from.”
Farner brought up the 28-year-old son he lost in 2008 who further made him appreciate what we have here on Earth.
“He broke his neck back-flipping off a picnic table,” Farner said. “Too many beers, camping out with his buddies … My poor baby. He just got in the prime of his life.”
Farner and his wife were taking care of him in their home for some time before he finally died. Farner would often play songs for their boy toward the end.
“He liked to hear me play,” he said. “And so, I’d just — whenever he would request — go in and jam and perk 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’s especially mindful of those fans who are military veterans and public servants. Farner’s dad, who was a veteran and later a firefighter, and his mom, who was a welder during World War II, taught him about the importance of service.
“Those who serve us in 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 throughout the years is straight from my heart.”
For more about Farner and Mark Farner’s American Band, or to buy tickets for the show at The Canyon, go to WhereMusicMeetsTheSoul.com and search for the Santa Clarita venue and Farner’s Aug. 5 event. Or, go to Farner’s website for other shows in the area at MarkFarner.com.