Army veteran and Oregon native Steve Willard saw a lot of concerts while he was stationed in Germany from 1972 to 1976. But the most memorable was Grand Funk Railroad, which Willard saw on April 11, 1975, in Ludwigshafen am Rhein.
“Grand Funk came out, and they started the concert, and they played several songs,” Willard said. “And then they turned down the lights and (the band) went off the stage. They turned on a big screen that showed a steam train, wheels turning and stuff, different angles of it. And they were playing ‘We’re an American Band’ while the train was going. They stopped and had snippets of interviews with people in the band, and then go back to the train — ‘We’re an American Band.’ … All of a sudden, boom, all the lights come on, they’re out there with their instruments and they start playing ‘We’re an American Band.’ And the screen in the background turns to an American flag and pyrotechnics go off and the concert was going again. That was kind of neat to see in Frankfurt.”
Fellow Oregon Army Veteran Bart Carpenter was also stationed in Germany during his tour of duty from 1971 to 1972. The lifelong rock ’n’ roll fan has a Grand Funk story from his time out there, though he never saw the band live.
“As I was getting short, my last month or so, I had my replacement, I was training him,” Carpenter said. “I was a company clerk, so I had my own room up on the third floor of our barracks by myself, and I’d go up and I’d pump Grand Funk, ‘Closer to Home,’ and I’d turn that — crank it up and play it. I’m going home. About two, three weeks of that, my CO sent a runner up, said, ‘OK, we got the message, turn it down.’”
In the intervening years, Willard, who lives in Pilot Rock, and Carpenter, of Culver, became fast friends through mutual friend David Beck. More than four decades after Willard’s first (and to date, only) Grand Funk show — and for the first time for Carpenter — the three and their families will make the trek to the Deschutes County Fair to see the classic hard rockers.
“We’re going fishing the day before, all of us — we’ve got a boat reserved down on East Lake,” Willard said. “Then after that, we’re going to the concert the next day.”
“I guess the memory song is ‘Closer to Home,’” Carpenter said. “I’m just going to listen to some good, old rock ’n’ roll.”