Meet the Grand Funk Railroad Keyboardist Who Spent 40 Years in Bob Seger’s Silver Bullet Band

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Craig Frost (second from left) with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band,  circa 1988. - Credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images
Craig Frost (second from left) with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, circa 1988. - Credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images

Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features keyboardist Craig Frost.

On the beloved 1996 Simpsons episode “Homerpalooza,” Grand Funk Railroad super fan Homer Simpson blasts “Shinin’ On” while driving his kids and their friends to school, and is stunned to learn they’ve never heard of the Seventies rockers. “Nobody knows the band Grand Funk?” he asks. “The wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner? The bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher? The competent drum work of Don Brewer?”

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Homer forgot one name. By the time that Grand Funk Railroad recorded “Shinin’ On” and several of their other big hits, including “We’re an American Band,” “Walk Like a Man,” “The Loco-Motion,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” and “Bad Time,” they’d become a quartet thanks to the addition of keyboardist Craig Frost in the fall of 1972. Rock critics noticed an immediate change.

“The Cobo [Arena] concert was the first Grand Funk appearance to have, well, soul,” Jon Weisman wrote in an Oct. 17, 1972, live review in the Detroit Free Press. “Perhaps one reason for this is the addition of Craig Frost, a multi-keyboard man who fills most of the rhythmic gaps left by Farner’s guitar and Schacher’s bass. Frost is a simplistic, but ever-present organist. His playing is totally uncomplicated, and provides to such Grand Funk traditions as ‘Closer to Home’ a completeness that the group’s sound never had before.”

Frost wasn’t just a hired hand. He was a full member of Grand Funk Railroad that co-wrote songs, and appeared on album covers. Just three years after the group split in 1976, Bob Seger brought him into the Silver Bullet Band. It initially felt like a temporary gig, but he was still a part of the group when the Silver Bullet Band wrapped up their farewell tour in 2019.

Even though he performed in front of sold-out arenas and stadiums for five consecutive decades, Frost doesn’t really mind that most rock fans haven’t heard of him. “I like the fact that I can be driving down the road and pick my nose and nobody’s looking over at me and going, ‘Oh my God, it’s Craig Frost, blah, blah, blah,'” Frost tells Rolling Stone via Zoom from his home in Temperance, Michigan. “I don’t really need that. I like to mow my own lawn. I like to do all this stuff on my own.”

Frost grew up in Flint, Michigan. He started playing drums in elementary school, infatuated by surf-rock groups like the Beach Boys, the Ventures, and Dick Dale & the Del-Tones. In the sixth grade, his parents took him to his first concert, Johnny Cash. “I was in awe watching something like that,” Frost says. “I loved watching his band play.”

By high school, Frost was playing drums in an instrumental group called the Outcasts. But his grandmother played piano and organ in church. When she bought a new spinet, she sent her old upright piano to his house. Around this same time, Frost got his hands on a tiny M3 organ. Using sheet music from Grinnell Brothers Music House, he learned how to use both instruments. “Everybody was a drummer back then,” he says. “Nobody played keyboards. And so I got my pick of all the little bands playing in Flint.”

The Detroit rock scene was exploding at this time thanks to new groups like the MC5, the Stooges, and the Bob Seger System. Frost took regular trips to the Grande Ballroom to see them all. “Iggy [Pop] would cover himself in hamburger meat,” says Frost. “He was a character. You went to the Grande Ballroom to see acts like that. He was fantastic.”

He has equally vidid memories of seeing a young Seger on the same stage. “He had that voice,” says Frost. “You thought shrapnel was going to come out of it. I remember seeing him and just thinking, ‘Holy crap, what a singer!'”

Back in Flint, he came into contact with another great singer by the name of Mark Farner, and an extremely competent drummer named Don Brewer. They weren’t even remotely famous, but their eventual success would forever change Frost’s life.

How did you meet Mark Farner?
This is 1968. I was about 17 or 18. We were all in the same area in different bands, but we knew about each other. When you were a local musician, if you’re any good at all, you’d start meeting your friends. Mark was playing bass when I first saw him. And he was a gifted singer.

What was your initial impression of Don Brewer?
He was a great guy. When I first met him, I was playing drums and he was playing drums. He was in a group called the Jazzmasters, and I was in a group called the Outcasts. So I knew of him, and he was a good drummer.

In Grand Funk, if there was a leader in the band, it would be Don Brewer, because he’s very smart. And even though Farner was our lead singer, lead guitar player, and wrote most of the songs, I think Brewer was still the leader of the group.

How did you wind up playing in the same band as Mark and Don?
Grand Funk started as Terry Knight and the Pack [in 1965]. I joined in 1968 when they were calling themselves the Fabulous Pack, not long after Terry Knight left. Mel Schacher wasn’t in the group yet. He came later.

What were Fabulous Pack shows like? Were you doing largely covers?
No. Farner was writing things that were the beginning of Grand Funk. Some of the Fabulous Pack songs became Grand Funk songs. We would practice at a place, leave just for a minute, and let Farner come up with something. Then we would come back and make the song happen. That was fun.

What were some songs he wrote back then?
I remember “Into the Sun,” “Can’t Be Too Long (Faucet),” and “T.N.U.C.”

How long did you last in the Fabulous Pack?
Not long. I remember we were out near Cape Cod and it just wasn’t going well. We didn’t really have a manager. We had someone pretending to be a manager. We weren’t making money at the time. I remember just being fed up with it. When we came back, the bass player and I just left. The group dissolved. But Don and Mark were in touch with Terry Knight [as a manager]. They got Mel Schacher, and they became the Grand Funk thing.

How did you feel about that?
I remember going, “Oh man, I wish I would’ve stuck around for that.” But they didn’t really want a keyboard player. Terry Knight wanted the three-piece, the power trio. So I wouldn’t have been involved in that.

What were you doing in the late Sixties and early Seventies as Grand Funk was taking off?
I was just playing in bar bands.

You’re playing in bar bands and your former group is selling out Shea Stadium.
Yes, pretty much. I was like, “Oh man. Oh shit.” But you’re absolutely right.

How did you feel seeing them on the cover of magazines and hearing hits like “I’m Your Captain” on the radio?
I was proud of them. I was also still in contact with Farner and Brewer. But I was very happy for them. I wasn’t one of these, “I don’t like you guys anymore, you guys made it.” I was proud of him.

How did you wind up joining up with them?
After the fiasco with Terry Knight [where Grand Funk fired him, kicking off a nasty, protracted legal battle], Brewer came into a club that I was playing with a band. He was sitting there watching me. At the end of the night, he goes, “Craig, why don’t you come and practice with us and just see what happens?” And so I did.

What was the audition like? Did you sense immediately this group could work as a four-piece?
Well, it was tough. Mark Farner played keyboards too. I was worried that I might overstep my place, but I felt that it went well.

How long after that audition did they make you a member of the group?
Pretty much right away, if I remember right. I knew the guys. I knew Mel too. We gelled just as friends. We grew up in the same area and had the same musical backgrounds.

How did it feel to go from playing bars to being a member of one of the biggest bands on the planet almost overnight?
I remember my first time playing with Grand Funk. I think it was in Seattle, Washington. I remember my right hand cramped up. I think two fingers were working. And so I pretty much sucked that night. It got better later, but my hands would cramp up in the first few shows because I went from playing in a club to playing in front of 15,000 people. And that’s a jump.

The reviews of that tour all said you really fleshed out the band’s sound.
One of the things that I loved doing in that band is playing rhythm. I would have my hand on another keyboard on top of the organ, a Clavinet, and I would use that as almost a rhythm guitar. And so I could see what they were talking about.

There’s a great video on YouTube of you guys playing with Freddie King at Madison Square Garden on your first tour.
He was a great player. You know how people take the strings of a guitar and push them up to bend them? He would bend the neck of his guitar.  I remember him breaking the guitar on stage. He was a big man, good guy. He would take our money when we were on the plane playing poker.

Why do you think the critics were so harsh on you guys?
I don’t know. I wonder if it had something to do with Terry Knight. I mean, we were doing the best we could coming from a simple place like Flint. But Terry Knight had a lot of enemies.

I would never start thinking about it because we had good crowds, people seemed to like us. I had fun doing what we were doing in the band. And so I didn’t take it to heart if the critics didn’t like us. But you’re right. They didn’t.

Tell me about starting work on We’re an American Band and getting to know Todd Rundgren, who produced it.
I worked with a couple of little geniuses, and Todd Rundgren was one of them. He was a fun guy and he has a good sense of humor.

What do you remember about the creation of the song “We’re An American Band?”
Brewer wrote the song. He had the words, and then he’d come in with this acoustic Mexican type of bass called a guitarrón. Then we had to make it happen. Todd Rundgren knew how to get the right sounds out of all the instruments.

Did it strike you as a possible hit?
I don’t know. A lot of times you think certain songs are going to be a hit, and then they never come to pass. But we knew that was good, the intro, everything. There’s a lot of energy in that song. I didn’t know it was going to be as big a hit as it was, but I knew it had something.

Did you know Sweet Connie and the other real-life characters from that song?
Oh yeah. All that stuff was true. I remember being on the road with those people.

The guys had a pretty clean reputation in terms of drug use though.
Yes, absolutely. I mean, the guys would smoke weed here and there, but no, it wasn’t like that. There was no cocaine or any of that stuff. People used to ask me, “Craig, how often did you play when you were high?” And I would say, “Absolutely never.” It took 100 percent to play. It took all your concentration to do what you were doing on stage.

You really made the entire American Band album in three days?
Yeah. But the songs were rehearsed. Grand Funk would get together and practice like it was our job. There was a place in Hartland, Michigan, right near Farner’s house, and we had a little sound place there. We would get together and practice, and we would come up with these songs. We were ready when we would go into the studio. We had songs ready to play.

What made you cover Carole King’s “The Loco-Motion” on Shinin’ On?
We used to just come together to practice. Sometimes people would just start singing something. I think Farner came in one day singing “The Loco-Motion.” And so we started goofing around, just playing the music to it. I don’t know how we decided to put it out as a record, but I remember playing the bass part on a Minimoog that I just got. I played one note at a time.

I remember Todd Rundgren going, “Can you get a sound out of this? Can you get a baritone sax out of it?” And I just looked at him. I still didn’t know how it worked. He came out and started twisting knobs on this thing, and it became a prominent part in “The Loco-Motion.”

You have writing credits for the first time on Shinin’ On with “Carry Me Through” and “Gettin’ Over You.”
Yep. I would come up with some chords and Brewer would come up with some words for it. I like to jam and come up with little bits and pieces. We’d do it as a group.

You were writing songs and appearing on the album covers, but the public still saw Grand Funk as a trio. Did that bother you?
I don’t know. I guess it bothered me a little bit after I played with them for a while. But the camaraderie was just wonderful. I’m friends with all three of them to this day.

The next album was All the Girls in the World Beware!!!. Was it different working with Jimmy Jenner as opposed to Rundgren?
He had a different approach since Todd was a musician and Jimmy wasn’t. When we made “Some Kind of Wonderful,” I wanted to come in at the end with the whole kitchen sink of organ and keyboards. Jimmy wanted it really simple without a lot of organ. I was very hesitant. “Is it going to work?” But he knew what he was doing.

You wrote the title track of the album with Farner.
I was just goofing around. I think everybody had a part in that song if I remember right. At rehearsals, you come up with a little something, and little jam, and then everybody jumps in and does their part. That’s how a lot of songs happened.

Born to Die is much darker album. You’re in caskets on the cover.
I don’t know what happened. A band is like a marriage between four guys And after a while, I think some of the marriage qualities just diminished a little bit. I remember that I didn’t really care for the song “Born to Die.” And for the cover, I remember going to a casket factory in a not very good part of New York. I didn’t really get it. I wouldn’t have gone that way, but that’s just my opinion. I thought it was a little dark.

How did Frank Zappa enter the picture for Good Singin’, Good Playin’?
That’s another genius type that I worked with. He was a great guy. He had that humor, and was very talented. I don’t know how he got involved, but that was a really unique album. I don’t remember all the songs on it.

You wrote “Out to Get You” with Don on it.
Yeah. That was a good one. From what I remember, it was just really fun to work with Frank. I’m lucky that I got to work with a couple of geniuses.

It’s interesting he wanted to work with Grand Funk. He was such an electric guy on the fringes of mainstream music, and you guys were seen, fairly or not, as meat-and-potatoes rock.
I didn’t know what to expect with him. I’d been listening to him for years. When we finished the album, he wanted Brewer and I to go to Europe with him and be part of his band. If you’ve listened to his music, you’ll see that we’re nothing like it. I remember Brewer going, “What could we possible offer this onstage?” Frank said, “I just want you guys to do what you do.” Well, I declined. I thought, “I’ve got nothing. I’ve listened to this band. They’re talented musicians, and I would add nothing probably.” But I’m glad he asked us.

Grand Funk broke up right after the Zappa album. How did the spinoff band Flint rise out of the ashes?
We still had that little studio we practiced in. Most of us wanted to keep playing. Farner, unfortunately, wanted to go out on his own. That was the breakup of the band. He had political things he wanted to say. It wasn’t really the Grand Funk thing to be political.

After a while, Brewer, Mel, and myself got together just to jam. We started playing around with different songs, coming up with little jams. It was just fun to play. Columbia Records had an interest in us. We didn’t think it was really going to go any place, and of course it didn’t. But it was just fun to get together.

How did you wind up joining the Silver Bullet Band in 1979?
I hadn’t done anything for a couple years, and I got a call from Bob Seger’s office. They were holding auditions. From what I heard, there were about ten people coming in. They were asked to play piano. I played very little piano in Grand Funk. I played a lot of organ. There was some electric piano, like Wurlitzers and stuff like that, but a real grand piano? Nope. I didn’t really play that.

I remember I was the first guy to come in. They gave me songs to be familiar with. Well, unfortunately, I listened to all the songs in the original keys. When it comes time to practice with them, they were in different keys. And I went, “Oh, I’m so screwed here.” And I remember Bob going up to the manager and saying, “Call the rest of the guys and tell them to write keys.”

But I played the best I could. I thought I gelled pretty good with them. And I remember they wanted me to come back. They had me play the organ this time. At the end of it, he goes, “Craig, you’ve got the job.”

I’ve interviewed Bob a bunch of times. I’m always struck by his complete lack of ego. He’s just a normal guy.
Yes. He is. But when you play with him, he’s as perfectionist. For instance, I remember being in the studio with Bob, playing something, just going for it. He came over and he went, “Craig, I see what you’re trying to do. Don’t do that.” And I would just laugh and go, “Alright, Bob, what do you hear?” He knew what he wanted always when we went in the studio.

When I first joined the band, there were just six of us onstage. But there were many more people after a little while. But if anyone hit a wrong note, he would year it. I don’t know how he did it with all those people onstage. But he would give you a look. He wouldn’t say anything. He would just give you a little look like, “I heard that.” I thought that was just amazing. I could barely hear what other people were doing.

The first record you made was The Distance with Jimmy Iovine. What was that like?
I don’t know if Jimmy wanted me there. He wanted all the pros and the people that get sessions all the time. So I was a little intimidated, because we worked with some really great people, like Russ Kunkel the drummer, and these wonderful guitar players. He wanted these people that knew what the heck they were doing when they came to the studio. And I was just a player in Bob’s band.

You play organ on “Roll Me Away.”
Right. You never knew what you were going to be playing when you came in the studio with Bob. You didn’t know if you were going to play the piano or organ or synthesizers or what.

Roy Bittan is on piano on that song.
Oh, what a monster player he is. I worked with some really good keyboard players, and Roy Bittan is just…oh my God, what a great player he is. And worked with Billy Payne too. What a fantastic player these guys are, just amazing.

There are so many great songs on The Distance.
Bob has a gift as a storyteller. And like you said, he’s just a normal guy. You can hang out with him.

The next record was Like a Rock in 1986. You’re credited as the co-writer on “Tightrope.”
I came up with this little ditty at home. And somebody called me from the office, John Rapp, our head of security, and I played it for him over the phone. And Bob was there. He handed it to Bob, and Bob listened to it. And he goes, “Craig, I’m going to come down right now, and play it for me.” He came down, and we worked together. He wrote the words to it. I thought that was pretty cool.

You also co-wrote “Aftermath.”
I played that for [Seger manager] Punch Andrews over the phone. Bob came down and we did the same thing.

The Silver Bullet Band is a different beast than the Heartbreakers or the E Street Band. The membership changed a lot, and Bob used a lot of studio guys on the records.
Drew Abbott played guitar when I first joined. He was great. David Teegarden was the drummer. These were good guys. But in 1983, we went out with other people. It was up to Bob. When it comes down to it, it’s like, “Bob’s the boss. This is what Bob wants.”

After the Like a Rock tour in 1986, you guys didn’t go on the road for another ten years.
That was sad. My God, the ’86 tour was just a wonderful tour. I had a ball playing on that. We sounded great, Bob looked great. We said, “Why did he take off 10 years?” I don’t know. You’d have to ask him.

Tell me about making It’s a Mystery in 1995.
That was different. He was off on a different direction. Musically, it was a little tough for me. I had a difficult time with the song “It’s a Mystery.” I just wasn’t at ease playing some of those songs as I was on previous songs with Bob.

How was the tour?
I had a bout with anxiety going on that tour. While were rehearsing, all of a sudden my thyroid quit working properly. And I didn’t know what was going on, but I had an anxiety issue then until I got my thyroid working. I didn’t know what that little gland did. It was tough for me, that tour, but I remember Seger still sounded great.

Grand Funk reunited around this time. Did you miss it because you were touring with Bob?
Once it was established that I was playing with Bob Seger, that’s my band then. I told Seger, “As long as you want me, I am here. I believe in you.” And so that was that. There was no going back. I didn’t want to jump ship.

That makes sense. The Silver Bullet Band was a more stable gig than Grand Funk.
Yeah. The reunion was very short-lived.

Tell me about the night Bob got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the band played again after all those years.
That was amazing. We played in front of so many people that I knew. I remember going into this little dressing room and Keith Richards was there. Meeting people like him was amazing.  I remember that Bob hadn’t sang in a while. And so he was practicing and practicing, and basically when it came time to sing that night, he blew his voice out. And so that was not the Bob Seger voice that you normally hear, in my opinion. But to be a part of that, what an honor.

Bob had young kids at this time and seemed pretty retired. Did you think he was done touring forever?
You can’t help but to think that. You’d save your money because you didn’t know if you’d get another shot at it. But then he came out and did it again and again, and that was wonderful.

There was a real hunger to see you guys again after all those years off. Those shows felt very special in 2006 and 2007.
Yeah, I was surprised too. And then I realized that Bob Seger has a staying power. We would go out there, and the audience was right there. They were there always. And good for Bob, good for us.

Songs like “Night Moves” and “Turn the Page” have real staying power.
Absolutely. And “We’ve Got Tonight.” He knows how to tell a story.  I’m surprised Bob didn’t want to start singing something else after singing “Turn the Page” every night for years, but bless his heart. The audience wanted to hear it, and that was that.

Going back a bit, how did Don Brewer wind up joining the band on drums?
In ’83 Bob was talking about replacing Dave Teegarden. I said, “I know a drummer.” And I’m not sure that Brewer was going to fit, because Brewer was the leader in Grand Funk. I didn’t know how he was going to be in Bob Seger, because Bob Seger is definitely the leader, and what he says goes. Brewer’s a great drummer. He played great. Seger loved his playing, and so he did a couple of tours with us.

You started sitting in with Grand Funk occasionally in the 2000s.
Oh, yeah. If they came close to me, I’d say yes. I loved it. They have another keyboard player, and I tried to stay out of his way because he was playing the stuff that I played on the records. And so I tried to find something else to play around that, but it was just fun jamming with the guys.

Seger’s farewell tour must have been emotional for you.
It was. I still have my stuff and some keyboards in my music room here, just in case he calls and goes, “I want to do something,” or, “I want to go in the studio.” I’d be ready. But he said, “This is my final tour.” I’m glad he went out on a strong note, where other bands don’t.

What was that final show like in Philadelphia?
I remember afterwards we were hanging out with some of the crew and some of the musicians. Bob came backstage. And he doesn’t always do that after a show. But he sat down at my table and he goes, “Craig, you saved your money. I’m very proud of you.” And I did. I never went crazy with money. I saved it well.

Nobody knew Alto Reed was sick. His death in 2020 was pretty shocking.
Alto kept it from us. I don’t think Bob knew. I think he kept it from everybody. I think Alto was afraid that he wouldn’t be part of the tour if he told us. Bob’s our front guy, but Alto was such a great showman, a great guy, and he added a lot to that band. That would be missed. I don’t know how we could go on without him.

I think Bob is one of the few people who said “farewell” and actually meant it.
Yes. I think he meant it. But you never know. Look at the Eagles with Hell Freezes Over. But I don’t think he needs all that fame and stuff. I talk to him every once in a while, but I think he’s just living life.

At this point, fans would love a Bob Seger memoir or documentary or at least reissues of those early albums you can’t find anywhere.
Right, absolutely. And that’s his prerogative. I wonder if he’s got great songs hidden that we don’t know about. I’m sure he does but for some reason doesn’t want to bring them out. That’s just Bob.

Do you still play keyboards for fun?
Oh yeah. I mean, luckily I’m not a bass player or something. I got a grand piano in my living room that I torture the cats with, but I haven’t turned on all my electronic stuff in my music room. That was for Seger stuff, or if Grand Funk were to call.

Do you think there’s any chance Farner will make peace with Don and Mel and reunite the original band?
I don’t know. There’s a serious wedge between Farner and Brewer, and so I doubt if that’s going to happen. If we were ever invited to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame….but for some reason, somebody doesn’t want us in that.

I don’t know what’s going on there. But I can’t picture what would happen if they asked. I don’t know if Farner and Brewer would work together. I hope I’m wrong, and maybe they would just calm down and we would all work together. I think that would be great.

A lot of people in your position would have a real ego. “I was a member of Grand Funk Railroad at their peak. I spent 40 years in the Silver Bullet Band. I’m a big shot.” That’s clearly not you.
You know what? I got good memories about that, and what a wonderful life I’ve had with two great bands. And that’s all I need. I got the memories, and I still have friendships with everybody that I’ve worked with. A lot of people can’t do that. A lot of people make enemies along the way, or they have falling-outs. Nope. I still love everybody that I worked with.

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