The Petty Reason Grand Funk Railroad Tried To Sue A Former Bandmate

Have we become a litigious society? Or have we always been that way? There are so many lawyer jokes, and the jokes are almost always bitter. And people threaten to sue other people over just about anything perceived as a right or an irresponsibility, especially lately over things like wearing (or not wearing) a mask in public while the pandemic rages. Surely artists — people dedicated to, well, art, wouldn't be like that, right? They're answering a higher calling, because the important thing is the art — sculpting, dancing, painting, whatever. And certainly music. Especially music. Right?

Well, no, as you probably guessed. Whether it's a church musician/composer suing Andrew Lloyd Weber (Cats) for copyright violation (he lost, as the Baltimore Sun reported) or Roger Waters taking on former Pink Floyd colleagues over use of the band name (settled out of court) — music might have charms, etc. etc. etc., but musicians can get touchy. Especially over important stuff. Like capitalization.

Grand Funk Railroad isn't the only American band

Grand Funk Railroad ("We're An American Band," back in 1973) was the band. Originally a trio, they broke up in 1976, added and subtracted members, re-formed in 1996 (are you dizzy yet?), and fractured yet again in 1998. Founding member Mark Farner (that's his picture at the top of the article) went back to being a solo act, and in 2018 the remaining version of Funk sued him for the way he phrased his promotional materials. They said he violated a permanent injunction from 2004: "Farner's first and last names appear in capital letters before a reference to Grand Funk or Grand Funk Railroad, with only the first letters of the band capitalized, and first letters of the the words, 'former,' 'formerly' and 'member' also capitalized," as MLive reported. The suit "cited seven violations in advertisements for his concerts, including, primarily, improper use of capitalization," which in fourth grade might have netted you a re-do on the worksheet, but not a lawsuit.

In a victory for lackadaisical grammarians everywhere, a federal judge ruled in 2019 that Farner was within his rights to use "Mark Farner's American Band" (Farner had trademarked the name); Grand Funk had nothing to worry about. As Blabbermouth reported in March 2019, that wasn't the end of it: "The ruling on the preliminary injunction motion does not end the case; it will now proceed through the discovery phase." Which does nothing for music, but is probably making some attorneys somewhere very, very happy.