Brewer & Shipley Bio



photo: Jim Goss

  MICHAEL BREWER & TOM SHIPLEY began their careers as solo folk artists on the coffee house circuit in the early 1960s.  Both native mid-westerns (Oklahoman and Ohioan respective to their billing), they first met in 1964 at the Blind Owl coffee house in Kent, Ohio.  It would be three more years before they would team up, and during those three years the two crossed paths at clubs on the folk circuit, and each tried their hand in other musical collaborations that didn’t pan out.   
  DOWN IN L.A.  

In 1965 Michael Brewer migrated to Los Angeles following the emerging west coast music scene.  His initial duo Mastin & Brewer signed a record deal with Columbia Records but after the group imploded before finishing their record, Brewer eventually accepted a job as a staff songwriter at Good Sam Music, a publishing offshoot of the newly formed A&M Records.  Around this time, Tom Shipley arrived in L.A. and looked up his acquaintance from the folk circuit.  Tom rented a house around the corner from Michael’s house, and soon they began writing songs together.  When Shipley was subsequently hired as staff writer for A&M in 1967, their partnership began as a songwriting collaboration.

As staff songwriters, their early songs were recorded by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Glen Yarborough, H.P. Lovecraft, The Poor, Noel Harrison, and Bobby Rydell.   A&M Records soon recognized that Michael & Tom’s demo recordings exhibited a unique sound and style of their own, so they green lighted them to record an album.  A&M brought in the best musicians in the L.A. to play on the album.  But even with a soon to be released debut album and mutual friends who were starting to make it big in bands such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Association, Michael and


Tom so disliked their life in L.A. that they decided to move back to the Midwest as soon as the record was recorded.


By the time their debut album Down In L.A. was released by A&M in October 1968, Brewer & Shipley had settled in Kansas City, Missouri. Tom described their decision to settle in Missouri as one of fortunate circumstance. "There was a music scene built up in Kansas City, and Michael and I used to come during Christmas and it was great. There would be clouds in the sky -- you don't see clouds in LA, just the haze.

"We really didn't care for L.A. very much," explained Michael.  "We had just had enough, and figured there had to be a better way to make music, without living there.  So we left California, and ended up coming back to the heartland. We ended up in Kansas City and started a management/production company with some friends, Good Karma Productions.

"Our management went to the east coast to shop some labels. Buddah signed us, because Neil Bogart (Buddah President) at the time was known as the king of bubblegum -- you know, 1910 Fruitgum Company and all that stuff. He was trying to shatter that image, and looking for album artists. And that's what Tom and I were. We were never about singles. Every song on our albums was just as important as the next one. All of our albums, we meant to be whole packages."


And Neil Bogart was right, Brewer and Shipley were album artists who subsequently recorded for four different labels, A&M Records, Buddah Kama Sutra Records, Capitol Records, & their own One Toke Productions. Their greatest commercial success was with Kama Sutra where they released four albums in the space of four years: Weeds, Tarkio, Shake Off The Demon, and Rural Space.  After leaving Buddah Kama Sutra they were signed by Capitol Records where they released two albums in two years on Capitol: ST11261 and Welcome To Riddle Bridge.  Since reuniting in 1987, they have released two albums on their own One Toke Productions label: Shanghai & Heartland.  The musicians who appeared on Brewer & Shipley albums are literally a who's who of musicians.

One Toke Over The Line” on, their third album, Tarkio immediately connected with the record buying public and became a Top Ten Hit in 1971.  It took Brewer & Shipley on quite a roller coaster ride that year.  Just as it was peaking on the charts, the Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew labeled Brewer & Shipley subversive to America’s youth and then strong-armed the FCC to pull “One Toke Over The Line” from the airwaves.  They made
Nixon’s infamous "Enemies List," a badge of honor which they continue to wear proudly today.  They couldn't have paid for that kind of publicity and they ended up playing their counter culture hit song on several national television shows in the US, Canada, and the UK.  In the early 70s not everyone knew what the word toke meant and additionally many misinterpreted their iconic song because of the "sweet Jesus" lyrics. This probably accounted for several country artists recording "One Toke" in 1972 and was definitely responsible for "One Toke Over The Line" being covered on the Lawrence Welk Show.  “One Toke” became a classic rock anthem, but Brewer & Shipley wrote the song tongue-firmly-in-cheek.  Michael explained, "We had been songwriters for so long that it was just another song for us.  It wasn't even one of our favorites. We always thought our ballads were our better songs.  Other people chose to make a big deal out of it.  We were really happy just to get a hit, even if it wasn't necessarily the one we would have picked. We're really glad people still like it."
While crafting wonderful albums with some of the best musicians in the world backing them, Brewer & Shipley were always at their best as live performers.  Whether with a small backing band, or more often by themselves with just their two acoustic guitars, the duo was constantly touring from 1969 to 1979.  They played all over the country including in such notable venues as Carnegie Hall, The Bottom Line, The Troubadour, The Roxy, Keil Opera House, and Arrowhead Stadium.
Because of their broad appeal, they became a favored support act for major tours, and shared the stage with a diverse list of artists, including: Elton John, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bonnie Raitt, Electric Light Orchestra, Blood Sweat & Tears, James Taylor, Stephen Stills, The Beach Boys, Loggins & Messina, Linda Ronstadt, John Sebastian, and The Ozark Mountain Daredevils among others.



In 1980, after more than a decade of writing, recording, traveling, and performing, Brewer and Shipley amicably parted company to pursue separate personal interests.  "There was no big break up," Brewer said.  "We'd been on the road too many years, it almost killed us."  "We were burned out," Shipley agreed.    

Michael continued to make music, recording a solo album for Dan Fogelberg’s Full Moon Records entitled Beauty Lies (1983).  Tom began working as a television producer/director, eventually forming his own production company Tarkio Communications. He later founded the Oral History of The Ozarks Project, a non-profit organization producing documentaries about life in the Missouri Ozarks. 


In 1987, at the request of a Kansas City radio station, Brewer & Shipley reunited for a concert to celebrate the station's first birthday.  Unsure of what to expect after being out of the public eye for so long, the duo was overwhelmed as they walked on stage to over 10,000 cheering fans welcoming their return.

Having come full circle from their days as staff songwriters living in Los Angeles, Michael and Tom began writing together again. Their first project was the soundtrack for one of Tom's documentaries...the award winning, "Treehouse An Ozark Story".  Since reuniting in 1987 Brewer & Shipley have released two albums Shanghai (1993) and Heartland (1997). They continue to perform live shows as a duo, while also

continuing their own interests.  Recently Tom has retired as manager of the video department at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, but he is as busy as ever doing freelance work for the University and others.  He has won several film awards for his work.  Michael continues to be a prolific song writer, and has released three more solo albums, Retro Man (2004), It Is What It Is (2010), Dancing With My Shadow (2012).
In the last decade-plus, the duo has witnessed rejuvenated interest in their music, beginning with BMG's purchase of their Kama Sutra catalog and subsequent re-issue of the critically acclaimed Tarkio release in 1996. This was soon followed by the inclusion of "One Toke Over The Line" on the Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas motion picture soundtrack.  A live record of classic performances from 1973, Archive Alive, was released in 1997, the same year they released an album of new material Heartland on their own One Toke Productions label. The duo also contributed guest vocals on their trademark song “One Toke Over the Line” on the 1998 Rainmakers cover of their hit for the Hempilation II (Free The Weed) CD.  That was followed by BMG’s release of Best of Brewer & Shipley: One Toke Over The Line in 2001, and Collectors Choice/BMG’s release of a twofer CD of their first two classic Kama Sutra albums Weeds & Tarkio, in 2004.  The Weeds & Tarkio twofer was repackaged and released by Acadia Records (UK) in 2008. Their long lost debut LP Down In L.A. was finally released on CD in 2012. 

  "I never considered myself a hippie," commented Michael. "I was a young, married man paying taxes, working, pursuing a career. I wore the clothes of the time and had long hair -- back when I had hair -- but I never lived in a commune. I actually bathed and shaved."

Tom, however, had no problem with the label. "Back in the days when we were officially card-carrying hippies traveling cross-country and living out of our Volkswagen," he says, "I spent some time on a Hopi reservation out in the middle of Arizona. But I did not take acid and go running naked through any of their pueblos. And I bathed."

Nevertheless, Tom is aware of the legacy and chalice they carry, laden with the fragrance of long ago.  "We were playing the Catskills a few years ago," he recalls, "and this beautiful girl comes gliding across the floor, just glowing.  She comes up to Michael and takes his hand and clutches it toward her chest.  'You guys,' she says, 'are the last of the hippies.  When you're gone there won't be any more.'"

But don't despair just yet, Brewer & Shipley are still kicking and have a new motto "40 Years and Still Smokin'." They continue to do what they have always loved, perform for audiences, and even at this stage of their career are adding highlights such as their performance in 2010 with Levon Helm at his Midnight Ramble in Woodstock.  You can find their current show schedule on our Shows page or find their digital releases on our Store page.