Liner Notes - Archive Alive


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MIKE BREWER AND TOM SHIPLEY are truly two who work as one.  Their trademark vocal harmonies and intertwined acoustic guitars carved a unique niche in America's soundboard in the early 1970s.

Both are native to the Midwest, Brewer from Oklahoma, Shipley from Ohio.  As solo folk artists, the two migrated west, bumping into each other along the coffeehouse trail.  By 1967, they found themselves writing and recording together in Los Angeles for a publishing offshoot of A&M Records.  That association resulted in the duo's first album, Down In L.A., released on A&M in 1968.  Their friends, in groups like The
  Association and Buffalo Springfield, took root and found their success in the L.A. music scene but Mike and Tom disliked Los Angeles and continued to wander; this time back to the Midwest, to a farm-like hideaway outside Kansas City.  It was an area steeped in history from Jesse James to Charlie Parker and seemed to suit them well.  Here they would find the time and space to compose music that was honest and reflected a lifestyle of their own.  The wide-open spaces allowed the music to grow.

The business reins were taken up by Kansas City-based Good Karma Productions.  After some initial rejections, the pair would sign with Buddah's Kama Sutra Records, becoming labelmates of The Lovin' Spoonful, Sha Na Na, Melanie and others.  They also began to tour midwestern colleges and that select list of folk clubs that nurtured so many of their contemporaries.  The Bitter End in New York, The Cellar Door in Washington D.C., The Main Point in Philly, The Troubadour in L.A.. The first Kama Sutra release Weeds spouted the FM radio classic "Witchi Tai To", which, with its hypnotic Indian chant, became a crowd favorite and their permanent show closer.

Their traveling spirit continued to permeate the music they wrote.  They toured often over a particular stretch of highway through northwestern Missouri that connected numerous small college towns, including an early date at The Mule Barn in Tarkio, Missouri.  That route became known as their "Tarkio Road".  It was a mother!  Along with its share of hair-raising tales of redneck encounters and nosy police, slapstick mishaps and bad sound systems, the two long-haired troubadours also found acceptance for their songwriting talents and took advantage of the otherwise friendly midwestern climes to hone their music.  Their biggest single success, the marijuana spiritual, "One Toke Over The Line" was whimsically written after a club show one night in Kansas City; thanks, in part to some inspiration from opening act Chet Nichols, who is also heard here jamming on the harp during the encore.  "Fifty States of Freedom" (with its many Holiday Inns) "Oh Mommie, I Ain't No Commie" (with its wry social comments) "I Don't Wannna Die In Georgia ("About our basic fear of the Deep South," explains Tom.) and "Crested Butte" (about their favorite Colorado retreat) all reflected their times and travels.

"One Toke Over The Line" became not only a huge radio hit single, but the subject of a major national controversy over song lyrics on the radio.  It is a subject that persists today.  The FCC, inflamed by the rhetoric of Vice President Spiro Agnew and others, made veiled threats to radio stations that playing songs like "One Toke" might endanger the renewal of their license to broadcast.  The song was peaking at number one in some markets while being pulled off the air in others.  As a result, it froze at number seven on the Billboard charts before descending in the April of 1971.  Some band supporters suggested the group sue the FCC for restraint of trade.  In spite of the threats, the song became a irresistible sing-a-long and earned a permanent place in American pop culture, faring better than Agnew, who resigned in disgrace.

The duo's star rose with that hit and the top-40 follow up "Tarkio Road".  The next album, Shake Off The Demon had only a brief chart run.  But the duo were now also recognized for their smooth ballad sounds and their gift for interpretation.  Their cover of Jesse Winchester's "Yankee Lady" charted in 1973, about the time these live recordings were made.  That gift is further illustrated by these takes on "All Along The Watchtower", which in spite of its oft-quoted status sounds as fresh and powerful as ever.  The Band-like reading of "The Mighty Quinn" and their traditional show opener for many years, Blind Lemon Jefferson's stark "One Kind Favor".  This track features the mournful bass of John Kahn, a part made all the more poignant by his passing in 1996.  Kahn and pianist Mark Naftalin were the players of choice on all the groups Kama Sutra albums.  But they were not prone to leave the studio to tour, so after the first two tracks, with ex-Zappa drummer Billy Mundi on "Mighty Quinn", it is Brewer & Shipley's Missouri-based band lead by the sparkling electric guitar work of Larry Knight that is being heard on these recordings.

Today, Mike and Tom still make rare live appearances, usually as an acoustic duo, continuing to offer up their patented vocal sound.  However, when not working, they can be more often found at their favorite fishing holes in southern Missouri's placid Ozark Mountains.

This combination of their best original songs and classic interpretations is truly a complete collection of what every Brewer & Shipley fan wants.  It defines their career and proves that their live show was, in fact, the best way to hear them.  Most of these recordings come from shows in Kansas City's legendary Cowtown Ballroom.  Within it's intimate confines, two thousand ardent fans could commune almost personally with their favorite groups.  There are also two cuts each from shows at the Cellar Door in Washington D.C. and the venerable Keil Opera House in St. Louis.

All the tracks were recorded on the Record Plant's first mobile unit.  The tapes were originally part of a series of radio concerts, recorded at Cowtown Ballroom from late January to April of 1973, and broadcast to the top-40 U.S. markets and London that summer.  Other groups in the series included Paul Butterfield, The Byrds, B.B. King, Foghat, Loudon Wainright III and the duo's management stablemates, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.  Fortunately, the tapes were not only well-recorded, but stored carefully, then lovingly mixed at A&M's studios by Steve Barncard, who engineered the original studio versions of many of these songs under producer Nick Gravenitas.  This was Barncard's chance to revisit these chestnuts with modern tools.  Mastered by Grateful Dead Hour producer David Gans, the album boasts a sound quality that could have been recorded last week.  After nearly 25 years, this is the first and only live album from one of America's consummate vocal and acoustic duos and is arguably the best album never made!

Paul Peterson
March 1997



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