1971 Interview


Interviews & Articles


  Friday, July 2, we were able to catch a hurried evening meal in their downtown motel restaurant with Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley.  That night they were to play Public Hall, their acoustic sound sandwiched between Sweathog and Black Sabbath.  Their plane into Cleveland had been three hours late, delaying a brief interview at WNCR's studio.  Mike and Tom have been touring steadily for four years and recently the pace has stepped up drastically - ever since they did "One Toke Over The Line."   They recently returned from a stint in England and Western Europe.

Although they both live on farmland outside Kansas City, they have little time to be there with their families.  In spite of the fatigue, loneliness and homesickness, their heads seem very together -- it appears that they understand their game.  Just prior to the start of the "interview" we had been talking about the correlation between the banning of songs and the burning of books.  The duo had recently played in Luxembourg, and the radio people there understood the implications of the comparison -- about thirty years ago Hitler burned a lot of books in Luxembourg.

Tom hails from Cleveland, and we've known him for about six years.  As we sit at the table, the participants in the interview are Mike Brewer and Tom Shipley, da BOOM's Mr. Nobody, my wife Lisa and myself.  As I start my kamikaze tape recorder, the strains of "Up, Up and Away" drip from the muzak.

BOOM: The song "People Love Each Other" (from Weeds) has got to be a favorite of mine that you do.  Like, you guys said you don't really like to write about things that bum you, things you hate, so where does that fit in on the list of songs that you've written?  What do think of it?
TOM: It's just another song.
MIKE: That's the song that's doing it in England for us.  Tarkio is still new over there.  When we went over to England recently, we had to brush up on the old tunes.  Occasionally, we do some songs from Weeds, but not too often.  We still close with "Witchi-tai-to" and do "Watchtower" but that's about all from that album.  Primarily, we do stuff from Tarkio here in the states.

AL: You're more into a loose sort of thing on Tarkio, more into just laying the tunes out.
MIKE: You have no idea...

AL: Well, it seems to work better sales-wise, than the earlier more structured stuff.
MIKE: Tarkio almost killed us.  It almost killed us.  It was so uptight rather than loose.  By and large things were incredibly uptight.  It was that simple, or difficult.  Our producer kept referring to the song "The Light" as "Slow Drag in G."  Every time we'd start to record another song the producer would moan and groan and just hate it.  We got hassled too much, so we're producing our own record this time.  We had control, but not as much as we wanted.  A lot of the musicians on the session had worked with the man for years and years and they recommended him.

BOOM: Like Jerry Garcia?
MIKE: No.  Garcia just popped in one day, played his part about three times and then split.  Just walked in and did it.  He only played on one song.

BOOM: Where'd you record?
TOM: Wally Hieder's in San Francisco. 

AL: How do you feel that "One Toke Over The Line" is the song that everyone knows you for? It's a fun song, but some of your heavier things have been overlooked.
TOM: We didn't pick it to be, or write it to be a single.  The record company wanted a single, they listened to all the songs and decided which one had the right length to it for the Top 40 people to play, you know -- which was the most commercial, whatever, the did it, you know.  It's just another song to us.  I didn't expect it to happen.  We've put out a lot of singles, but nothing ever happened.  The record company needed a single.  We didn't care, so it surprised us that it was a hit.

AL: You guys were far out on the Johnny Carson Show.  It was really great.
LISA: You know what it looked like?  You guys looked like two professors in a burlesque show to me, man, you know?  Really.
MIKE: It was horrible.
TOM: Do your know that we flew our bass player out to play with us, from San Francisco.  They didn't even turn on his microphone.  He was there playing.

AL: What was the Carson trip like?
TOM: That's exactly what it was like!  That's what the whole trip was like.  It cost us several hundred dollars to fly him out from San Francisco.  An they didn't even run on his mike.  Just incompetent.

AL: Did they screen your material at all?  "Tarkio" is pretty heavy.
TOM: We just had to edit "Tarkio" like the single, 'cause it was too long, you know.

BOOM: But you didn't get censorship from the Carson people: you could say what you wanted to say?
TOM: Yeah

AL: How did they treat you?
TOM: Carson? Horrible, just horrible.
MIKE: Impudently.
TOM: NBC is just horrible -- everything there's horrible.  We just did David Frost.  That was different.

AL: Did Frost rap with you?
MIKE: A little bit.  He's a zombie.  I mean, he's a nice guy and all, but a zombie.
TOM: Talk about a guy turning it on and just doing their thing automatically!
MIKE: I don't even think he knows what he does: he just does it.  He just knows that whatever this is that he does, they give him a lot of money.  He just does it and looks straight ahead, and he's turning yellow.  Which is kind of strange.  He has a strange color about him.  It comes from looking just straight ahead all the time.

AL: Do you run into performing situations where everybody's got things together?
TOM: Oh yeah, those are the only ones that count.
MIKE: Not often enough! And it's usually because of something no one has control over.  Like the sound system just being weird you know.

AL: You don't have your own sound system?
TOM: We do, but we haven't used it in a long time.

BOOM: So tonight you get to use Black Sabbath's sound system.
TOM: I guess. I don't know.

BOOM: Have you done a sound check?
TOM: It doesn't make any difference.  You get a sound check in an empty room, and it's totally different when it fills up with people.

BOOM: Does Paul mix?
TOM: That's why we have somebody with us.  We have to have someone who can keep things together as much as possible.  But there's no telling.  We did 15 cities with Quicksilver, using their equipment.  One night it would be great.  Next it would be horrible.

AL: With the same mix settings?
TOM: Yeah! Same people running it, same everything.  Who knows what it is, the room?  I don't know.

(Conversation drifts to talk about relatives, vacations, etc.)
MIKE: I really felt welcomed home from a quick rest in Mexico yesterday.  My old lady and I were both stripped naked and searched at the border.  Welcome home!  This is the land of the free, is it not?

BOOM: Do you get hassled by other countries?
TOM: No, I don't even go through customs except in Canada.
MIKE: The only country we've ever been hassled in is the United States.

AL: Coming back
TOM: Or leaving! We were going to Europe from Chicago.  I've got pictures of us going through the metal detector.  Searched.  Hands on head.

AL: You're the guys with the bombs!
TOM: I guess.  They can do anything as long as they don't shoot.

AL: I've been through a metal detector before.  The airlines were courteous. Are you the only people subjected to that POW-type treatment?
TOM: No.  We were the only people on that plane who were searched.
MIKE: I was searched thoroughly.  Frisked! Tom's been pulled off planes after we were already on them and searched.
TOM: They're a little more uptight in Miami than they are in Chicago.
MIKE: You looked more like an Arab than anything that day, the way you were dressed.

BOOM: Paranoia!
TOM: I don't know.  I've become quite careful when I travel.

BOOM: I guess you're quite lucky that you didn't have to learn the hard way to be careful.  So many people have been busted.
MIKE: I just want to stay on being lucky, until I can leave.

AL: Till you can what?
MIKE: Go to some free country.

BOOM: Where?
TOM & MIKE: Holland.
MIKE: Maybe Amsterdam

AL: How about Switzerland?
TOM: Not as groovy as Holland as far as permissiveness is concerned. Holland is very permissive, plus it's an incredibly heavy art center.
MIKE: Dutch realism is in fact, alive and well in Holland.  Everything looks like an old Dutch painting.  I just want to find a place where I can live! I could live very well in Holland.  I want to check it out some more before I make a decision.

AL: Do you feel that you have a function as performers, other than entertaining and working for a living, to sing social songs to keep people aware of what's going on?
MIKE: No! No more than everyone has a responsibility, even if you don't perform, to promote what is right and ignore what's wrong, to do away with things.

AL: You don't ignore what's wrong through your lyrics.  You're very sensitive.
TOM: I think Mike meant "do away" with what's wrong and dig on what's right.
MIKE: Yeah, I've started to think that one way to do away with something is to ignore it.  That came down when the whole "One Toke" thing went down on us.

AL: The FCC ruling, or suggestion?
MIKE: Yeah.  We were really tempted though. We had the heavy lawyers that always get involved with those things, the one or two "test" cases.  They were really coming onto us.  They wanted us to challenge the banning.  And...we just couldn't take it seriously, you know.  We were tempted, to be sure.

AL: to be martyrs or something, or set a precedent, what?
MIKE: Well, at first we felt threatened.  It freaked us, the fact that people would make an issue about it.

BOOM: Considering that it was not illegal to write that song.
MIKE: Right.  But on second thought we decided the best thing to do would be to ignore the whole thing, till in fact they did hurt us.
TOM: Till we were personally confronted.
MIKE: And by ignoring it we made the whole thing look silly.  Instead of making it look important by making an issue of it.
TOM: "One Toke" was taken off in only four major markets.

BOOM: I understand it's a big jukebox hit.
TOM: And "Oh, Mommy" (the flipside) is a big jukebox hit on Army bases.

AL: Do you expect to be entertaining our troops on the Army bases?
TOM: NO!  Bob Hope gets all the work.
MIKE: Right now, the people in the service are more closely aligned with freaks, or people of our "ideology: than ever before -- with our side.
TOM: And it's growing.
MIKE: Since the Pentagon papers, I just hate the thing.  What a drag -- even the people that went into the service with good intentions just have to believe!  At first they just scared them, but now they're as dragged as all of us.  More so, I would imagine, than a heavy percentage of the destructive revolutionaries, the heavy bombers, are coming from Vietnam.


  from the GREAT SWAMP ERIE da da BOOM Vol 1 NO 14 JULY 27 - AUGUST 9, 1971 (25cents)  


Interviews & Articles