Dirty Linen Article 1996

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Long before the self-lacerating, angst-filled, psychiatric couch-
folk that has plagued the better part of the 90s, there were the mellow and easy folk-rock sounds of Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley.  With the widespread success of their 1971 cannabis-inspired hit single "One Toke Over The Line," Brewer & Shipley became the musical equivalent of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy.  The toke-some twosome traveled back and forth across the country countless times, played hundreds of dates and lent their trademark harmonies, interweaving melodies and ringing acoustic guitars to songs written by Bob Dylan, Jesse Winchester and

Jackson Browne, as well as seven albums' worth of original compositions.

  The duo called it quits in 1979, after a little over a decade.  Shipley retired from the music business and eventually became a documentary video producer, and Brewer went on to record a solo album, produced by Dan Fogelberg.  In the summer of 1986 a Kansas City "classic rock" station persuaded them to perform a reunion concert to celebrate the station's first anniversary and in September of that same year, Brewer and Shipley walked onto stage for the first time in seven years and played before a crowd of 10,000 adoring fans.  
  The experience proved to be such a positive one that they slowly began to tour again and even recorded a new album (their first CD) of all original songs, called Shanghai, in 1993.  Another new album by the pair is scheduled for release for the winter of 1996.  In the early stages it was to be called Another Hair-brained Idea or ... From Old White Guys, but it looks like the title has settled into the more commercially acceptable Heartland.  
  Growing up as Midwestern boys, Tom Shipley hailed from Ohio and Michael Brewer from Oklahoma City.  Like many people in the 50s, they both grew up listening to rock & roll.  "We were teenagers at exactly the right time, when rock & roll first happened, and then folk music came along and stole our hearts," Brewer explained from the duo's home studio in the Missouri Ozarks.  "We both started professionally, separately, as folk singers playing a lot of the same clubs on the folk circuit."  

In the early 60s when the coffee houses and folk clubs in the Midwest started to fade due to rock's more glamorous appeal, the pair, along with millions of other people with guitars over their shoulders, headed out to the golden shores of Los Angeles. While in L.A. they met at A&M records, where they both worked as songwriters.  During the early years Brewer and Shipley wrote songs for artists such as Glen Yarborough, H.P. Lovecraft, and even Noel Harrison.  "Randy Meisner, who later went on to play with Poco and The Eagles, recorded the first song I ever got published.  This was when we were starving, selling songs for $125 on the street," Shipley said with a laugh.  "The song actually made it onto the radio, just in time for a disc-jockey strike, and they went into playing a month of oldies."

  "We took it as some kind of omen," Brewer added.  "We had been putting together songwriting demo tapes," he continued, "and it didn't take long before we realized we had a sound and a style all of our own.  We eventually recorded our first album with A&M, called Down In L.A., which should tell you how we felt about the place.  We couldn't wait to get out of there."  

Shortly after the album was finished, Brewer rendezvoused with Shipley, who was staying at a Hopi reservation, and the two headed back to the Midwest and ended up in Kansas City.  They got out of their contract with A&M and on the strength of that first album they were signed to the newly formed Kama Sutra label.

  Nick Gravenites from the Electric Flag produced the Weeds album, which was released in 1969 and contained such stellar backing musicians as bassist John Kahn and blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield.   While the album included brilliant cover versions of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" and Jim Pepper's Native American inspired chant "Witchi Tai To," it also contained some of Brewer and Shipley's most enduring original songs, such as "Indian Summer," "Lady Like You," and "People Love Each Other."  
  Tarkio Road followed the next year, and it really struck a chord with the American public.  The song "One Toke Over The Line" sported The Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia on a particularly memorable pedal steel guitar riff and became an FM radio mainstay for years, as well as a virtual anthem among legions of marijuana smokers.  "Almost overnight, we went from making five thousand dollars to fifteen thousand dollars to fifty thousand dollars," marveled Shipley.  
  "But as the business guys always said, 'you take care of the art and we'll take care of the money,' which was fine 'cept they kept it, squandered it and stole it," said Brewer.  
  Brewer and Shipley went on to record two more albums on the Kama Sutra label, Shake Off The Demon and Rural Space, each featuring a consistently fine selection of original and cover tunes such as "When Everybody Come Home, " "Message From The Mission," "When The Truth Finally Comes," and "Crested Butte."   It seemed that every album was blessed with an amazing array of backing musicians such as Nicky Hopkins, Buddy Cage, Al Kooper, David LaFlamme, Jim Messina, John Cippollina, Jesse Ed Davis, and even Prairie Prince.  
  "We were recording many of those albums at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco," said Brewer.  "Part of Jefferson Airplane's original record deal was unlimited studio time there, so Studio A was basically their room and either the Airplane or offshoots of the Airplane were there all the time.  The Dead had kind of the same deal and they were upstairs in Studio B or D.  So for us, it was just like going to the office, when you needed a guy you just went down the hall and go 'Hey Jerry, you want to play pedal steel on this?'"  
  "On our first album the piano player was Leon Russell, whose real name (as credited on the album) was Russell Bridges," Shipley added.  "We recorded about half of that album in his house.  Our first recording sessions were really funny.  Our manager was owed a favor by Nick Gravenites so we went out to San Francisco to take another shot at recording and were told that 'some guys' were going to help us.  We get into the studio and there is essentially the old Butterfield Blues Band, all these heavy R&B guys.  It turned out to be a really great synthesis, using those musicians from the San Francisco blues and R&B scene on our folk music."  
  Brewer & Shipley's mix of folk music, inspired by people such as Freddy Neil, Phil Ochs, Bob Gibson, and the Georgia Sea Island Folk Singers with contemporary electric accompaniment proved to be the perfect mix.   The pair toured endlessly, with bands that at times included members of the Electric Flag and drummer Billy Mundi (fresh from Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention), as well as an acoustic duo.  "When all those songs were written, I think it struck a chord with people because we were in transit like everyone else," said Shipley.  "We were on the road all the time, living in a crash-pad here and an Indian reservation there, pitching a tent in Michael's mother's backyard and catching a bass out of his father-in-law's pond, needing it literally to eat.  That's what everyone was doing.  Michael and I were living, perhaps, a little too close to reality."  

Around 1974 Capitol Records bought out their contract when Kama Sutra folded, after its founder Neal Bogart left to form Casablanca Records.  The pair made two more albums: Brewer & Shipley (also know as ST11261, the catalog number which was printed obnoxiously large on the cover next to their names) and Welcome To Riddle Bridge.   While both were fine albums, the pair had lived on the road collectively from 1963 until about 1980.  The public's changing musical tastes to harder-edged music of the late 70s and FM radio's move to playing less "adult contemporary" music in favor of MTV-inspired hits, caused the pair to finally call it quits.  "For years I had essentially taken advantage of all the fun that you can have on the road," Shipley said.  "I was having too much fun.  I decided to get off the road.  I also met a lady and realized that this was for keeps, and decided that it was time to look at my life, which was rapidly looking like a mess.  Eventually, a television station came along in the town I live in down in the Ozarks and I went to work there and started a television production company."

  Michael Brewer continued to tour and even produced a solo album called Beauty Lies, which had yet another typically impressive backing lineup in Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther and Tom Scott.  The album was produced by Dan Fogelberg and, while a solid effort, in the end it sounded more like a lost Fogelberg album.  
  "Yea, it's got Fogelberg's influence all over it," Brewer said.  "I was doing some solo gigs in Colorado, up by the Caribou Ranch Studios and Dan was there, working on his double white album, The Innocent Age.   A lot of the songs were tributes to his influences and there was one song called 'The Reach,' which was about lobster fishing in Maine.  He felt it had a real Brewer and Shipley feel to it, so he asked if I'd sing harmony on it and I did.  One thing led to another and he decided to produce a solo album of mine."  
  In the meantime, Shipley and his wife Laura Powell's company had been producing everything from commercials and industrial videos to documentaries and educational programming for public television.  
  "I've done two documentaries, one is called Precious Memories and it's the story of 'Pop' Dillard, who is Doug and Rodney Dillard's dad.  It essentially chronicles the last year of his life, and is the story of how music is passed from generation to generation through the family.  The other documentary is called Treehouse - An Ozark Story, which has won several awards and is about a crazy old guy who used to live in a treehouse down in the Ozarks.  He started the first canoe rentals down here and got in gun fights.  Michael and I did the soundtrack for that and it's what got us fired up about doing some recording."  
  What eventually led Brewer and Shipley back together again was what originally started them in the first place, namely, writing songs.  
  After the aforementioned reunion gig for the Kansas City "classic rock" station, they started to tour occasionally, and they began to write new songs while on the road.  A promotional documentary filmed by Shipley for the community of Steelville, Missouri (funded by the telephone company, no less), provided them with enough money to go into the studio and record a whole bunch of new songs.  The material eventually became the lion's share of their most recent CD, Shanghai.  One listen to the set of 12 original tunes, which make up that album is proof that Brewer and Shipley have lost none of the old magic.  They have matured as songwriters and their voices are still more than capable of performing those sweet harmonies.  
  "Currently, I'm working on a documentary on the French in Missouri, and Michael and I have written a French waltz," Shipley explained with enthusiasm.  "That and another song that we recorded at the time will be on the new CD, as well as the music from two other soundtracks.  The French waltz is cool because we cut it with George Giddins, and Cedric Benoit on squeezbox."  
  "The new album will be the most acoustic one we've ever done, " added Brewer.  "At the same time we're using state of the art computers and ADAT technology."  
  Recently BMG Records bought out the old Buddah catalogs, of which the Kama Sutra label was a part, and there might be a chance of seeing some or all of Brewer & Shipley's past records being re-released as CDs or in a Best Of.  
  Shanghai and their soon-to-be-released Heartland are currently available from the pair's own One Toke Productions.  Last year they traveled with Maria Muldaur, The Mama's and The Papas, The New Riders, and Canned Heat, in what the duo dubbed "The California Schemin' Tour."  Plans are being made for a new acoustic duo tour for 1996.  "We're still here and still performing," Shipley said with a smile.  "Oddly enough, in this day of 60s and 70s reunion bands, when you go to see us, you actually get the real Mike and Tom."  
  "Yea, not former roadies copping the name," laughed Brewer.  

Lahri Bond
Dirty Linen
Feb/Mar '96



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