Story of an improbable hit


One Toke Over The Line


Dan "Mort" Moriarty               

Brewer & Shipley’s breakthrough hit "One Toke Over The Line" was practically an after-though inclusion on their 1970 Tarkio album.  It opened many doors for the duo after several years performing on the folk circuit, but it also categorized them in a way that wasn't really valid.  Their happenstance Top Ten hit has influenced everything they have done from the day they first sang it in concert.  They don’t regret or distance themselves from this happy song which stirred up such controversy, but they do have to laugh at the story of how this “hit” song was born.


Before writing their classic hit, Brewer & Shipley had quietly built a good reputation as singer/songwriters and performers in the heartland.  After settling in Kansas City in 1969, the duo became mainstays at the Vanguard Coffee House in KC.  On the strength of their stellar live performances and their wonderful Down In L.A. and Weeds albums, Brewer & Shipley became a hot ticket in and around Kansas City.  By 1970 they were selling out four shows a night at the Vanguard, which was good for the Vanguard’s business, but left Michael & Tom with plenty of downtime between shows.  On one such night in 1970, out of utter boredom "One Toke" was born.   Michael explained, "We played there a lot.  We were real bored, sitting in the dressing room.  We were pretty much stoned and all and Tom says, ‘Man, I’m one toke over the line tonight.’”  Amused by the ‘toke’ reference, the duo started singing words back and forth to each other until the outline of a song evolved.  “We were literally just entertaining ourselves.  Just making ourselves laugh, really.  The next day we got together to do some picking and said, 'What was that we were messing with last night?' We remembered it, and in about an hour, we'd written 'One Toke Over the Line.'  We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us."

It may have been just another song to the Brewer & Shipley, but it came in handy when they ran though their normal repertoire in their Carnegie Hall debut a short time later.  Michael explains, "The first time we played Carnegie Hall, we were opening for Melanie. We went over really well, got a couple encores. But we kind of ran out of songs, and for our second encore, we said, 'Let's do that new tune we just wrote.' So we did it, and Neil Bogart [Buddah Records President] came backstage and says, 'I love this. You gotta record it, you gotta put that on the album,' because we were in the process of recording Tarkio.  So we said okay, recorded it, added it to the list, and didn't have a clue that it would ever be released as a single." 

In hindsight the duo would have preferred to have a hit with a song that was more representative of Brewer & Shipley like one of their ballads.  "It pretty much pigeonholed us and categorized us in a way that wasn't really valid.  We've written a whole lot of songs that were not like 'One Toke.’  Actually Tom and I always thought that our ballads were our forte."  

Still, Brewer & Shipley are not complaining.  "That one silly song we wrote to kill some time between sets went over like gangbusters from the first time we played it live.  Who would have guessed that it would end up being a classic rock song still played all around the world, in movies and stuff.  It cracks me up.  ‘Cause we were just kidding, we were just entertaining ourselves.  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," said Brewer. "We're really glad people still like it."





One Toke Over The Line