Hit song pushed Brewer and Shipley over the line
April 22, 2014
Michael Brewer, who teamed with Tom Shipley and formed the folk-rock duo
Brewer and Shipley, best known for its 1971 hit "One Toke Over the Line," said the song
was written as a joke.
The two wrote the song, which landed at the No. 10 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, to make themselves and friends laugh.
"Tom and I were writing for A&M Records and we didn’t have a thought of recording it," Brewer said during a phone interview with The Park Record from his home in the Ozark Mountains in Southern Missouri. "Sure enough, the record company wanted us to record it and we did."
The tune got the duo in hot water with the Nixon administration. Spiro Agnew, who was vice president at the time, named Brewer and Shipley as subversive to American youth.
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On the other hand, the song was embraced by champagne-music bandleader Lawrence Welk, who called the songs "Pure American gospel" when the two performed the song on his self-named show.
"Isn’t that bizarre?" Brewer said. "It just goes to show you how you go about looking at things."
Park City will get a chance to hear that subversive gospel hit when Brewer and Shipley perform at the Egyptian Theatre on Saturday, April 26.
"We’re looking forward to coming you way," Brewer said. "We may have performed there a long time ago, but since it was so long ago, I don’t remember if we did."
Saturday’s concert will bring the past to the present, Brewer promised.
"We have been getting together to practice a bunch of the old chestnuts that we would write and others would record," he said. "To quote Joe Walsh, ‘Just because you wrote ’em, doesn’t mean you can play ’em.’ So we’ve been practicing those songs that fans want to hear so we can play them."
Brewer said he remembers why and when they wrote the songs, but did confess that the two have a hard time hitting the high notes these days.
"A lot of songs came about because of what we were playing because we would jam and come up with a lick and pull in a melody," he said. "We’ve had to transpose some of them. We joke that the songs were too high when we wrote them, but then again, so were we."
Joking aside, Brewer said all the songs they wrote while at A&M Records were more than just love and novelty songs.
"Even though we cared about every song we write, we weren’t writing for ourselves," he said. "We would write songs and demo them for the record company to pitch to the other artists. And since it was the folk movement, we would write songs as social commentary because of the times."
Common themes that popped up in the lyrics were about Civil Rights and the Vietnam War.
"I was at the right place at the right time — as was Tom — in the 1960s," Brewer explained. "Everyone was writing their own songs and everything was changing.
"It all went from Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Patty Paige to rock ‘n’ roll, folk music and folk rock," he said. "Tom and I were involved in creating the folk-rock thing."
Although the duo was in the midst of social change, they hadn’t an inkling of just how big the change would be.
"Nobody had any ideas or goals at that time," Brewer said. "To quote Bob Dylan, ‘You know there’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is.’
"The Buffalo Springfield formed in the house next door to me," he said. "We were all just a bunch of young musicians trying to get a record deal and something going and loving music."
Still, the record label felt Brewer and Shipley were on the verge of something.
"That’s how we were able to release our first record ‘Down in L.A.,’ which, by the way, was finally released on CD after all these years," Brewer said. "It holds up, I must say."
In 1977, Brewer and Shipley took a break to focus on solo projects, but regrouped in 1989 and have been playing together since.
"The passion for making the music combined with the fans who want to hear us play was what keeps us going," Brewer said. "If it wasn’t for the fans, we would continue doing this.
"It’s making us happy, too," he said. "We’ve also been doing some writing, because we want to do a new album after all these years. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the fans are happy that we’re just still alive."
Folk-rock duo Brewer & Shipley will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Saturday, April 26, at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $23 to $32 and can be purchased at http://www.parkcityshows.com .