I like Brewer & Shipley.
They are largely forgotten apart from one song, the notorious “One Toke over the Line”, which is on this album.
This was their third album.
Their first album, the patchy though endearing “Down in L.A.” (1968) and their second, the vastly underrated “Weeds” (1969) charted nowhere.
Folk rock troubadour duos were everywhere in the wake of Simon & Garfunkel (and in any event had been common in the folk music world): Ian & Sylvia, Frummox, Zager and Evans, Jim and Jean, Joe and Eddie, Richard and Mimi Farina, Sonny and Cher (faux folk), so you need something to stand out a little.
Here, the native Oklahoman and Ohioan (respective to their billing) had been kicking around the Los Angeles folk scene for a couple of years working the coffee house circuit, separately, as folk troubadours before hooking up and drawing on each other’s years of performing.
They played throughout California and returned to their Midwest origins playing the folk scene.
They had all the right ingredients needed: A fusion of folk, rock, country, jazz, blues riffs in an American troubadour bag containing lyrics that were equally socially conscious, questioning and observant, with a hint of stoner, religion and back to the earth vibes.
And, they had talent.
But no doubt, their label Kama Sutra (who signed them for their “Weeds” album) wanted a return. If the first album doesn’t do well it’s the second album that decides whether a label will persevere with you or not.
Luckily, Brewer and Shipley included a throwaway, light song, “One Toke over the Line”, which captured the public’s imagination, or floated on it, with its pleasantly pastoral view of excessive drug taking.
At first it’s good vibes and refreshing honesty made some, unfamiliar with west-coast youth jargon, mistake it for a piece of rural sunshine pop with Jesus overtones, if this cover from the Lawrence Welk is any indication (it’s referred to as a “modern spiritual … and I suppose it is) … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ye3ecDYxOkg
I'm not sure what the "straights" thought "toke" (tasking a puff of a marijuana cigarette) meant. Then again it wasn't a English word adopted to drug references. It doesn't seem to have much usage in English until the late 60s in the US. Interestingly it may come (in pronunciation) from American Spanish for toque for touch, test, from tocar to touch. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/toke
But soon people cottoned on to its common contemporary meaning, and there was outrage. The song wasn’t the first to have drug references but it was the first song to make an overt drug reference to reach the Top 10. The song created a controversy and ignited a censorship debate at the time. http://www.brewerandshipley.com/misc/RScensorship.htm
But the album was more than the hippie vibe of the hit song. There were echoes of the Vietnam War and Kent State, creeping paranoia as America’s political and industrial complex expanded as well as the usual poetic and philosophical musings (lots of internal turbulence and dissatisfaction) disguised as personal travelogues, run through with dollops of the anti-corporate back to Jesus mood.
Yes, you could be spiritually religious and smoke pot, be anti-establishment, and question the world around you.
Brewer & Shipley released another four albums in the 70s without any chart action before disbanding (and then reforming in the 90s).
This music is a product of its time but the sounds, lyrics and feel (the vibe man – sic) is wonderful and transcends any limitations of time and place. Brewer and Shipley were smarter, better and funnier (there is a bit of self-deprecating humour) than a lot of their contemporaries.
Open your mind, put this is on, preferably on a lazy sunny afternoon, and kick back.
Check out my other comments for biographical detail on the duo.
All tracks written by Brewer & Shipley except where noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- One Toke Over the Line – a classic song, and perhaps the most well known about pot. Mike Brewer can give this account of the origin of the song, "One day we were pretty much stoned and all and Tom says, “Man, I’m one toke over the line tonight.” I liked the way that sounded and so I wrote a song around it”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarkio_(album))
- Song from Platte River – a "where is freedom" song that references America's past, Native Americans, slavery.
- The Light – though "Jesus" in never mentioned, this is clearly a Christian song. It is serious and suggests the answer to the strife is in the light (of Jesus).
- Ruby on the Morning – an ode to a love. And, a little like Simon and Garfunkel.
- Oh Mommy – A great song. Another familiar concept from the times. The American Constitution protects alternative lifestyles, people from left field and anything you want to do (as long as it doesn't harm others). A point that seems to be lost, a lot, by supporters from both sides of the political fence in the US. With pedal steel by Jerry Garcia.
Oh, mommy, I ain't no commie
I'm just doing what I can to live the good old all American way
It says right there in the constitution
It's really A-OK to have a revolution
When the leaders that you choose
Really don't fit their shoes
- Don't Want to Die in Georgia – not expressly political but a social comment. http://www.brewerandshipley.com/Bios&Liners/Story_DWDIG.htm
- Can't Go Home – life on the road
- Tarkio Road – a great song. ""Tarkio Road" is about freedom and the restrictions placed upon it circa 1970 for many young people who were redefining personal expression in the United States". http://www.brewerandshipley.com/Bios&Liners/StoryTarkioRoad.htm
- Seems Like a Long Time– (Ted Anderson) – I have little information on the writer Ted Anderson but I suspect he may be the Ted Anderson who was in 60s folk group "The Hammer Singers" who were based in Wassau, Wisconsin and played the folk coffeehouse scene through the Midwest and Northwest in the 1960s (as Brewer & Shipley did … they must have crossed paths). This seems to be the first recording of the song and it was covered by Rod Stewart on his "Every Picture Tells A Story" (1971). The song is a gentle anti-war, war weary song.
- Fifty States of Freedom – people with their living their lives on the road and lonely people populate this song. Very, of it's time but very evocative.
A underrated joy. Not perfect but certainly solid … I'm keeping it.
1971 One Toke Over the Line #10 US Pop
1971 Tarkio Road #55 Pop
1971 One Toke Over the Line #5
1971 Tarkio Road #41
One Toke Over the Line
Song from Platte River
Fifty States of Freedom
- Brewer and Shipley derived the name of the album, Tarkio, from a regular gig they played in Tarkio, Missouri. "There was a town in Missouri called Tarkio where we used to play, up in the northwest corner of the state," Mike explains. "We played a lot of colleges in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas and it seems like whenever we had to play one of those colleges we had to take this highway that we wound up calling Tarkio Road." http://www.brewerandshipley.com/Bios&Liners/StoryTarkioRoad.htm
- Credits: Acoustic Guitar, Vocals – Michael Brewer, Tom Shipley / Bass – John Kahn / Chorus – Danny Cox, Diane Tribuno, Nick Gravenites / Drums – Bill Vitt, Bob Jones / Electric Guitar – Fred Burton and Paul Butterfield (apparently, not listed officially but I have seen his name crop up online …so it has to be right …ha) / Flute – Noel Jewkes / Pedal Steel Guitar – Jerry Garcia / Piano, Organ – Mark Naftalin / Producer – Nick Gravenites.
- Who knows is Brewer & Shipley are being mischievous as the youthful can. "Toke" may have had more than one meaning. "Beaver" has quite a few. Their songs are published by their own publishing company, "Talking Beaver music"