by Michael Pierce
Brewer and Shipley are a downhome, city-transcended, folk duo into guitar,
but moreover, into ballads with a relatively mellow rock counterbalance.
Presently living with wives and children on a farm outside Kansas City,
their style in song and life is country living, especially after the city
routine. More than likely their music won't make you jump out of your
seat and hit the ceiling, but in them is a message which should certainly be
more enduring than typical rock jive. Brewer and Shipley have become
one of the first folk duets to make a hit in music since Simon & Garfunkel,
and for some reason folk duos just hadn't been coming across until "One Toke
Over The Line," "Tarkio Road", and Mike and Tom's versions of "Witchi Tai
To," "The Light," "Oh Mommy," "Seems Like A Long Time," and "All Along The
Under the rising stigma of a "folk" label, these two young men have survived
a classification which has almost become detrimental to artists in an era of
nostalgic rock and roll. So, how do you get it across? You begin
by bringing in the best people to help put you over, like having Nick "The
Greek" Gravenites produce, Jerry Garcia on pedal steel and have Mark
Naftalin and the Stone's Nicky Hopkins both work on keyboards, along with
letting Bobby Jones pound out a beat.
Mike Brewer is out of Oklahoma City, born in 1944 and Tom Shipley comes from
Mineral Ridge, Ohio, in 1942. Mike had spent most of his early career
into music with Tom Mastin for a while, recording an album on Columbia with
him. When Mastin left, Mike settled down as a contract writer for Good
Sam Music, an affiliate of A&M Records.
Tom Shipley came out of "cowboy music," and a little trumpet playing.
After graduation from Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, he began a job
as house musician for a local club. Dissatisfied, he left in 1967 for
California and met Mike. Mike recalls, "I already had a publishing
arrangement with Good Sam, but Tom didn't, so he linked with me in my deal
and after writing together for a year we decided to form a duo and perform
our own material."
"Well, we just ran into each other at first," Tom recalls. "We were
both traveling around the doing the coffeehouse type thing. You get in
town one day and the other guy will be there. In fact, a lot of our
very close friends right now are people we met in transit as we crisscrossed
the country. Actually, Mike and I first met in Kent, Ohio, at a club
called the Blind Owl." But the combination for creating music
didn't occur until they met again in Los Angeles.
Brewer and Shipley began their music together writing for Good Sam and after
the city's chaos got to them, they decided to leave for Missouri.
About their move, Mike comments, "Going back to Kansas City was really
great. Working in and around Hollywood sometimes obscures memories of
the healthy heartland of America. Nice to know it's still there."
Then the man behind Buddah Records, Neil Bogart, heard Brewer and Shipley's
act and decided to sign them up, planning for the cutting of their first
album, Weeds. The LP included Richard Greene, the fiddler from
Seatrain, Michael Bloomfield on lead guitar, and Nicky Hopkins on keyboards.
It was produced by Gravenites. After touring the country to promote
that first record, they released their second, Tarkio, from which
"One Toke Over The Line" was pulled and landed in the top ten. From
there it's been up and it's been down.
Personal musical roots run from the early Sixties folk revival and people
like Dylan, Fred Neil, and Pete Seeger, to music since, the Beatles, Van
Morrison and on. And from these roots come their songs. About
song writing, Mike says, "If I only knew when that point of conception was,
I would write a lot more. But the fact is I don't know where the songs
come from, what they're going to be about or when they're going to happen.
But still, we don't write songs, we put them together. We'll
have all kinds of ideas, all kinds of feels. Like I made the comment,
'Here's another one in G,' and in fact, a lot of those songs and a good
portion of those on the albums were written around just a couple of feels.
But I don't know where the songs come from."
Mike and Tom are composing music and lyrics, it's usually the music which
comes first, "nine times out of ten," and sometimes it happens and other
times, not. They've come to the realization that you can't force a
song out of a beautiful piece of music, it has to come naturally and
Neither has a very strong music theory background. While Tom's mother
taught him piano, and he did learn to sight read with the trumpet, he has no
idea how to read notes for the guitar. He also played drums for a
while, but that didn't require reading music. (Interestingly noted,
Tom  used to be in a band with Jesse Edwin Davis, Taj Mahal's ex-lead
guitarist, called Them, which was also the name of an English group.)
The duo has worked in open tunings, mostly modal D and E, but occasionally,
modal A and C. On instrumentation, one uses a Martin D-18 and the
other a Guild model F-50, and as of now are pretty much dissatisfied with
the quality of guitar strings. Tom said, "They're all dogs, they all
break, go dead and are really inferior. We've had an incredible time
with strings breaking. On a good night when we're really doing a
good show, I'll usually break one and Mike will break three, and that's
really a drag. We cannot find strings that won't break. We
change them every night before shows, too. But at the moment we're
using Martin medium gauge bronze because they're the best for now."
Instead of lugging around a Public Address System, B & S normally hire sound
companies, explaining, "We used to carry our own P.A., but you reach a point
where a system your could own yourself would be impractical. You keep
needing bigger and bigger systems."
subject of microphones, they use Sennheiser (German) mikes, about which Tom
says, "There's something about capturing like the acoustic sound without
having it hum or feed back, and it's important to be able to get a lot of
level, without having the overtones. Sennheiser seems to be more
effective than any mikes we've tried so far. Usually we get these
Shure rock and roll mikes, which are great for rock and roll vocals, but for
us, they're a bit rich. I'm sure there are better mikes, but we
haven't found them yet."
difference from material on stage and on record varies, even with the same
song. As Mike claims, "We'll change a song around quite a bit before
we'll record it. And when we record it, it changes again. I
guess that's the thing about the songs we're doing now, the new songs.
It's odd, but a few of the ones we've written were recorded before we
performed them, so now we have to figure out how to play them live and make
them come off strong. You really can't do it the same as you recorded
it, because they're actually two different media, totally different.
In fact, I wouldn't want to necessarily reproduce it like it is on record
because of it being a different trip."