Once upon a time there were a pair of Midwestern folkies, Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley, and after meeting up in LA circa 1967 they decided, in Paul Simon's immortal words, to marry their fortunes together. It was the '60s, and they looked the part. They could also harmonize like Crosby and Stills if they were minus Nash, so they built up quite a following as Brewer and Shipley.
Ohio native Tom Shipley, who now produces video at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, remembers it all well, or at least as well as someone who, at 69, still describes marijuana as his favorite indulgence is likely to. "We had an underground following, and were filling rooms pretty well," he says now. "But then One Toke' happened and everything went nuts."
"One Toke Over the Line" is about being stoned in a railway station, and (this was the 60s, man) it was also a huge hit. Richard Nixon called them "public miscreants" and added their names to his notorious Enemies list, but the song also got bowdlerized on the Lawrence Welk Show. With Jerry Garcia playing pedal steel, it reached #10 in 1971.
"When we wrote 'One Toke Over the Line,' I think we were one toke over the line," said Shipley, who says he was "turned on" by another legendary musician, Buzzy Linhart. "I considered marijuana a sort of a sacrament..." Fans threw joints on the stage, and waitresses at shows were tipped with them.
Brewer says he was never a hippie, but Shipley admits to being a card-carrying member of the peace-sign-and-Volkswagen-van clan. It's unfortunate that their hit came after Woodstock, because otherwise they would undoubtedly have played there.
Shipley, who left full-time music when it wasn't fun anymore, is now the university's videographer, and his favorite subject is filming the students' efforts in such green car events as the North American Solar Car Challenge and the Formula SAE series. They've also taken part in attempts to set land speed records in human-powered vehicles (a/k/a bicycles). In all cases, the young engineers start from scratch and build vehicles to compete with other colleges.
"We build very light cars for the Solar Car Challenge," Shipley said, "made of carbon fiber over blue insulation board. The lithium-ion batteries come from Kokam America, one of our sponsors. It's experiential learning, with the students learning about practical applications of solar energy by putting the cars together--and staying up all night to fix problems."
The races cover routes such as Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles, or Dallas to Calgary, and Shipley goes along with his high-def cameras. The films help the school find sponsors to get the teams on the road. "By the time the students graduate, they're in demand," Shipley said. "I feel really blessed," he added. "I've won tons of awards, and I've had two really good careers."
And Brewer and Shipley are back together, too, having reunited in 1987 and made two albums. They recorded a soundtrack for Shipley's documentary Treehouse: An Ozark Story, and play regular shows. Their production company, millions of tokes down the road: One Toke Productions. I bet people still throw joints.
Brewer and Shipley play the Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, Connecticut March 11 in a benefit for Connecticut non-commercial radio station WPKN-FM. Get your "One Toke" ringtone here. Hear the full-length song here.
Check out the video of the race Shipley covered in 2003:
And this one by Shipley of the Formula SAE race:
(At the time both of these were produced the team was known as UMR (University of Missouri-Rolla), but now the school is known as Missouri University of Science and Technology.) Here is a video Shipley produced on the human-powered vehicle:
In the above photo of Brewer and Shipley, Tom Shipley is the one on the right.
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