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July 30, 2014

Brewer and Shipley: Folk rock pioneers are on the road to O'Fallon

When Michael Brewer talks, the words spill out like the lyrics to his next folk song.

"Just got in from Oregon and Idaho late last night.

"Sittin' here on the deck overlooking a lush trail and the waters of Lake Taneycomo. ...

"Never played Boise before.

"Only one way to get there. A lo-o-o-o-ong drive through the mountains. It sure is pretty though.

"It's like (Dan) Fogelberg said: 'The audience is heavenly; travel is hell.'"

Brewer, the front end of the Brewer & Shipley duo who have been performing their folk rock music for nearly five decades, talked by telephone from hist home in the country about 10 miles from Branson, Mo.

"It's peaceful here in the country," he said. "A good place to get away from it all."

But not for long.

Brewer and Tom Shipley, who lives near Rolla, Mo., will bring their trademark vocal harmonies and intertwined acoustic guitars to the O'Fallon Knights of Columbus hall on Saturday.

"We love coming to that area," Brewer said in his raspy morning voice, even thoug it was noon. "The Wildey (Theatre in Edwardsville) is one of our favorite placces."

They also played the Deutschfest on Belleville's Public Square in 1996. That was a homecoming of sorts for Tom Shipley, who is married to the former Jan Hoeffken, daughter of Maurice and Bernice Hoeffken, of Belleville.

"I love Southern Illinois," Shipley said upon his '96 visit. "People here know how to party."

The first notes

Brewer and Shipley first met in Kent, Ohio, home of Kent State University and the type of '60s cofeehouses both frequented as solo folk singers.

"When the whole folk thing started to die out -- Dylan plugged in and went electric, the summer of love in San Francisco -- and like 10,000 other guitar players, we ended up in California," Shipley said in the 1996 News-Democrat interview.

Both signed with A&M Records as songwriters and began collaborating in the late 1960s.

"Going to the office is not my cup of tea," Brewer said. "In the beginning, we'd get together at my house, go into the closet and sit cross-legged on the floor, playing our acoustic guitars and looking at each other. Music sounded so good in that closet!"

The duo started performing duing open-mike nights at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. They shared stage time with the likes of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Ponies snf The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

Their first album was the 1967 release "Down in L.A." But they soon got down on L.A. and moved to Kansas City.

Eventually, their manager persuaded a record publisher who "owed him a favor" to cut demos of three Brewer and Shipley songs. That turned into their next album, 1969's "Weeds." They followed with "Tarkio," featuring what has become their signature song "One Toke Over the Line," in 1970. "One Toke" became an anthem for the peace and love generation and is still their most requested song.

They recorded until parting amicably in 1979.

"We didn't have a fight or anything ...," Shipley said. "By that time, I'd had too much of the road. I was just burned out."

After the split, Shipley started producing television documentaries while Brewer continued as a solo artist. Brewer's solo album, "Beauty Lies" was released in 1983.

In 1986, a Kansas City radio station persuaded Brewer and Shipley to reunited for a concert. And they have been playing together ever since.

"We've played every state many times," Brewer said. "We'll just keep doing what we're doing until people don't want to hear us anymore." Growing fan base

Audiences around the country keep coming back for more.

"Everywhere we go, we see longtime fans and new faces," Brewer said. "More young people are showing up all the time. They show up with LPs and want us to sign them. I have no idea where they even find them. Flea markets and garage sales, I guess."

What can people expect at the O'Fallon show?

"We just play our folk rock songs," Brewer said. "It's just us and our guitars. Tom has even picked up his banjo again and added it to the show. ...

"It's cross-section of our career, really. We play at least one song from every one of our albums."

You can bet "One Toke Over the Line" will be one of them.

"That just goes to show, folk music is alive and well," Brewer said. "We just got the 2014 Spirit of Folk Award (from Folk Alliance International) in Kansas City. It was quite an honor."

They are still writing songs.

"We get our ideas separately now, then we come together and work them out," Brewer said.

"For ther first time in 20 years, we plan to record again. It would be a roots-based folky production."

Any ideas for a title?

"Still Smokin' sounds pretty good," Brewer said. "But we haven't thought about that yet. But our logo is "40 years ... and Still Smokin'."

Brewer said the Internet has helped young people get to know their music.

"You can go to our website and YouTube and hear all of our music for free. That's pretty cool."

What would he tell young people who weren't even around in the '60s and '70 about why they should come to the O'Fallon KC hall on Saturday?

"For people who don't know, we helped create folk rock in the '60s. It was the first time artists had some control over themselves.

"It was magical time."

And, for Brewer & Shipley, it still is.

At a glance

What: Brewer & Shipley with Elliott Ranney (acoustic jazz guitar and vocals)

When: 8 p.m. Saturday; doors open at 6

Where: O'Fallon Knight of Columbus Council 4239 hall, 400 East U.S. 50, O'Fallon

Tickets: $30 in advance; call 618-632-6229. $35 at the door. Appetizer buffet included.

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