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Flyin’ High

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I usually see life in stages. As an adult, I find myself looking back at clubs, tours or albums when I remember things. There was LaCava in Cleveland. There was Toronto. And later LA. And of course, there were the albums. A lot happened in my life during the release and the promotional tours for a given album. Some musical and some not. This story takes place during our “Gold Rush” tours when “Weeds,” “One Toke” and “Shake Off The Demon” were happening. They all seemed to run together. So here goes.

The late afternoon sun made the fields around the landing strip shimmer as the little Cessna touched down. It had been a brief matinee, a quick flight from Kansas City. Brewer and Shipley had been on the road so much that the thought of driving and spending the night was out of the question and we had decided to charter a little plane from a small airport, a few miles from our home. As I stepped out of the plane I asked Micky, our pilot “how hard is it to learn how to fly one of these things?” I had been interested in flying since I was a kid. My dad used to take us to a similar little airport when I was a kid to watch the planes take off and land. I liked airplanes so much that I built one out of orange crates which I took up to a platform in the apple tree in our back yard. I begged and pleaded with my mom to give me a push so I could fly but she always refused. I was probably about seven or eight.

Cessna 150

“Come by tomorrow and I’ll take you up for a test flight,” Mickey responded.  I could hardly sleep that night and showed up promptly at the airport the next day. Mikey explained in detail everything he was doing as we headed down the runway. We hadn’t been in the air more than a few minutes when Mickey said “here, take the stick.” This is it I thought. He showed me how to operate the controls with my hands and feet and eventually took over so we could land. “Now you do it,” he said. He explained how we had to take off into the wind, helped me steer the plane down to the spot where we would begin our take off, and, with his hands on his own set of controls, showed me how to take off. I was sold. “How much does it cost?” I asked. “For me and the plane, it’s $15 per hour,” he said. I responded with a “sign me up.”

In the cockpit

We had to schedule my lessons for the following month because Brewer and Shipley were ready to head off on tour. Not just any tour. 28 cities in 28 days opening for Jethro Tull. I had seen Tull a few months earlier to hang out with the guys in his opening act, the Eagles. They were friends from our start-up days in LA and Randy Meisner, the bass player, had been in a group who recorded one of my songs. I will never forget the look in Don Henley’s eyes when I asked him how it was going. A blinding stare that said it all. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” Don responded. I used that as an example when I fought against the Tull booking with our manager. But, in show business, the manager always wins.

Ian Anderson, the leader of Jethro Tull

It was the beginning of Tull’s “Passion Play“ tour complete with an opening ballerina. It didn’t take but a few moments to realize we had just joined the circus for a month. There were gobs of roadies setting up all kinds of things on stage and a lighting system bigger than I had ever seen. And they seemed to be rounding up a lot of ladies, giving them backstage passes.

Brewer and Shipley’s weirdest tour

By that time we had toured with a lot of people, The Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to name a few. But Jethro Tull was another matter. The shows were downright huge and dangerous. People would be throwing fireworks on to the stage and giant sparklers from the balcony. Tull’s road manager would make a list of everything they were doing to us and before their show would come out on stage with makeshift cardboard shields and read everything on his list, telling the audience that if they did anything like that to Tull the show would be over. It was as though Michael and I were the lead Christians checking out the lions in Rome’s colosseum.

Jethro Tull

The tour quickly turned into rock and roll debauchery. We had never been on a tour like that so we just followed the lead of Jethro Tull’s roadies who had been doing that forever. The only upside, if there was one, had to do with Tull’s fans. Pretty young ladies. And at this point, that part of the story ends. I did manage to gross myself out to the point where I blocked a lot of that from my memory and sometimes wonder if that was really me out there. I know I learned a valuable lesson. Never use the other band’s roadies as role models.

Ian Anderson – Crazy Eyes

We had a band and chartered a small plane. There was no way we were going to do an airport every day for a month. By that time I had done the ground school part of my pilot training and the fellow flying the plane let me do the flight plan and some of the other necessities. Towards the end of the tour, we came back to the room early to find our pilot drunk, fired him, and took TWA the rest of the time.

Back in my own blue sky

Finally, I was back in Kansas City and it was time to resume my flying lessons. We had been practicing take-offs and landings one day after twenty-some hours of lessons. Mickey jumped out of the plane and said “give me your logbook and do three take-offs and landings and then come to the office. Without warning, he was telling me it was time for me to fly solo. “Do I really know how to do this?” I thought to myself. I guess I’m about to actually bet my life that I can.” So off I went in the little Cessna 150. After my first solo, I pulled the plane up to the office, tied it down, and walked into a celebration. Mickey grabbed the back of my shirt, tearing off a piece for me to sign and placed it on the wall with a bunch of others.

I was now just a test flight away from actually being a pilot. I passed with flying colors and spent many an afternoon the next couple of years flying for fun around western Missouri. It was another childhood dream come true. And a much better way of doing it than having my mother push my orange cart with wings out of the apple tree.

3 Responses

  1. Larry Knight
    | Reply

    I remember that tour very well.

    • Tom+Shipley
      | Reply

      You do? I’m still trying to forget it. Thank God for Jan dragging me out of all that stuff. But trying not to be a hypocrite , I do remember there were some good times.

  2. Michael Mulligan
    | Reply

    Hi, hoping you can answer a question related to your story. I fondly remember seeing you opening for Tull. You were one of three acts that night. The other was a black guy on keyboard. Kind of heavy bluesy if I remember correctly. Do you remember? Seems he was introduced as Wizard but I can find no one like this on the Internet machine that fits the bill.

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