The time had come to start thinking realistically about my future. I had been looking for a break since I became a musical gypsy after graduation. Where, I wondered, was home. Toronto, Cleveland, Greenwich Village? The folk clubs were starting to diminish in number, both in the U.S. and Canada. Several of my friends had already headed toward California and some of them were starting to make a name for themselves. I was torn. I had a Bachelor of Science degree in earth science from Baldwin-Wallace University and, because I had so many friends in Toronto, I took out papers to become a landed immigrant in Canada. But there was still music calling me.
Michael, who had started hanging out at La Cave, put together a group and headed to California. The Beatles and The Stones had started to take the place of the folk groups on the radio and Bob Dylan plugged in. I saw him at the auditorium in Cleveland, and he was backed by The Band who I had seen playing with Ronnie Hawkins in Toronto, Levon And The Hawks. Then came “California Dreamin’” and “Do You Believe In Magic” done by groups made up of folkies I had known from the coffee house days.
Should I give music one more try? How could I not? I realized there were some folk clubs, like the Vanguard in Kansas City, on the way to California so I came up with a plan. Secure some engagements in those clubs and make my way to the land of milk and honey. Plus I had a couple of musician friends who offered me a place to stay so the dye was cast. It was a long, hard trip but I made it. I no sooner entered the state than I learned about California law enforcement. I was stopped 5 times between Bakersfield and LA for a tail light I had broken 6 months earlier in Greenwich Village. These fellows were serious!
As I was making the drive between police stops the radio was playing music that I had never heard but was somehow familiar with. At its heart was a folkie kind of feel. The first was “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” by a California group The Buffalo Springfield and “Along Comes Mary” by The Association. I was blown away and more than a little intimidated. I was going to give music a try in LA but I felt like a fish flopping on the bank trying to get back into the water.
The friends I was staying with were folkies I had known for years. They were all part of the same folk scene I had left in Cleveland. The house was in the Eagle Rock part of LA, quite a distance from where the music was happening in Hollywood and that presented a problem. Michael’s group had broken up as they were on the verge of “making it” but at least he was living in the heart of the music scene. He told me about a house around the corner from him and, fortunately, it was something I could afford.
I was now living in Hollywood but not the glamorous part. It was the place where aspiring actors, musicians, dancers, and the like lived while trying their luck at stardom. But it was just a block south of Sunset so I knew I was in the heart of things. It was a small house behind a house as were most of the places people stayed on their way to the big time. My next-door neighbor was Jimmy Messina who was working as a recording engineer at Sunset Sound where a lot of the new music was being made. And it was just a mile or so from the Troubadour where all the new music was being performed, mostly on “open mic night.”.
Michael and I started hanging out and even began writing songs together. He told me about the Buffalo Springfield and how they had been formed in the house behind the one in which he lived. And the young lady who often hung out there I had known from Toronto when she was working as a waitress at The Purple Onion. A trip to the “open mic night” at the Troubadour really brought it all back to me. It was there I ran into Neil Young not yet knowing he was part of the Buffalo Springfield. And there were others there from the folk circuit that I hadn’t seen since I left Cleveland. They were all playing a new kind of music. It had its roots in folk music but with a rock ‘n roll backbeat. It was folk-rock.
It was in that environment where Brewer and Shipley got their start. I won’t go into all of the details that lead up to it but “open mic night” at The Troubadour is where we first got on stage together. At that point, we weren’t even a group. Just a couple of folkies who had written some songs together and wanted to get back on stage. In what must be one of the great ironies in my life, the young lady who I had met at The Purple Onion in Toronto was or had become a photographer and took some pictures of us that night. The first time Brewer and Shipley performed anywhere. And the ironies kept on coming. Years later we had success with the song “One Toke Over The Line” released by our record company Kama Sutra. The label was first built for a band of reborn folkies, The Lovin’ Spoonful.
I’m sure the fans that listened to the folk-rock of the 1960s and 70s had no idea of its origins. And how it had its roots in the music and philosophy of a guy that was blacklisted by Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, Pete Seeger. Thanks, Pete. We hope we did you proud.