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The light had finally dimmed as Jan and I stared at the telephone sitting on the end table. I was preparing to tell Michael that I couldn’t go out on the road anymore. I wasn’t quitting the band but I just couldn’t do the rock and roll road anymore. It was the lady or the road and I was in love. 

Let me take a step back a couple of years. We were playing at a club in Illinois when I met the beautiful young lady who would eventually become my wife. My life was already a tangled mess and I had spent the last several years on the road doing all that stuff you used to read about in Rolling Stone. Jan and I were living together and I realized if this was going to become the life I hoped for, a life with Jan, I had to get off of the road.

Magically, as I was in the process of leaving the road, a new door opened. A couple of my woodsy friends offered to join me in an outdoor and backpacking store. We would call it Ozark Mountain Sports. It sounded like a good idea so off we went. We were broke but we were together and that was enough for us.

Jan found work at the local newspaper and of course there were my royalties. Not a huge amount but it helped keep food on the table. And one of those royalty checks was important beyond my wildest dreams. It paid for an engagement ring. Not the big rock a lot of ladies hope for but it was enough for her and that’s what counted. 

Just as I was realizing I was an artist and not a merchant the telephone rang. It was Michael telling me the classic rock station in Kansas City had made us an offer we couldn’t possibly refuse. A Brewer and Shipley reunion concert for the big bucks. While I had continued to play and write music I tried to remember how long it had been since I had performed and thinking about it brought on panic attacks. So I just said yes and prayed for the best. We needed the money.

Michael was living in Oklahoma at the time. The band and I met there and rehearsed for a week. Rehearsal was simply a matter of remembering the songs. Still, playing music with our old band brought back thousands of memories. But eventually it was time to head to Kansas City, ready or not.

When the dark lead skies opened they began emptying oceans of water on the road. The radio was blasting weather reports that became more ominous with every mile. The Grand river, which we had to cross, was rising fast. Being in separate cars, we had no way of knowing what the rest of the band was facing.

Would we mand make it? One thing for sure. We had sold out an amphitheater and there would be 10,000 people waiting for us. Speculation ran high as the weatherman excitedly told us which road or bridge was currently impassable. What would happen if Brewer and Shipley got washed out? Lots of questions with no answers.

Memories were everywhere as we arrived at the venue the following afternoon. Old friends had come out of the woodwork. Our old road manager, fellow musicians, a series of people we had known when we lived there. While it had been years, doing a sound check became eerily familiar.

I looked over my left shoulder and there was Michael. He was standing at the mic as I had seen for so many years. I strummed my guitar and gave the sound man my “testing, testing, testing.” The rest of the band did the same until everyone sounded right. Not only for the audience but for us as well. We needed to be able to hear each other, now more than ever.

And then it hit me. Do I have any idea what I’m doing? Sure we had rehearsed but here I was on stage ready to play for 10,000 people. Would I remember the words? Were my fingers still nimble enough to play all the lickks? Should I even be here? I was starting to panic with no place to  hide. 

Then came the show. I was surprised I didn’t forget any words and I don’t think my guitar hit any real clunkers. The audience went nuts and when we came to “One Toke Over The Line” I thought the house would come down. And then came the encore. A Native American peyote chant that had always been our closer and a real favorite with our fans.

I don’t think we had gotten to the second refrain when old friends, musicians, and it seemed like half of Kansas City wandered out on stage to  join us. It was musical mayhem. I’m not sure how many times we repeated the song but people were still coming out from the wings so we kept on singing. It was clearly on the verge of becoming completely unruly. One last refrain and that was it. Brewer and Shipley had finished their first concert in almost a decade.

I’m still not sure how it happened but offers for Brewer and Shipley started coming in. I was no longer burned out and I really enjoyed playing our songs for people again. So here I was, back at it. The road was nothing to fear this time, the lady had hugged all of the road bum out of me.Now with two new albums, and Jan often joining me on the road, we were back at it. Brewer and Shipley, One Toke Over The Line. 50 years and still smokin.

  1. Tom
    | Reply

    One Toke- how many times have is said that, and burned it down to a small nub of a roach. My cousin Elliot Ranney told me to get in touch with one toke tom. wow, cool. I was backpacking in london 1971, and saw you were playing in one of those after hours clubs, and having seen you at our little college in st pete FL a few months before, had to give it a go. Of course it was classically great- flawless, and brits went crazy. i’m still just a music junkie- retired now tho. I love it that you love Elliott”s work, or so he says. My mother was his father’s sister. Odd- i think he liked my mother more than he liked his father. such is life eh?

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