Traveling around the country could be a scary proposition for a couple of guys fresh from California. First of all, we didn’t look like a lot of people in the rest of the country. We looked like the scary creatures they were seeing on tv. Crazy long hair, beards, dressed in fringe and furs. Occasionally we would get a hard time but generally, folks just kept their distance.
It was 1968 and the country was in turmoil. Dr. King had been assassinated and Micheal and I found ourselves on the road with a hundred cities in flames. I remember listening to the radio trying to decide where we should spend the night. Small towns were better than cities. They were relatively peaceful while the cities burned. We were more than aware that we might look like some of the people that were causing trouble and didn’t want to take on any more grief than we already had.
We were headed to Kansas City. A safe place in a country on fire. We had an engagement at the Vanguard which had become our “home club” even though we hadn’t taken up residence in KC yet. We were anxious to see our friends and get away from the turmoil that we had been driving through. Mort, Gary, Connie, and a host of others would be waiting for us and we were anxious to get someplace safe. These were friends that Michael and I had known, some back when we played The Vanguard as singles. To us, they were Kansas City.
Dismay! The Vanguard was closed and Kansas City was under a curfew. There were stories of gunshots on the Country Club Plaza, the Moorish-looking center of nightlife and shopping, not someplace you would expect anything like that. Actually, violence in Kansas City made it seem like the whole world was on fire.
So here we have a case of two hippie musicians stuck in a place they know and love surrounded by craziness with nowhere to go. It was as if the safest place on earth had become burst into flames. It hadn’t but it felt like it. Our friends, however, had an idea. The Sound Farm. It was about two hours away in Columbia, Missouri. We had no idea who or what lie ahead of us but we were willing to try anything at that point. Michael and I had no idea what The Sound Farm was but if it would get us away from the gunshots we were up for it. For a good cause, we had always been in favor of civil disobedience and such but civil unrest and such were not on our list of things we wanted to be part of.
Our friends, Mort and Gary assured us we were going to have a great time. That was a scary thought because Mort had steered us into parts of the netherworld in the past and we weren’t completely sure he wasn’t doing it again. So we took a chance and assumed this time would be a good one. The only thing left to do was find a little cannabis to light our way into the unknown. We never went anywhere without doing that first.
We hopped in Connie’s old yellow and black civil defense van and we were off to Columbia. The Sound Farm was a farm of sorts and a band. To say I have a lot of very specific memories of it would be misleading. I do, however, remember a couple of the folks I met there. Ken Shepard and Michael Cochran aka Smokey. How Michael became Smokey never crossed my mind. Some things are just self-evident. Ken owned a guitar store in Columbia and over the years I bought and sold a few guitars there. I have known “Smokey” for decades from that time in Columbia to Crested Butte, to today’s Ozark Mountains.
My fondest memory of the Sound Farm, aside from the folks, was the silo. There was a huge concrete silo on the property that had absolutely the most beautiful echo I have ever heard. Even the million-dollar recording studios in LA would have killed to be able to reproduce the echo in that silo. I could sit there by myself or with Michael and make music that would bounce off of the cement cylinder that seemed to reach to the heavens, with a reflection that sounded like it came from Paradise itself.
I didn’t realize it at the time but I was becoming a Missourian. Those kinds of things sneak up on you until you wake up one day and realize a change has come. Mort and Gary had contacted us when we were in Wisconsin and encouraged us to come to Kansas City and put together a production company. And now it appeared the time had come. We no longer lived in Hollywood or even LA. We were, in a way, homeless. So actually settling in Kansas City where we would be surrounded by friends made perfect sense.
The concept was simple. They would find engagements for us and we would write songs and be Brewer and Shipley. We already had a small circuit of places we could play and our hope was that they could fill in the spots between. And, most importantly, we would once again have a home. In this case, it was a three-story house on Main St. but it was better than sleeping on our parent’s floor or living in a tent.
And that became the beginning of Good Karma Productions. The next few stories will be about our life with Good Karma and our time in the best city in the country. The one named for the state next door.