Brewer and Shipley had become full-time residents of Missouri. Good Karma Productions had been established and managed to send Michael and me to every small college in the midwest. At least that is what it felt like. Aside from too much travel, life was good. There was only one thing missing. A recording contract.
Nick Gravanitis had played the vanguard as a single at some point prior to Brewer and Shipley becoming part of the Vanguard scene. He owed a favor to the owner who was now part of Good Karma and got Nick to produce 3 songs that could be used as a demo to be pitched to record companies. It sounded great, sort of. In the last story, I talked about jumping from the roof of a stable and tearing up my ankle. I was in a boot and trying to get around on crutches.
The scene was set for us to do some more recording. We had written a number of songs and our set was now full of original Brewer and Shipley music that needed to be recorded. We headed out to record with Nick whose home base was San Francisco. That was great except for the boot and crutches I was dealing with. Trying to navigate the hills of San Francisco on crutches is a whole different matter. It was difficult and at one point I managed to go down in a crosswalk. There I lay, traffic coming, and people passing. It was enough of a drag that I had fallen but the folks passing by didn’t try to give me any assistance. They just looked down at me with pity in their eyes. Welcome to San Francisco I thought.
The recording sessions with Nick were another matter. I was uncomfortable enough having to deal with the crutches but walking into the studio nearly sent me over the edge. We were a couple of guitar-strumming folkies from the midwest. The band Nick had set up for us was not what I was expecting. It was essentially the Butterfield Blues Band and Mother Earth with some other famous sidemen thrown in. Some of them had played on Dylan’s first electric album. Michael Bloomfield on guitar, John Kahn on bass, Mark Naftalinn on piano. Not only were we fairly intimidated we wondered how we were going to get this to work.
What transpired was a negotiation of sorts. They had to adapt to our strumming style of playing and we were required to accept some rhythm and blues to our songs. What came out of it was something we hadn’t considered. It was a sound and style that was unique and became ours. Little did we know that what we were doing was developing the roots of what became our Weeds and Tarkio albums.
The first song we recorded was called “Rise Up Easy Rider.” We had just seen the movie and had been living that life on the road so it was easy to relate to. Enough so that we wrote a song about it. That song and the other two that we recorded during those sessions got an immediate response from record labels and before we knew it we had a recording contract, an album, and a song (the Easy Rider song) that was shooting up the charts. For a while, it was played all over the midwest and that included Kansas City. We had a hit. A minor one but a hit nonetheless.
Back at the Good Karma house plans were in the works for an outdoor concert in Kansas City. All of a sudden Brewer and Shipley had money so the concert would be free and held in Loose Park. It seemed like the thing to do for a couple of hippies that had finally done something to make a buck and wanted to say thanks to the people who had supported them. We would get another local band, The Ewing Street Times to open for us. It was all set and we were anxious to get started.
To our surprise, getting into the park was difficult. There was traffic everywhere. We had been hoping for a few hundred people. Three or four hundred and maybe close to a thousand if we got lucky. We underestimated it a lot. Somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty or thirty thousand people showed up at a place that couldn’t hold half that many. We hadn’t taken into account or were even aware that the movie “Woodstock” was playing in town. It seems as though every young person that related to the movie was determined to have their own Woodstock right there in Kansas City.
Of course, there were some troubles. Not the kind you would have expected from such a large group of people. The problems were more like getting enough power to the sound system to drive the speakers enough for everyone to hear. And dealing with the traffic and the crowds. It seems the Kansas City police had underestimated the event as well sending only one officer to cover the event.
My fondest memory of the entire evening was an officer, standing next to the stage, surrounded by pot-smoking hippies. The look on his face was priceless. Somewhere between fear and confusion. I don’t think he had any idea what to do. Peaceful Loose Park was teeming with illegal activities being performed by people that looked like the scary ones seen on the news. Long hair, beads, fringe, and young ladies who had left their bras at home. What was an officer of the law to do? Fortunately it was, “go with the flow”.
And that is exactly all he needed to do. There were no riots or trouble of any kind save for the tremendous amount of cannabis that was consumed. That evening Walter Cronkite on the national news did a story about similar concerts that had taken place that weekend in Chicago and several other large cities. All of them ended up in riots and other civil disturbances. But he reported that there had been such an event in Kansas City that was peaceful and that everyone enjoyed, even the city fathers.
And that is why I still consider Kansas City my city. I now live in the Ozark woods but I’m still a Kansas City guy.