Ended by surprise like everything else I’ve been through

The History of Rock Facebook page tells the story of one of the more amusing moments in rock and non-rock-music history tied to this song:

On March 27th of 1971, the very popular song … was pulled from rotation by an influential radio station. It was the ‘flagship’ radio station of the NBC network. Other stations across their vast radio network soon followed suit … due to pressure from censors and higher-ups at the network and that’s what brings all of the things and/or people in the pics below to my post here. They include…

  • Jerry Garcia
  • WNBC, a now defunct radio station in New York City
  • Lawrence Welk
  • 2 singers from the Lawrence Welk show by the names of Gail Farrell & Dick Dale
  • Myron Floren, the accordionist from that show
  • And of course, last but certainly not least, Brewer & Shipley, in a concert promo flyer within the pics … with a song that can be described as a ONE HIT WONDER in more than one way. A song that was controversial for more than one reason as well

Like for instance, Jerry Garcia had been hired to play steel guitar on the “Tarkio” album from 1970 that this song comes from. There was no need for steel guitar on this song…but when it was released as a single … Jerry played on the song on the B side … by the name of “Oh Mommy (I Aint No Commie)” … which is a song about being ‘allowed’ under federal law to start up a revolution.

… Brewer says, “We wrote that one night in the dressing room of a coffee house. We were literally just entertaining ourselves. The next day we got together to do some picking and said, ‘What was that we were messing with last night?’ We remembered it, and in about an hour, we’d written ‘One Toke Over the Line.’ Just making ourselves laugh, really. We had no idea that it would ever even be considered as a single, because it was just another song to us. Actually Tom and I always thought that our ballads were our forte.

The incident that sparked this song happened at the Vanguard in Kansas City, Missouri. The band was playing the show because, in seeking to escape the LA music scene, they started a tour of their Midwest homelands. Shipley reports that he was given a block of hash and told to take two hits. He ignored the advice and instead took three. Shipley says, “I go out of the dressing room – I’m also a banjo player, but I didn’t have one, so I was playing my guitar — and Michael (Brewer) came in and I said, ‘Jesus, Michael, I’m one toke over the line.’ And to be perfect honest, I don’t remember if Michael was with me when I took that hit or not. I remember it as ‘not’; I think Michael remembers it as ‘yes.’ And he started to sing to what I was playing, and I chimed in and boom, we had the line.”

Brewer also remembers the occasion. “I just cracked up,” he said. “I thought it was hysterical. And right on the spot, we just started singing, ‘One toke over the line, sweet Jesus,’ and that was about it; then we went onstage.”

Now, jump to the very conservative, family oriented, WHOLESOME tv show from back in the day…by the name of The Lawrence Welk Show. The host and his compatriots were famous for playing music of all kinds…but also for playing it with big band and/or polka instruments. Welk had heard the song by Brewer & Shipley and put it on his show (also in 1971), to be performed by 2 of his many regular performers. When the song’s slot came up in the show…accordionist Myron Floren who would often introduce acts, called it, “one of the newer songs”. At which point, singers Gail Farrell & Dick Dale launched into their wholesome rendition of “One Toke Over The Line”. At the end of the song…Lawrence bookended their performance by saying, “there you’ve heard A MODERN SPIRITUAL by Gail and Dale”…..

I am absolutely convinced that of everyone in this Lawrence Welk clip, Floren (of whom my grandparents were big fans, and saw him in concert at least twice) is the only person here who knew what the song was about, which explains his, uh, throat-clearing moment.


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