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A few bits of early Plain Brown Wrapper history (James' version)

After Bill Malone left The Plagues, heading for Canada (July 1966), Van Decker, Phil Nobach and me (Jim Hosley) went looking for a new bass player. In my mind, we were aiming at keeping the Beatles type quartet format. Van had something else in mind (maybe). That Summer, I was working for the MSU postal service (campus mail) and had little extra time. Van (who was about to attend Waverly H.S. as a senior) reached out to Scott Durbin (in between Scott's Sophomore and Junior year at MSU), and talked him into a tryout/jam. Scott was working a demolition jackhammer for the Lansing Board of Water & Light, and hated it, but it was good money. Van and Scott had jammed several times before, and maybe Phil had joined them. Once I had joined the jam with Scott, it was a done deal,..Scott was adding so much musicianship to the group. Initially, Van asked Scott to play bass guitar and to play electric organ with keyboard bass (a Farfisa organ with optional 2 octaves of bass). Of course, if Scott played the keyboard bass he could also play trumpet with his right hand. And that’s what happened. Scott rented a Farfisa organ from Marshall Music,

and bought a used Moserite electric bass (at a pawn shop in Detroit). The band as "1666", entered a City of Lansing Parks and Rec. “Battle of the Bands” that Summer, and Scott played the rented Farfisa at “the battle” at Joe Joseph's Pro Bowl. He decided that he would buy it, contingent upon our winning,..which we did ! (The Great London Fire of 1666, ended the worst outbreak of The plague in England since the black death of 1348.)

After a couple weeks of jamming (Van, Phil, Scott and me), Van asked Steve Allen to jam with us. Steve played guitar, bass, AND he played a little trumpet. After that, Scott quit playing bass guitar, and Steve or I would play it (if needed). That was a completely different sound and style from The Plagues. Some early "covers" included Tijuana Brass hits with 2 trumpets. The Plain Brown Wrapper was launched. Actually, there was no agreed-upon band name through the Summer, until Scott (or maybe Sherry, Van’s girlfriend) lit on the idea (from a magazine advertisement, ”...your item will be sent discreetly in a plain brown wrapper”) as a band name. It stuck. As a newly formed band, we had equipment issues to deal with. In the Autumn of 1966, I was the only “employed” band member since I had taken a “temp”, seasonal job with the post office (USPS), as a carrier. I had USPS work from 7AM until 5-6PM, 5 days each week (Oct. ’66 thru Feb. ’67). That regularly made practice with the Wrapper and weekend gigs problematic. I was not eating well or sleeping well, in fact I seemed to have a “cold” much of that Michigan Winter. Still, we found time to practice in Phil’s folks' basement, and drive to a few Friday or Saturday night gigs. A solid job meant that I had a line of credit, so I took out a loan for a used bass amp and a used organ amp. The Plain Brown Wrapper found some gigs, and played a few times at The Incline, on North Washington Ave. in Lansing. The Incline’s owner/manager was Paul Karr, with some small help from his younger brother Barry Karr. Since the Karr brothers were from Detroit, they happened to know Arnie Geller (Arnold M. Geller, producer of Spyder Turner, and he had some contract with the MC 5) who was promoting Detroit musical groups. Arnie Geller had an “in" with WJIM-TV (Lansing) to promote music on a new, local, “teen" show called “Swing Lively”. Somewhat akin to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, this low-budget, local, tape-recorded TV production hired a couple of MSU co-eds to dance in mini-skirts, and the Plain Brown Wrapper (PBW) to act as the show’s “house band”. Loads of fun and excitement. The PBW discovered that the Swing Lively show engineers could not do a good job of “live” audio recordings, and that the engineers preferred that our band bring-in recorded music (audio tapes) to be played as the band “lip synced” the song. So, The Wrapper went up to Dave Kalmbach's Great Lakes Studios and recorded a dozen or so “covers" of relatively recent popular tunes. Van edited each song into individual tapes to be handed to the WJIM-TV engineers before each video tape recording session. Since we were only lip syncing, I put energy into conjuring-up ideas for "skits" to use during our portion of Swing Lively. There was one skit when I drew 5 paper, fireman’s helmets for use during “Summer in the City”, and another, when I had a friend bring his XKE Jaguar convertible onto the studio set, when Steve sang The Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”. (With 2 TV cameras, I directed one to shoot the band with Steve singing lead vocal on stage, and the other camera to show our friend at the wheel of his Jag, and to have the cameras alternate views during the song. Each time the camera came back to the car, there would be a different girl next to our friend,..I Get Around.) Arnie Geller would bring recording artists up from Detroit to promote songs and artists he had under contract or was promoting for a fee. During an hour of taping “live”, there was a host (often Dennis Wayne, a WJIM TV “personality”), with one or 2 guests artist/performers and the PBW, interspersed between current “hit” songs that "invited local teens" could get-up and dance to, along with the go-go girls.

Swing Lively was recorded on Thursday nights, and then played-back on Saturday afternoons, whenever the TV director needed to fill an hour of time. The Wrapper acted as Swing Lively’s house band for about 5 months, from October 1966 thru Feb. '67. I believe that we even performed our original song “And Now You Dream” near the end of that run. That 5 months of being on TV each Saturday, was a great calling card for the PBW. From those studio “cover" recordings we also created a fun, little audio promo tape, which (after being duplicated dozens of times) we sent out to as many Michigan teen clubs as we could discover. We actually received very little response, but we did hear that most bookers or managers of venues didn’t believe that we were playing the songs on the tape. They thought that we had used the original record to make the tape, claiming it was our sound. Not so. Who Knows ?

Just a few months after we ended our relationship with Swing Lively, Steve was drafted into the US Army (Viet Nam War), and I just quit (May 1967). I was exhausted, teen clubs were dying, and The Wrapper was playing bars (Coral Gables, E. Lansing) to make ends meet. I was never fond of bars, or drunks and smoky venues. I thought that it would be as easy to replace 2 band members now, as to replace Steve now and me a few months later. I went on to work as a salesman for Marshall Music (402 S. Washington Ave., Lansing), Van, Phil and Scott went out to find new band members, and after recruiting Chuck Sweitzer (guitar & vocals), he brought-in Dave Livingston (bass, vocals, trumpet & trombone), and the rest is history,..of The Plain Brown Wrapper, v.2. A year later, I went back to “work" for the Wrapper as their sound tech (vocal mixer), roadie, and eventually, the "school bus" driver. Most of the band moved into a big house at 406 N. Walnut Street, in Lansing (Spring '68).

While I was still working at Marshall Music Co., I also bought a Ford Econoline van for the band, as an equipment truck. Soaky Patato Funbath (Rick Kalb, the band’s new drummer in March, 1968) painted a strange image on the van’s side, which he called “The Boggle Man”, and the van became “The Boggle Truck”. The band outgrew the Boggle truck, and bought a used school bus. Dave and Chuck removed the last 4 rows of bench seats, and Dave turned that area into an equipment space. I also had the only gasoline credit cards, and we used them for the van and school bus, until our/my revolving credit ran out after our trip to Aspen Colorado in Jan. 1969. There, with that long drive and 5 week gig, many other stories begin.


James Jim Hoz Sound man

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