On his Facebook page John French further tries to explain what happened with the recording of the legendary ‘It Comes To You In A Plain Brown Wrapper’ album.
After writing an 864-page book, “Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic,” in which I tried my best to accurately “set the record straight” on many of the myths and misunderstandings that have collectively swirled and snowballed down the hill of legends into the confused form-a-heap ( yes, I’m using that phrase from Bill’s Corpse from TMR) it is today, I still find the number one thing people seem to keep scattering misinformation about is Strictly Personal, and the TTG Sessions — which were later released in bits and pieces – only adding to the confusion. I’m confused too, because I haven’t followed this nearly as closely as some of you, and I was about to explain it on the “We Honestly Love Trout Mask Replica” Facebook group when someone came in and distributed even more mis-information in a lengthy and quite inaccurate post. You can read my book: “Beefheart: Through the Eyes of Magic” if you want the more thoroughly-researched version that explains all this ( especially the “Track Notes” section), but in the meantime, I’ll try to set this straight in the simplest fashion, on a fresh page, with no “experts” contributing to the conversation who created the confusion to begin with.
When CB&HMB went into TTG studios in the Fall of 1967, we were still under contract to Buddah Records. Robert Krasnow (a promo man for Buddah and our unofficial manager) was producing the album (although, unlike Richard Perry, Krasnow was not musically trained) and the concept of the album was supposed to be a double album. The album title was supposed to be “It comes to You in a Plain Brown Wrapper” (as a satire on how pornography used to be sent through the mail) with a faux “stamp”on the package (made to look like a brown paper wrapper) which read “strictly personal” on the cover. The stamps would be our photos.
The first disc would be CB&HMB playing arranged materials (Trust Us, Safe as Milk, On Tomorrow, Moody Liz, Beatle Bones, Big Black Baby Shoes, Dirty Blue Gene, Kandy Korn, etc).
The second disc would be “Twenty-Fifth Century Quaker” (the band name) with a series of blues jams – Mirror Man, Tarotplane, Twenty-Fifth Century Quaker, Korn Ring n’ Finger, etc.)
This next part of the story I don’t understand exactly, or was not informed about (Don often kept the band in the dark), but for some reason, perhaps because the material was too “rough” and seemed too long and unedited (I’m speculating here) Buddah seemed to not be interested in releasing the album, or wanted to change it.
At this point, there was a rumor that Krasnow paid off someone in the NY offices of Kama Sutra / Buddah records to mis-file our contracts and options. Our contract was for One Year (when we signed and did Safe as Milk) with four one-year options: meaning that Buddah could pick up an option every year upon the date of the original signing, or not. So, we could have been with Buddah for five years total under this original agreement. However, by mis-filing the contract, Buddah would miss picking up our option and we were free to record with another company – in this case, MGM Records.
The day AFTER the option was not picked up we were in a Beverly Hills lawyer’s office signing with MGM, and shortly after that, we were in Sunset Sound Studios re-recording a SINGLE album, which would become known as “Strictly Personal.” According to the cover, it was recording between April 25th, and May 2nd 1968. Shortly after, and before the album was mixed, we left for an extended tour in the UK, which was supposed to include the Rome Pop Festival (which we did) and a show at the Paradiso in Amsterdam (which we cancelled), and also a show in Northern Ireland, which was cancelled when the bus that transported passengers into town was supposedly blown up by the IRA.
At some point, near the end of our tour, and just before we were scheduled to play the Paradiso (which I recall as being the last show on the tour) Bob Krasnow showed up in London with an acetate of the finished album, which is what is now known as “Strictly Personal.” We actually listened to it in the Rolling Stones business office in the evening. No one really talked during the playing of the acetate (an early form of cutting a temp album which really lost fidelity after a few plays). My personal reaction is that it was surprisingly different with all the phasing and editing, but it worked fairly well. No one really said much afterwards, and we all headed to the elevator. I was the last one on and said, “Wait! Did anyone get the acetate?” Don replied, “Godammit John, can’t you remember ANYTHING???” Anyway, we had actually left it in the office. I ran back and retrieved it.
As soon as the band were alone sans Bob in the Cab returning to the hotel, Don went on a total rant about how Bob had ruined the album with the “psychedelic bromo seltzer” etc. Don had not said a word to Bob about his dislike of the mix. The next morning, we were getting ready to fly to Amsterdam and found out that Krasnow had apparently collected all the money that we had made on the tour from the Booking Agency and flown home – leaving us with a huge hotel bill and no money. We did have our return tickets, so, we pretended we were flying to Amsterdam, but actually flew back to the States. I’m not sure how we were able to re-schedule the flight home, but we did, in fact, return home, cancelling the Paradiso show.
Don immediately phoned Zappa, who had recently moved back to LA and was living in the Tom Mix Cabin. The idea was to do a remake of – you guessed it – all the unreleased material we had already recorded for Buddah and MGM. We then moved into the “Trout House” which was just up the street from where we ( meaning Don, Laurie, Jeff and I) lived at the time. Shortly after we moved, Victor Hayden (Don’s Cousin AKA “The Mascara Snake”) came over with the fully-released version of “Strictly Personal” on Blue Thumb Records. So, we paid a visit to Bob Krasnow’s “Blue Thumb” office in Beverly Hills. Apparently, the six weeks’ tour money was how he financed the launch of this company, and he used a copy of the MGM master for the release! The art work used ( including that famous centerfold shot) was from Guy Webster, shot at A&M Studios big room, and was originally going to be used for the Buddah release.
So now, Don was gung-ho about working with Krasnow again, temporarily. I recall that we had already recorded “Veteran’s Day Poppy” and “Moonlight on Vermont” in Sunset Sound with Zappa, so I had to quickly chart out the songs for copyright, which I gave to Bob Krasnow. This tangled-web shortly had yet another turn when Krasnow lost his temper with Don – possibly for sending me to his private home at night with the charts. He was screaming at me when he opened the door. I handed him the charts and left, but now Don was not on good terms with Krasnow.
Now, it was back to Zappa time. Strictly Personal was released, so we had to come up with new material for Zappa, which was the beginning of TMR. Most importantly, however, is that all the different releases (and I admit I don’t know them all) of the TTG material are unfinished stuff we recorded for Buddah in November or so of 1967. This would include “The Mirror Man Sessions,” “I May Be Hungry but I Sure Ain’t Weird,” “ The Best of Beefheart,” and the bonus tracks on the CD version of “Safe as Milk.” (and the Sundazed release “It comes to you in a plain brown wrapper” – ed.)
Many people have said that some of those releases were the “unphased” versions of the “Strictly Personal” sessions, but they are most definitely not. They are from the poorly-mixed recordings of the TTG sessions originally recorded for Buddah records. NONE of the tracks are “demos” – they are merely unfinished. If you buy Herb Bermann’s book, “ The Mystery Man from The Magic Band” you will find many of the lyrics for such unfinished pieces as “Dirty Blue Gene” (the original ), Moody Liz, and others.