Recorded with Sonobeat in 1967
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
- Updated February 18, 2017 Psychedelic Rock Leo and the Prophets • Flowers on the Hill (unreleased; 1967)
Dan Hickman of Leo and the Prophets on stage in Austin, Texas, circa 1967
courtesy Danny Hickman
Drummer Bill Powell and producer Rim Kelley at the Prophets' sessions at the Swingers Club, Austin, Texas (July 1967)
Austin '60s rock band Leo and the Prophets holds the distinction of being the first rock group fledgling Austin label Sonobeat records. In 1966 and '67, Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) are general manager and afternoon rock 'n' roll deejay, respectively, at Austin's tiny KAZZ-FM, and through KAZZ's weekly live remote broadcasts from various Austin nightclubs, Bill Sr. and Rim have come to know many rock, jazz, and pop groups. They've broadcast Leo and the Prophets from the Jade Room and Club Saracen, two clubs frequently featured in KAZZ live broadcasts. The band is a contemporary of the 13th Floor Elevators and performs in a similar psychedelic rock style. In spring 1967, Bill Sr. and Rim are about to launch Sonobeat records and want to give the portable audio mixer that KAZZ chief engineer Bill Curtis has built for them a real-world test. The mixer is housed in a small wood box with a metal faceplate on which are mounted the volume and pan controls for six inputs. The XLR microphone and quarter inch line input and output sockets are mounted on the backside of the box. Inside the mixer box is a tangle of bare wires, transistors, capacitors, and resistors. Curtis literally solders the components together "in the air" and leaves them dangling "under the hood". The mixer is about to get an acid test.
In April '67, Leo and the Prophets release their regionally-successful single Tilt-a-Whirl backed with Parking Meter on Totem Records, one of Sonobeat's few Austin competitors as it launches. Austin's leading top 40 AM station, KNOW, refuses to play the record, citing drug references in the lyrics. But if there are drug references in the lyrics, they're oblique at best, so Rim plays the single on his KAZZ-FM radio program. As it turns out, Bill Sr. knows Leo and the Prophets' manager and arranges to record the band to test out the Curtis mixer.
Prophets' guitarist Danny Hickman recalls the first session is held either at the Ozone Forest nightclub at 34th and Guadalupe, where the Prophets are the house band, or the Lake Austin Inn (roughly across from today's Hula Hut). Rim, who engineers the session with Bill Curtis, recalls the session is held in the parking lot of the Lake Austin Inn on a slightly crisp day, and scribblings on at least one tape box in the Sonobeat archives confirm the location as the Lake Austin Inn along with a session date in early May.
The Joseys record the Prophets on an Ampex 354 quarter-inch two-track professional tape deck borrowed from KAZZ, which Bill Sr. mounts in a frame made of 2x4 wood studs to make it portable. The session yields one or two untitled tracks that are thin and distorted, a combination of the ElectroVoice 665 dynamic microphones overloading the mixer pre-amps, the lack of VU meters on the mixer to monitor volume peaks, and Rim's lack of recording experience. Although the quality of the recordings is disappointing, Bill Sr. and Rim still want to work with the Prophets but first need to give Bill Curtis time to rework and test the circuitry in the homebrew mixer.
The follow-up session with the Prophets is delayed until July 11th (a Tuesday) and is recorded during afternoon hours at the Swingers Club in north Austin; the vocal overdub session is held the following weekend at the KAZZ studios in downtown Austin using KAZZ's Ampex 350 and 354 stereo tape decks. The July 11th session yields three instrumental tracks: Ozone Forest, Prophecy of Love, and Flowers on the Hill, all original Prophets tunes, but only one track, Flowers on the Hill, is completed with vocal overdubs. Although Flowers on the Hill has potential as the "A" side of a commercial single release, both the band and the Joseys believe neither of the other two tracks will make a good "B" side. The band never comes up with a second commercially-viable song for the "B" side and misses an opportunity to be Sonobeat's first commercial release. In fact, the Prophets end up a one-hit-wonder with Tilt-A-Whirl, now considered a Texas garage rock classic.
Leo Ellis: lead guitar and vocals
Travis Ellis: percussion and vocals
Rod Haywood: bass
Danny Hickman: rhythm guitar
Bill Powell: drums
Prophecy of Love
Flowers on the Hill
Engineered by Rim Kelley and Bill Curtis
Basic instrumental tracks recorded at the Lake Austin Inn, Austin, Texas, in early May 1967 and at the Swingers Club, Austin, Texas, on July 11, 1967
Vocal overdubs recorded at KAZZ-FM studios, Austin, Texas, on or about July 16, 1967
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, Ampex 350 and 354 quarter-inch 2-track tape decks, custom 6-channel portable FET stereo mixer, Ampex 201 tape stock