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Dozens of talented singers, songwriters, and bands recorded with Austin-based Sonobeat Records, some releasing only one single, some recording demo albums, and others recording songs intended for release but that, alas, never were. Although most artists that Sonobeat recorded were based in Central Texas, many, like Bach Yen and the Thingies, were visitors or transients, pausing to play the Austin scene on the way from and to gigs elsewhere. But all contributed to the exploding Austin music landscape in the '60s and '70s and to Sonobeat's history. The following artists all had at least one single released on the Sonobeat label. Based on the sequential numbering of Sonobeat's releases, many entries below will appear out of order; we've presented these artists based on the dates of their recording sessions rather than release dates of their singles.

1967
Roy Headrick  

   
 
Roy Headrick demo tape box and album label (side 1)

Austin songwriter Roy Headrick holds the distinction of being the first composer who recorded a demo album for Sonobeat's publishing arm, Sonosong Music, although his was not the first actually pressed and distributed (that distinction is Herman M. Nelson's). Roy's album, appropriately entitled Songs from the Catalog of Sonosong Music Company: Roy Headrick, Composer, featured 13 original compositions, all sung by Roy self-accompanied on standard guitar. Roy's material is best described as Americana and country-folk, consisting mostly of story-songs.

Roy's recording sessions were conducted at producer Bill Josey Sr.'s home off Highway 290 in northeast Austin at the end of November 1967, probably in the Josey family living room, since Sonobeat had no studio facility at the time. The tracks were engineered by Bill Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Jr.) using an Ampex 354 2-track recorder, mounted in a simple wooden frame for portability, and a pair of ElectroVoice 665 dynamic microphones, one for guitar and the other for Roy's vocals. Both the Ampex and the mikes were borrowed from KAZZ-FM, where both Bill Sr. and Bill Jr. worked. Copies of Roy's album weren't pressed and distributed until 1970. The limited run of about 100 vinyl copies was used primarily for distribution to Nashville country labels in hopes that a song or two would be selected for a well-known artist to record. Like all of Sonobeat's non-commercial album releases, Roy's was issued in a plain white jacket. Despite using Sonobeat's "Surrounding Sound" label on the album, it was pressed only in a monaural version, as were all of the Sonosong demo albums. Oddly, though, the master tapes in Sonobeat's archives are stereo mixes, and we present sound bites from two of those stereo tracks below.

Sonobeat Sound Bite

That Old Dog (stereo version)
Little Blue Bird (stereo version)

The Thingies  

 

The Thingies publicity photo

Recorded in December 1967, Mass Confusion became Sonobeat's sixth release (Rs-104). It's a self-fulfilling song about... what else... confusion, penned by group members Gordon Marcellus and Larry Miller. The "B" side, Rainy Sunday Morning, by group members Phil Weaver and Bob Cole, is a disfunctionally reflective song that easily could have been written and recorded by Jim Morrison and the Doors. Despite internet rumors that Sonobeat recorded the group in a hotel room, both songs on the single, along with other unreleased material, were recorded at the Swinger's Club in north Austin with vocals overdubbed late at night at the KAZZ-FM studios in the Perry-Brooks Building in downtown Austin. The Sonobeat sessions also yielded instrumental masters for Thingies' originals I Died, Mrs. Baker, Richard's Song, and an untitled jazz rock tune; however, only Mass Confusion and Rainy Sunday Morning were completed with vocal overdubs.

   
The Thingies master tape box and single
 

The Thingies always seemed shrouded in mystery. Were they from Florida or Kansas? Did they move on from Austin to San Francisco or did they break up before leaving Austin? Were the lyrics "love sadly dying" in Mass Confusion references to LSD? Although we're pretty sure the band formed in Kansas, wherever they came from, the Thingies made quite an impression on the Austin music scene over barely a six month period, playing gig after gig at The Vulcan Gas Company, the Matchbox, and other local venues with Johnny Winter, the 13th Floor Elevators, The Conqueroo, and other leading Central Texas bands. The Thingies even performed at the Afro Club, traditionally a blues, jazz, and R&B venue in East Austin. In actuality, the group did break up in Austin, not long after their Sonobeat single was released in spring '68.

Mass Confusion was well received critically and ushered in the psychedelic music era for Sonobeat (Sonobeat had wanted to sign the 13th Floor Elevators earlier in '67, but they had a long-term commitment to Houston's International Artists label). The Thingies were Phil Weaver (lead vocals), Gordon Marcellus (drums), Larry Miller (bass), Bob Cole (rhythm guitar), Ernie Swisher (organ), and John Dalton (guitar). Thingies leader Larry lives in Florida and performs regularly as the front man for Larry Joe Miller and the Rockabilly Rockets. Phil returned to and still lives in his hometown, Waco. Gordon succumbed to cancer in 2004.

Sonobeat Sound Bites

Mass Confusion (Sonobeat stereo single Rs-s104 - "A" side)  
Rainy Sunday Morning (Sonobeat stereo single R-s104 - "B" side)  

1968

Bach Yen

 

In January 1968, Sonobeat recorded international singing sensation Bach Yen performing This Is My Song (composed by silent film star Charlie Chaplin) and the French-language Magali. The two-hour recording session at Austin's Club Seville at the Sheraton Crest Motor Inn (now the Raddison on Lady Bird Lake) yielded the basic instrumental and vocal tracks. Although the Club Seville's house band, the Michael Stevens IV, provided able instrumental backing, producer Bill Josey Sr. wanted a richer production to accompany Bach Yen's clear and strong voice. It took until August '68 to finally settle on and overdub a string and horn arrangement by Richard Green, performed by members of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Bach Yen's Sonobeat single, PV-s109, was released in October '68.

Born and reared in former French colony Vietnam -- thus influencing her choice of Magali (by noted French artiste Robert Nyel) for the "B" side of her Sonobeat single -- as a teen Bach Yen performed in Saigon nightclubs and recorded several singles. Fluent in French, in 1961 she moved to Paris and soon landed a recording contract with European powerhouse Polydor, releasing three albums and numerous singles on the label.

   
 
Bach Yen master tape box and single

In 1965, Bach Yen began a scheduled two-week visit to New York as a musical emissary for South Vietnam -- the center of American controversy during the '60s -- appearing on national television on The Ed Sullivan Show. Her two-week U.S. visit turned into a 12-year tour of 46 states, Canada, Mexico, and other Latin America countries. Bach Yen was featured with John Wayne and Austin broadcasting icon Cactus Pryor in the 1968 theatrical film, The Green Berets. Impressed with Bach Yen during production of the film Cactus invited Bach Yen to perform in Austin, then enlisted his friend Don Dean, manager of the Club Seville, to provide the venue. In turn, Don introduced Bach Yen to Sonobeat co-founder and producer Bill Josey Sr. Bach Yen's Sonobeat single added positive international intrigue to the label's rapidly diversifying catalog. She returned to Paris in 1977 and, influenced by her future husband Trân Quang Hai, returned to her Vietnamese musical roots. Bach Yen continues to perform traditional Vietnamese songs in concerts throughout the world.

Sonobeat Sound Bites

This is My Song (Sonobeat stereo single PV-s109 - "A" side)  
Magali (Sonobeat stereo single PV-s109 - "B" side)  

Jim Chesnut  

   
 
Jim Chesnut master tape and single

In September 1968, folk performer Jim Chesnut recorded two Herman M. Nelson compositions for producer Bill Josey Sr. About to Be Woman is a folk ballad described by Nelson as a modern love song. Leaves is a plaintive commentary on everyday life -- as relevant today as when Jim recorded it. The songs were released as Sonobeat stereo single PV-s112, which was Jim's recording debut. Jim, a Midland, Texas, native, was attending the University of Texas in Austin, where he and Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley were classmates, when he recorded the single.

 

Shortly after completing his single, Jim recorded Sonosong's demo album, Songs from the Catalog of Sonosong Music Company: Herman M. Nelson, Composer. The album was not commercially released but instead was used to solicit established recording artists' interest in performing Nelson's compositions and, therefore, was distributed primarily to record company A&R executives. In contrast to Jim's single, which was recorded in stereo with drums, bass, and two guitars, the Nelson song demo album was a minimalist endeavor -- just guitar and vocals -- and pressed in monaural. Both Jim's single and the Nelson sonb demo album were recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio on its Scully 280 4-track recorder.

 

Jim returned to Sonobeat in May 1969 to record a series of covers including By the Time I Get to Phoenix, The Impossible Dream, They Call the Wind Maria, Woman Woman, Games People Play, Where's the Playground Susie, and Wives and Lovers. It's unclear whether producer Bill Josey Sr. was trying to build a commercial album release with Jim, but whether or not that was the goal, none of Jim's May '69 recordings were ever released.

Jim's career as both singer and composer in his own right blossomed in the '70s, after he moved to Nashville and took up residence as a staff writer for world-famous music publisher Acuff-Rose. A Grammy nominee for his composition Show Me a Sign, Jim recorded two albums and more than a dozen singles for the MGM, ABC, and Capitol labels, played clubs and concerts across the country, and now operates an audiovisual and graphics production business in San Antonio. Jim still performs from time to time. For more about Jim's musical career (including elaboration of how he connected with Sonobeat), visit his his personal website. The snapshot of Jim at right was taken from the Josey family home balcony looking out over northwest Austin, toward Lake Travis.


Sonobeat Sound Bites

About to be Woman (Sonobeat stereo single PV-s112 - "A" side)  
Leaves (Sonobeat stereo single PV-s112 - "A" side)  

Ronnie and the West Winds

 

In October '68, Sonobeat recorded its first country/western single, by Austin's Ronnie and the West Winds. The "A" side is leader Ronnie Prellop's tune, Can't Win for Losing, a duet with an interesting pedal steel guitar figure and a solidly twangy rhythm guitar. The "B" side is an upbeat country swing instrumental, Windy Blues, written by Ronnie's brother Larry and a show-off piece for the steel guitar. Both songs feature tight performances.

The single was recorded at the Vulcan Gas Company on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin, a venue famous for psychedelic, hard rock, and blues artists -- like the 13th Floor Elevators, the Conqueroo, and Johnny Winter -- and probably a little foreign to the West Winds, who were more accustomed to performing at the Broken Spoke and other Austin country-western venues. The single got airplay on local country station KOKE and sold modestly well throughout Central Texas.

Sonobeat Sound Bites

Can't Win for Losing (Sonobeat stereo single C-s108 - "A" side)  
Windy Blues (Sonobeat stereo single C-s108 - "A" side)  

Fran Nelson  

In October '68, songwriter/vocalist Fran Nelson recorded Sonobeat's 15th single (PV-s113). The "A" side is a gentle bossa nova cover of the Beatles' 1965 hit Yesterday. The "B" side is Fran's composition, No Regrets, delivered in a smoky jazz club style enhanced by Sonobeat's steel plate reverb. You can almost feel Fran's hot breath at your ear and might even need a gin and tonic to make it all the way through her torrid performance.

     

Fran recorded several sessions with Sonobeat, including a test session recorded at the KAZZ-FM studios in downtown Austin, that included several takes of her sultry cover of Stevie Wonder's Come Back Baby, Sad Stranger Blues, Tomorrow When I Wake Up, alternate versions of No Regrets and Yesterday backed by the Lee Arlano Trio, and the final released versions of No Regrets and Yesterday backed by Sonobeat favorite the Michael Stevens IV, a versatile pop-jazz combo that also performed as house band at the Club Seville at the Sheraton Crest Motor Inn (now the Radisson Hotel) as The Kings IV and provided able backing on Sonobeat's Don Dean and Bach Yen singles.

Fran's basic instrumental tracks for Yesterday and No Regrets were recorded at the Club Seville, and her vocals were overdubbed at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio in Northwest Austin. The Sonobeat archives hold no additional information about Fran, but it seems likely that producer Bill Josey Sr. was introduced to Fran through Don Dean, manager of the Club Seville, where Fran performed. In addition to a sound bite from the Sonobeat single No Regrets, we're pleased to present an excerpt from the unreleased Come Back Baby.

Sonobeat Sound Bite

No Regrets (Sonobeat stereo single PV-s113 - "A" side)
Come Back Baby test recording at KAZZ-FM in Austin (unreleased)

Continue to 1971-1976

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