Austin Blues-Rockers

Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1975 & 1976
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
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Three completed songs, recorded at Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studios in Liberty Hill, Texas, at the beginning of 1976

It's nearing the end of 1975. The Austin Blues-Rockers is a, well, Austin-based rhythm and bluesey, rock cover band, a cross between Motown and Atlantic "girl groups" of the late '60s and more traditional R&B/blues bands. From December 21, 1975, through January 3, 1976, Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. produces several nicely-polished tracks with the group, then called Blues-Rock Group. The unit initially records House Rocker (a cover of B.B. King's 1955 single, which bears a close resemblence to King's later Boogie Rock), Snatch It Back And Hold It (Junior Wells' R&B song from the '60s), Chicken Shack (originally a Muddy Waters Blues Band instrumental), and It's Hard To Stop (Doing Something When It's Good To You) (a fond tribute to Betty Wright's original 1973 R&B number). The sessions take place at Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studios on the outskirts of tiny Liberty Hill, 35 miles north of Austin, Texas. The band completes It's Hard To Stop and one take of House Rocker (sometimes listed as Rock House on the session tape boxes) with vocal overdubs, but leaves the other tracks (except Chicken Shack, specifically recorded as an instrumental) unfinished.

In March '76, the group, now referred to as Austin Blues-Rockers, returns to Blue Hole Sounds to cut two more songs: Soulful Dress (a cover of Filipino-American R&B sensation Sugar Pie DeSanto's 1964 version) and Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around) (a cover of Aretha Franklin's 1967 hit). These two tracks appear to be intended for release as a Sonobeat stereo single. But 1976 is a financially challenging year for Sonobeat, and if there's no other reason the Austin Blues-Rockers' single is never released on Sonobeat Records, it surely is because Bill's ongoing battle with cancer – diagnosed in 1975 – is diverting most of his financial resources from record releases to chemotherapy treatments.

Bill's notes from the December 21, 1975, session identify the band's personnel as Al Davies, Derick O'Brien, Doke Ford, David (whose last name isn't indicated but who we believe may be Levy), and Frieda Borth. Back in 1969, Frieda is a member of Austin rock group Contraband that records with Sonobeat as a prize for winning the Austin Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands. Whenever Bill's notes add up the times of various tracks, it's a clear indication he's looking to assemble enough material for an album; here, in particular, he notes that It's Hard To Stop, Rock House, and a second take of Snatch It Back And Hold It together have a running time of 15 minutes 35 seconds, a little less than half an album. In the '60s and 70s, typical album running times hover around 40 minutes. Unfortunately, none of the band's material is ever commercially released. Somewhat suprisingly, we find no mentions in The Daily Texan or the Austin American-Statesman newspapers during this time period of Austin Blues-Rockers; no ads for the band's performances at local night clubs, no articles, no photos. This leads us to speculate that, at the time Austin Blues-Rockers records with Sonobeat, the band is just forming and building its set list, but never actually launches. But it's also interesting that the band is musically solid, with Frieda's knock-'em-out vocals backed by gifted musicians, so what happened?

Tragedy, overcome

Austin Blues-Rockers' lead vocalist Frieda Borth is from the ultra-small Texas town of Pittsburg, roughly 125 miles east-northeast of Dallas and 325 miles north of Austin. In 1968, Frieda graduates high school and heads to Austin to attend The University of Texas, focusing on sociology. But she comes to Austin with rock 'n' roll in her blood – as a singer and guitarist – and ends up putting more time and energy into music than her college career, fueled in part by Austin's skyrocketing music scene. Frieda's a solid rock-blues singer, belting 'em out with genuine gusto and emotion and in 1970 joins Contraband, which goes on to win the Austin Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands that year. After Contraband morphs into Calico, Frieda moves from Austin band to Austin band, landing with the Austin Blues-Rockers in 1975. About a year after the Austin Blues-Rockers' Sonobeat sessions, the unthinkable happens: Frieda and her friend and musical partner Christene (Christy Lou) Calhoun are the victims of a motorcycle-auto collision that takes Christy's life. Frieda's left arm is partially paralyzed, and she loses the lower half of her left leg. But Frieda is resilient and makes an extraordinary recovery with the help of her family back in Pittsburg, Texas, telling the Austin American-Statesman's Townsend Miller at the end of July 1977 that she's "playing guitar now and getting stronger. Can't wait to get back to Austin and back into music." Indeed, within a month, Frieda returns to Austin, and by December 1977, she's performing with Backbone and later forms the Frieda Borth Band, playing clubs throughout Texas. In 1998, she lets go of her music career, pivoting full time to helping other amputees. In 2002, Frieda founds the Round Rock [Texas] Amputee Support Group, where she continues her uplifting work today.

Austin Blues-Rockers personnel

Frieda Borth: vocals
Al Davies: bass
Doke Ford: harmonica
Derick O'Brien: guitar
David (unknown last name, but possibly Levy): drums

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around) (Carolyn Franklin) • 3:29
Chicken Shack (Muddy Waters) • 4:30
House Rocker (B.B. King) • 3:05
It's Hard To Stop (Doing Something That's Good To You) (Willie Clarke/Clarence Reid/Betty Wright) • 5:31
Snatch It Back And Hold It (Junior Wells) • 5:51
Soulful Dress (Maurice McAlister/Terry Vali) • 2:47

Produced and engineered by Bill Josey Sr.
Recorded at Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds, Liberty Hill, Texas, from December 1975 to March 1976
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, Dokorder 7140 quarter-inch 4-track tape deck, custom 16-channel 4-bus mixing console, Fairchild Lumiten 663ST optical compressor, Blonder-Tongue Audio Baton 9-band stereo graphic equalizer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, 3M (Scotch) 206 and TDK L-1800 tape stock
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Producer Bill Josey Sr.'s notes for the December 21, 1975, Austin Blues-Rockers sessions
A potential Sonobeat stereo single or, perhaps, a demo that Sonobeat producer Bill Josey Sr. sends to one of his major label contacts?