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Bill MillEr Group (COld Sun)

Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1970 & 1971
No Sonobeat-authorized commercial releases
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A completed master tape of Twisted Flower
Producer Bill Josey Sr.'s session notes for the March 27, 1971, recording session; he's misspelled Bill Miller's last name...

The year is 1970. The place is Austin, Texas. Who and what is this mysterious musical collaboration that Sonobeat Records co-founder/producer Bill Josey Sr. refers to as, simply, the "Bill Miller Group"? Bill Miller's "Group" is known as Amethyst prior to its near-mythical 1970 and 1971 Sonobeat sessions, but begins the sessions nameless. At some point during the 1971 sessions, the "Group" changes its name to The Daily Planet; however, Bill Sr. rarely calls the group by that name. The prolonged Sonobeat sessions with the group produce a highly programmatic album entitled Cold Sun. Even more mysteriously, over the following years, the group comes to be known as Cold Sun and the album as Dark Shadows.

Sonobeat's archives list the following artists on the Cold Sun sessions: Bill Miller, Tom McGarrigle, Hugh Patton, and Mike Waugh. The versatile Waugh previously plays bass on Jim Chesnut's country-pop single for Sonobeat and on Bill Wilson's song demo album and Herman Nelson's second song demo album, both demos for Sonobeat's sister company, Sonosong Music. All songs on the Cold Sun album are written by Bill Miller, except Fall, co-written by Miller and Winston Taylor, and the album's epic finale, Ra-Ma, based in part on Egyptian mythology, written by Miller and McGarrigle with lyric contributions by Herman Nelson, himself deeply interested in metaphysics and the occult.

Visionary lyricist and electric autoharp wielder supreme Billy Miller recorded these three astonishing songs [Fall, Here In The Year, and Ram-Ma] with his quartet Cold Sun a/k/a Dark Shadows, in Texas’ legendary Sonobeat Studios, creating a startlingly rich-but-ragged heathen-as-f&#% post-psychedelic sound that many believe was way ahead of its time.
Julian Cope Album of the Month review in Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage (May 2009)

Miller's electric autoharp, that Miller acknowledges an analog to the 13th Floor Elevators' amplified jug, adds a significant contribution to the distinctive sound of Cold Sun's tracks. But capturing the unique sound of the autoharp is challenging, and, after trying and discarding several microphone techniques, Bill Sr. simply plugs the autoharp's pickups directly into Sonobeat's custom 16-channel mixing console, a common studio technique now known as "direct injection".

Cold Sun is an anomaly in Texas psych history. As significant as Bubble Puppy or Moving Sidewalks but in no way similar, the Austin quartet cut one cult classic in its brief existence, the spell-binding Dark Shadows, which Jello Biafra called ‘the best psychedelic album I know of.’ Dark Shadows is crude and cryptic, the type of record that makes you feel like you can crawl inside of it and hide for awhile.
Austin Powell writing in The Austin Chronicle (April 29, 2011)

Cold Sun is recorded over a five month period, starting in November 1970 and finishing in March 1971 at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio in northwest Austin. Final touches, including some re-recordings and vocal overdubs but primarily extensive remix sessions take place at Sonobeat's new North Lamar studio in Austin in July and August 1971. There are confusing titles on the various master tape boxes, possibly early titles of songs that change as the album matures – titles like Marble, Mind Aura, Light, What Season, Cycle, and Silent. These titles (except for Marble) don't appear as part of Bill Sr.'s final remixes on July 29, 1971, and Marble is removed from the album's final track sequencing less than a month later. of the most important and revered psychedlic underground albums from the early 70s. Killer heavy psych masterpiece featuring amazing guitar and autoharp playing that will blow your mind. user Fantasyman, who rates Dark Shadows a/k/a Cold Sun #10 on his A Psychedelic Revolution: Fantasyman's Top 40 Psychedelic Albums list
Dark Shadows is the fearless creation of a unique foursome of peyote-fuelled Texan heads, so obsessed with making music that they believed they could change everything. In that sense, it is a tragic, even desperate failure, but I’d recommend you give it a moment: it will seek out your soul and suck you in with its deranged beauty.
From J.J.'s review of the Dark Shadows album in The New Perfect Collection (March 10, 2017)

Although Sonobeat never releases the album, Bill Sr. contemplates releasing a stereo single featuring See What You Cause and Twisted Flower, but he eventually abandons those plans for reasons not documented in the Sonobeat archives. In a shift from his customary practice, Bill Sr. doesn't make vinyl test pressings of the Cold Sun album, instead circulating inexpensive audiocassette dubs to his contacts at the major record companies, hoping to license the masters for a national release. But there are no takers for the esoteric, often bizarre recordings. Although dubs of the master tapes have circulated for over 45 years, the album is not publicly released until 1989 when specialty label Rockadelic issues a limited vinyl edition of 300 copies under the artist name Cold Sun and album title Dark Shadows, a title Miller selects as homage to the '60s cult TV series. The Rockadelic and subsequent releases, including a digital version sold by Amazon, are not Sonobeat-sanctioned releases and regardless how advertised are not mastered from Sonobeat's original session tapes or first generation mix-downs.

Miller goes on from Cold Sun to perform, along with McGarrigle, with Roky Erickson and the Aliens. Assuming the stage name Billy Angel, Miller later moves to Marin County, California, and joins the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based punk rock band The Blood Drained Cows, flying around the country wherever the band performs. On May 1, 2011, 39 years after breaking up, Miller, McGarrigle, and Waugh reunite as Cold Sun to perform one last gig at the Austin Psych Fest (an annual event in Austin that has since been renamed Levitation), joined by The Blood Drained Cows' drummer Tom Trusnovic.

On October 19, 2012, It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine's Klemen Breznikar interviews Bill Miller to dig deeper into the Cold Sun experiment that leads to Miller's collaboration with post-13th Floor Elevators Roky Erickson in Roky's Bleibalien band.

Bill Miller Group personnel

Tom McGarrigle: electric guitar, bass, and vocals
Bill Miller: electric autoharp, harmonica, slide guitar, electric guitar, and vocals
Hugh Patton: drums and percussion
Mike Waugh: bass

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Fall* (Bill Miller-Winston Taylor) • 7:06
For Ever* (Bill Miller) • 4:22
Here in the Year* (Bill Miller) • 8:48
History Ends
Mind Aura
Number 1
Ra-Ma* (Bill Miller-Tom McGarrigle-Herman Nelson) • 11:09
See What You Cause* (Bill Miller) • 3:36
South Texas* (Bill Miller) • 5:15
To Her
Twisted Flower* (Bill Miller) • 2:59
What Season

* indicates tracks selected for an unreleased album tentatively entitled Cold Sun; although various takes of the same song have different running times, the running times indicated above are of the final mixes

Produced and engineered by Bill Josey Sr.
Recorded at Sonobeat's home-based Western Hills Drive studio in Austin, Texas, on November 17-18, 1970, December 9, 1970, and March 27, 1971, and at Sonobeat's North Lamar studio in Austin in July and August 1971
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, AKG D707E dynamic microphone, Scully 280 half-inch 4-track tape deck, Stemco half-inch 4-track tape deck, Ampex AG350 quarter-inch 2-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) 202 and Ampex 681 tape stock


Was Sonobeat co-founder and Cold Sun producer Bill Josey Sr. strongly superstitious? Bill Miller thought so. In an interview on now-defunct, Miller says "Josey ... believed that the Johnny Winter album’s exact track length was a lucky number. It was 43 or 45 minutes and – oh, I forget how many seconds. You can check the Johnny Winter length – you will find that it is exactly the same length as the Cold Sun album – exactly, to the second." Miller was referring to Johnny Winter's The Progressive Blues Experiment that Sonobeat recorded in 1968 and sold to Liberty Records for national release on Liberty's Imperial label. Bill Sr. certainly hoped to sell Cold Sun to a national label, too. The Sonobeat "white jacket" advance release of The Progressive Blues Experiment has a total running time of 43:15, although the Imperial version has a total running time of 42:54. The final version of the Cold Sun album that Bill Sr. assembles has a total running time of... 43:15!
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The first work tape from the epic November 1970 Sonobeat sessions with Bill Miller Group
The second work tape from the epic November 1970 Sonobeat sessions with Bill Miller Group
The final Cold Sun album master tape