Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1969
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
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Contraband starts life as The Contraband, playing all of Austin's regular rock clubs like The New Orleans (March 6, 1969 Austin American-Statesman ad)

It's summer 1969, and rock 'n' rollers Contraband (which starts its life as The Contraband) has just won the Austin Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands. As one of its prizes, the band's awarded the opportunity to record with Sonobeat, which has already released stereo 45s by half a dozen Austin and Central Texas bands. The idea is that the Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands winner could be the next act that Sonobeat Records releases on a stereo 45 RPM single. Contraband's Sonobeat sessions, which we believe to be held in early autumn 1969 (the Sonobeat archives aren't clear on the actual recording date), yield demos for Try (Just a Little Bit Harder), a cover of Janis Joplin's signature rocker, with a funky lead vocal by Frieda Borth (from Kaufman, Texas, who at the time Contraband records with Sonobeat is a University of Texas student) backed by dynamite harmony vocals by the whole band, and a cover of British band Free's mini-opus I'll Be Creepin', a cool rocker with a spectacular double-tracked vocal by Frieda. Contraband is Frieda, Austin native George Rarey (guitars and bass, who later is a member of Sirius, formed by founding members of seminal Texas psych band Bubble Puppy), and Kim Snider. Frieda will record again with Sonobeat in 1975 and 1976 as part of the group Austin Blues-Rockers.

The group goes through many rapid personnel changes, and at various times in its relative short life includes guitarist Ralph Gebert, bassist Steve Hansen (at 6'2" and 120 pounds affectionately known as "Fat Steve"), and bassist Larry Nye (better known for his lead guitar with Steven Fromholtz's band and who now owns the La-Z-L Recording Studio on Lake LBJ in Kingsland, Texas, about an hour's drive from Austin). Among luminary Austin musicians who will record with Larry at the La-Z-L are Fromholtz and Rusty Wier, who records with Sonobeat in 1967 and 1968 as a member of supergroup Lavender Hill Express.

Contraband is managed by Austin radio station KNOW's drive time deejay and program director Mike Lucas (a friendly rival to Sonobeat co-founder and Contraband session engineer Rim Kelley, who until the end of 1967 deejay's on KAZZ-FM opposite Lucas; Lucas also manages Lavender Hill Express). Although there's no explanation in the Sonobeat archives why Sonobeat never releases Contraband's recordings as a single, one plausible reason is that the length of the tune I'll Be Creepin' (almost seven minutes running time) just won't fit on a 45 RPM record, which has a physical capacity just under five minutes per side. But Sonobeat has solved this problem before (on Lavender Hill Express' seven-and-one-half minute Outside My Window) by simply fading out long tracks when disc capacity is reached. A more likely reason the material isn't released is that Contraband's reorganization immediately following the Sonobeat session makes it difficult to promote the band that actually records the tracks. Nonetheless, Contraband remains a top Austin band right up into April 1972, when it reorganizes still again, this time taking the name Calico and moving toward a country-rock sound. Kim and Larry break off in 1973 to form Brushy Creek, and by 1977, core members of the original Contraband/Calico/Brushy Creek groups – Frieda, Larry, George, and Kim – form Back Bone, backing Rusty Wier, who by then has moved on to a successful solo career, for a six-month period.

Thank you!

Thanks to Sweetarts' Ernie Gammage and former Contraband member Kim Snider for providing information about Contraband's members.

Contraband personnel

Frieda Borth: vocals
Ralph Gebert: guitar (joins after the Sonobeat sessions)
Steve Hansen: bass (joins after the Sonobeat sessions)
John Houser: bass (joins after the Sonobeat sessions)
Larry Nye: bass (joins after the Sonobeat sessions)
George Rarey: guitars and bass
Kim Snider: drums

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

I'll Be Creapin' (Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers) • 6:43
Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) (Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor) • 3:12

Produced by Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley
Engineered by Rim Kelley
Recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, Austin, Texas, in late summer or early autumn 1969
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, 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, Ampex 681 tape stock
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The Contraband master tape