Contraband

Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1970
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
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A publicity photo of Contraband appears in the Austin American-Statesman following the band's 1970 first place win at the Austin Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands (August 14, 1970, Austin American-Statesman article)

It's August 1970, and blues-rock group Contraband (which starts its life in 1969 as The Contraband) wins the Austin Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands, competing in a field of ten top regional Texas groups. As one of the top prizes, Contraband is awarded a recording session with Austin's Sonobeat Records, which has already released 19 stereo 45s singles. The idea behind the prize is that the Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands winner could be the next act appearing on the Sonobeat label. Contraband's Sonobeat sessions, which we believe to be held in early September 1970 (the Sonobeat archives aren't clear on the actual recording date, but Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley, who produces and engineers the Contraband session leaves to attend law school in Houston in mid-September), yield demos for Try (Just a Little Bit Harder), a spunky cover of Janis Joplin's signature rocker, with a solid lead vocal by Frieda Borth (from Kaufman, Texas, who at the time Contraband records with Sonobeat is a University of Texas student) backed with 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 an equally cool double-tracked vocal by Frieda. At the time Contraband records with Sonobeat, the band features Frieda, Austin native George Rarey (guitars and bass, who later will join Sirius, formed by founding members of seminal Texas psych band Bubble Puppy), Ralph Gebert (guitars), Steve McDaniels (drums), and Kim Snider (keyboards). Frieda will record again with Sonobeat in 1975 and 1976 as part of the Austin Blues-Rockers.

Contraband goes through several rapid personnel changes, and at various times includes 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.

The band kicks around for at least two years, winning in the pop-rock category at the University of Texas Intercollegiate Music Festival held in March 1971 and performing at the University of Texas "East Mall Ball" a month later, sharing the stage with Genesee, Phoenix, Rusty Wier, Shiva's Headband, and other top regional Texas acts.

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, touring for awhile with Michael Murphey, and Steve McDaniels joins Austin country band Freda and the Firedogs (Freda, whose real name is Marsha Ball, is no relation to Frieda). By 1977, core members of the original Contraband/Calico/Brushy Creek groups – Frieda, Larry, George, and Kim – form Back Bone, spending 6 months backing Rusty Wier, who by then has moved on to a successful solo career.

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: guitars
Steve Hansen: bass (joins after the Sonobeat sessions)
John Houser: bass (joins after the Sonobeat sessions)
Steve McDaniels: drums
Larry Nye: bass (joins after the Sonobeat sessions)
George Rarey: guitars and bass
Kim Snider: keyboards

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 early September 1970
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
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)