Records with Sonobeat in 1976
One commercial album release on Sonobeat Records (1976)
- Pop Polka Helmer Dahl • Cotton Eyed Joe (1976)
Helmer's Baldwin organ and Arp Pro-Soloist set-up in his home in Hutto, Texas
The May 11, 1976, session master
It's March 2014 and we're checking online to see what vinyl collectors are paying for rare copies of Sonobeat's 1960s and '70s 45 RPM vinyl singles. We fall upon Helmer Dahl's Toe-Tapping Tunes, attributed to Sonobeat. We're surprised to find this previously undocumented Sonobeat commercial album release, because we've always believed The David Flack Quorum's 1976 album Mindbender is Sonobeat's final release. So we buy Helmer's album on eBay. When the vinyl album arrives, in pretty good condition, we find it's indeed a Sonobeat release, produced by Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. and engineered by Bill and his studio handyman Tom Penick. Although the Sonobeat archives contain Helmer's master tapes and Bill's session notes, until we have the vinyl album in hand, we're not sure whether Helmer Dahl is the name of a band or an individual, much less that these Sonobeat recordings are commercially released. But the disc we buy on eBay tells us not only that Helmer's is Sonobeat's final commercial release but that Helmer is an individual who sounds like an entire band.
Helmer's sessions are held at Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studio on the outskirts of Liberty Hill, Texas, about 35 miles north of Austin. Recording starts with an April 1, 1976, session and then resumes during the period May 11-13. According to the Sonobeat archives, along with Helmer, Michele Murphy, who records a final session with Sonobeat on April 17, 1976, and Al & Alec, recording a handful of songs sometime in May or June, comprise the final artists Bill is able to record before becoming too weak from cancer to continue running his studio.
Throughout the '70s, Helmer is a busy and highly sought after Central Texas musician. Of Swedish ancestry, his home base is Hutto, a small Central Texas town about 15 miles west-northwest of the Blue Hole Sounds studios in Liberty Hill, but Helmer performs frequently in Austin as well as throughout Central Texas. Helmer offers up a combination of pop standards, such as Release Me, and traditional northern European folk songs like Beer Barrel Polka and Westphalia Waltz, which he performs on a Baldwin electric organ with sonic enhancements via an Arp Pro-Soloist synthesizer perched atop the Baldwin. The Arp provides sound effects, fiddles, and rhythm sounds that Helmer uses to create the impression an entire band is playing. And, unless you see Helmer perform at a VFW post, Lions Club event, night club, or private party, you won't suspect his sound is generated by just one person at the dual keyboards. Of course, today, a solo artist using a digital workstation and MIDI keyboard can sound like an entire orchestra; but Helmer – flying solo – sounds like an entire band long before such digital technology exists. He becomes a Central Texas celebrity because of his extraordinary keyboard talents.
To complete Sonobeat's final album release, Bill brings Helmer back into the studio for an impromptu session on May 13, 1976, recording two additional songs, Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (shorthanded in Bill's notes simply as 5'2") and Cotton Eyed Joe. These tunes bring the total running time of the album to about the 40 minute vinyl standard. Helmer's album, Toe-Tapping Tunes, indeed is Sonobeat's final release. We conclude the likely release date is the first week of September 1976 from the fact that during the week of September 6th, Helmer places a small ad promoting the availability of the album in the Taylor Daily Press. Bill succumbs to cancer three weeks later, likely unaware that the album has been released. Helmer's Toe-Tapping Tunes stands as Bill's final public contribution to the Central Texas music scene. To the best of our knowledge, Helmer, somewhere around age 90, still lives in Hutto.
This album carries you through a happy, toe-tapping, dancing and listening adventure.
The songs recorded in this album were especially arranged by the artist, and are the answer to many requests for an album of music "just like you're playing now".
The exciting and delightful stereo sounds created were produced with a Baldwin organ married to an Arp Pro-Soloist Synthesizer. With skillful talent and "doing things his way", you will hear sounds ranging from a steam locomotive to twin fiddles, with rhythms from waltz to rock. This album has the sound of a complete band.
We think you will be delighted as you listen, and be looking for future releases.
Helmer Dahl: Baldwin electric organ and Arp Pro-Soloist
In The Mood (Garland-Razaf) • 2:30
Westphalia Waltz (Collins) • 3:12
Just One More Dance (R.L. Bryant) • 2:32
Beer Barrel Polka (Brown-Timm-Vejvoda) • 2:30
Hawaiian Sunset (public domain) • 2:39
Spanish Eyes (Kaempfert-Snyder-Singleton) • 2:30
Somewhere My Love (Webster-Jarre) • 2:53
The Wanderer (Maresca) • 2:58
Release Me (Miller-Stevenson) • 2:26
Cotton Eyed Joe (public domain) • 1:59
Rock Medley (arranged and adapted by Helmer Dahl) • 1:54
Quintin's Theme (Cobert) • 2:06
Julida Polka (public domain) • 1:26
Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Henderson-Lewis-Young) • 1:42
Blue Skirt Waltz (Blaha-Parish) • 2:17
Oh Susannah Schottische (pubic domain) • 1:49
Producer (uncredited): Bill Josey
Engineers: Bill Josey and Tom Penick
Liner photo: Eugene Hebbe
Liner notes: Bill Josey
Recorded at Sonobeat Studios, Liberty Hill, Texas, May 11-13, 1976
Recording equipment: 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
Unknown number of copies pressed
Lacquers mastered and vinyl copies pressed by Wakefield Manufacturing in Phoenix, Arizona
Four-color (front) and black & white (back) jacket
Labels and jackets printed by Wakefield Manufacturing in Phoenix, Arizona
In the dead wax:
Side I: S-7976A and WMEMI-S
Side II: S-7976B and WMEMI-S
The plain cover – probably a stock design – for Sonobeat's final release, Helmer Dahl's 1976 Toe-Tapping Tunes
Bill Josey Sr.'s notes for the May 11th and 13th, 1976, recording sessions
Bill Josey Sr.'s notes for the May 12, 1976, recording sessions, showing track assignments on Sonobeat's Dokorder 7140 quarter-inch 4-track tape deck