Sonobeat History • 1969

Running in place

Inside the Sidney J. Wakefield pressing plant in Phoenix, Arizona; Wakefield masers and presses Sonobeat's singles (January 1969)
The Liberty Records release, via its Imperial label, of Sonobeat's The Progressive Blues Experiment album by Johnny Winter
Plymouth Rock on stage in an Austin night club; Sonobeat records the group and releases its 45 RPM stereo single in '69
courtesy Johnny Schwertner

1969 begins with the Josey family returning from a road trip: in late January, Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. has driven his family to Los Angeles to hand deliver the Johnny Winter album master tapes to Liberty Records president Bud Dain and national sales director Eli Bird. The Joseys stop along the way back to visit the Sidney J. Wakefield & Company record pressing plant in Phoenix, Arizona. Wakefield masters and presses Sonobeat's vinyl singles and albums.

While in Los Angeles, Bill Sr. gives an interview to Billboard, the weekly music industry trade journal. One of Bill's pet projects for Sonobeat has been to foster relationships with juke box record distributors in Texas because they buy hundreds of copies of individual singles, but in his Billboard interview, published in its January 25th issue, Bill criticizes juke box operators' slowness to embrace stereo singles.

Coming into 1969, Bill Sr. and Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) have just spent considerable resources for the tiny company's aggressive 1968 release schedule and expansion – putting thousands of dollars into new recording and mixing equipment and outfitting a home studio. The advance from the sale of the Winter album to Liberty Records helps them pay off some of their larger equipment purchases. But the Joseys already have anticipated they'll scale back in 1969. Sonobeat's pared-down 1969 release schedule includes 45 RPM singles by James Polk and the Brothers, Plymouth Rock, Vince Mariani (who records Sonobeat's only drum solo release), and the Lee Arlano Trio (it's Sonobeat's second and final Arlano single), and non-commercial demo albums for Sonosong composers Herman Nelson and Bill Wilson.

Although Sonobeat issues fewer releases in '69 than in '68, that's because the Joseys focus on building the label's next "super group" to replace their 1967-'68 star group Lavender Hill Express following its breakup. And that next "super group" is built around Vince Mariani, with the group's members hand-picked by producer Bill Josey Sr. Sonobeat also records unreleased material with nationally-famous bubblegum group Ohio Express (trying to make a major musical direction change), Cody Hubach, Georgetown Medical Band, and Contraband. With the addition of a precise audio oscillator, Sonobeat's two half-inch 4-track tape decks can be sync-locked to form a virtual 8-track recorder, making complex sessions and layered overdubs much easier. The purchase of more and better microphones in 1968, including a matched pair of Sony ECM22 electret condenser mikes that cost $100 each (or about $720 each in 2018 dollars), eliminates the need to "tap" electric instruments at their amps – "tapping" is a method to record amplified instruments without putting microphones in front of their speaker boxes – but Rim still prefers tapping as well as plugging some instruments, such as bass guitar, directly into Sonobeat's custom mixing console and designs and builds attenuator boxes that bridge the tapped instrument and the mixing console to prevent input circuit overload.

In March, Liberty releases Sonobeat's The Progressive Blues Experiment by Johnny Winter on Liberty's Imperial Records label. Also in March, Sonobeat Recording Company and Sonosong Music Company formally incorporate in the State of Texas and cease operating as partnerships between Bill Sr. and Rim. Bill Sr. assumes the role of president and Rim, the role of vice president and A&R director.

Because Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio in the Joseys' northwest Austin home is in a residential neighborhood where loud nighttime recording sessions aren't tolerated by neighbors, the Joseys begin using the auditorium at the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, where they are longtime members, to record rock groups. The church auditorium is large – it houses a full-size basketball court – and, because of its high ceiling, offers good recording acoustics. The church auditorium is available almost every weekday and on weekend evenings, making it an attractive remote recording facility. As a bonus, it's conveniently located near the Western Hills Drive studio. The first groups Sonobeat records at the church auditorium are Plymouth Rock and New Atlantis.

On October 25th, the Austin American-Statesman newspaper runs an article about Sonobeat entitled Song Capitols Ask Austin For New Music Sounds. Though the article contains some factual errors – for example, it claims that some Sonobeat recordings are made in a barn (none are ever recorded in a barn) and that Rim is a graduate student at the University of Texas (he's not; he's an undergrad at the time) – it gets the essentials right.

Near the end of the year, Liberty Records (which earlier in 1969 is purchased by Transamerica Corporation and merges with Transamerica's United Artists record label to form Liberty/UA) makes its second purchase from Sonobeat: Wali and the Afro-Caravan's Afro-jazz album, Home Lost and Found (The Natural Sound), which Sonobeat records a year earlier. Bill Sr. had circulated the album to national labels through a limited Sonobeat advance pressing but it is well into '69 before he receives any bites. The sale of the Afro-Caravan album to Liberty/UA is a financial godsend and saves Sonobeat from folding at the end of the year.

Sonobeat's 1969 commercial releases

Johnny WinterThe Progressive Blues Experiment • Imperial LP-12431
Plymouth RockMemorandum b/w Just a Start • R-s114
James Polk and the BrothersStick-To-It-Tive-Ness b/w The Robot • R-s115
Vince MarianiPulsar b/w Boots • R-s116
Lee Arlano TrioSchool Daze b/w Meditation • PJ-s116

In a January 1969 article, Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. takes on Texas juke box operators, who he feels have not embraced stereo singles
In October 1969 the Austin American-Statesman newspaper runs an article about Sonobeat, occasionally misquoting or misstating facts but generally getting most things right