Sonobeat History • 1969

The story of Austin's Sonobeat Recording Company, Sonobeat Records, and Sonosong Music in the 1960s and '70s

Running in place

Liberty Records headquarters in Los Angeles, where the Joseys deliver Sonobeat's Johnny Winter album master tapes (January 1969)
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 (March 1969)
Plymouth Rock on stage in an Austin night club; Sonobeat records the group and releases its 45 RPM single Memorandum in November '69
courtesy Johnny Schwertner

In mid-January 1969, Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. drives the Josey family from Sonobeat's home base in Austin, Texas, to Los Angeles, California. The purpose of the cross-country trip is to hand deliver Sonobeat's Johnny Winter album, The Progressive Blues Experiment, recorded in 1968, to Liberty Records general manager Bud Dain and national sales director Eli Bird. The master tape delivery completes the deal Sonobeat strikes at the beginning of January to sell the Winter album to Liberty. While in Los Angeles, the Joseys tour half a dozen recording studios, including Liberty Recorders and United Western Studios, both on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Wally Heider Recording (although Heider's most famous studio is in San Francisco, his LA-based studio is also famous) on Cahuenga in Hollywood (where the Joseys sit in on a recording session with drummer Sandy Nelson), and the up-and-coming Elektra Sound Recorders on La Cienega in West Hollywood. They also visit Liberty's newly-acquired west coast record pressing plant, Research Craft, on North Fuller in Los Angeles. The trip is an eye-opener for Bill Sr. and Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.), since this is the first time they've seen firsthand the inner workings of major recording studios. They consider the trip a great success, returning to Austin with a substantial advance against future royalties from the sale of the Winter album. They also return with new ideas for the future growth of Sonobeat. The Joseys stop on the drive back to Austin to visit the Sidney J. Wakefield & Company record pressing plant in Phoenix, Arizona, where Sonobeat's vinyl single and album releases are mastered and pressed.

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 (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 $830 each in 2022 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&RArtist & Repertoire exeutives at record labels build and manage a roster of artists, connecting them to new songs and overseeing their recording activities. 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're 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 several factual errors – for example, it claims that some Sonobeat recordings are made in a barn (none are ever recorded in a barn), that Rim is a graduate student at the University of Texas (he's not; he's an undergrad at the time), that Sonobeat has a relationship with Columbia Records to produce Johnny Winter's future albums (Sonobeat doesn't), and that James Polk's single Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness will be released on Liberty's Minit label (it isn't) – 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 has recorded a year earlier. Liberty/UA releases the album on its Solid StateSolid State is founded in 1966 by producers Sonny Lester and Phil Ramone and focuses on releases by jazz artists including Herbie Mann, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chick Corea, placing Wali and the Afro-Caravan in good company. Solid State's catalog is folded into UA's Blue Note label in the late '70s. label. 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