Sonobeat History • 1970

Changing directions

Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) works on designs for the custom 16-input mixing console that he and Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. build in February 1970
Candid of Scully 280 recorder during Mariani recording session at the 100 acre ranch outside McDade, Texas. Mickey is the session mascot.

At the beginning of 1970, Sonobeat co-founders Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) and Bill Josey Sr. design and build a state-of-the-art 16-input, multi-channel 3-piece mixing console and mount Sonobeat's array of 2-track and 4-track tape decks, stereo compressor, graphic equalizer, monitor amp, and patch bay into a wheeled rack fitted into a closet in their Western Hills Drive mini-studio. Singer/songwriter/handyman Cody Hubach welds the equipment rack together. With the addition of an upright piano, Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive home-based studio is finally well-outfitted not just for overdub and mixing sessions but for full-fledged recording sessions with small ensembles. The Joseys finish building the main mixing console unit, portable enough to transport in the bed of a pick-up truck, just in time for their landmark March 1970 Mariani sessions, for which the basic instrumental tracks are recorded outdoors on a 100 acre ranch near McDade, Texas, about 30 miles northeast of Austin. However, even with the Western Hills Drive studio completed, to avoid disturbing the quiet neighborhood with late night recording sessions Sonobeat continues to rent other venues to record the basic instrumental tracks for rock bands, returning often to Vulcan Gas Company in downtown Austin, until it closes down in summer 1970, and the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church auditorium in northwest Austin. The Western Hills Drive studio ends up used primarily for vocal and instrument overdubs and the occasional daytime, acoustic-only sessions.

In June '70 Rim marries and prepares for a move to Houston to begin law school in September. He spends the final six weeks of summer '70 at an Army Reserve Officer Training Corp camp in Kansas. When Rim and his new bride move to Houston in September, Bill Sr. is left to run Sonobeat solo, although Rim assists in recording and mixing sessions on his frequent visits back to Austin during fall and winter '70 and spring and summer '71.

During 1970, Bill Sr. adds additional distributors to Sonobeat's network of indy rack jobbers that sell Sonobeat's singles into retail record outlets. One notable addition is Trend Recording and Distribution Group based in Atlanta, Georgia, that has a national reach.

During autumn '70, Bill Sr. ships advance pressings of Mariani's Perpetuum Mobile album, which he and Rim have completed earlier in the year. Bill Sr. circulates the album to his executive contacts at United Artists Records in Los Angeles as well as to A&R executives at other major labels, including Columbia Records in New York. Columbia expresses interest and opens negotiations to acquire the masters.

At the same time Bill Sr. is negotiating with Columbia, he presses 100 copies of a non-commercial demo album to promote composer Roy Headrick's catalog of songs. Sonobeat recorded Headrick song demos in '67 but put them aside almost as soon as completed to focus on commercial releases. Rediscovering Headrick's material in 1970, Bill Sr. feels there are several promising tunes among the baker's dozen in Roy's catalog and ships copies of the demo album to A&R executives at the major labels just as he'd done in 1969 with the Herman Nelson and Bill Wilson song demo albums. Roy's is last in the series of Songs from the Catalog of Sonosong Music Company demo albums that Sonobeat issues to promote its growing music publishing catalog. Meanwhile, the negotiations for Mariani's album with Columbia drags on until an impasse on terms brings the discussions to an end. So, 1970 is decidedly disappointing for Sonobeat. The label's only release during the year is the Mariani single, Re-Birth Day. Bill Sr. fills some of his extra time in the final months of the year with custom recording work for California band Wildfire, who have relocated to Austin the year before. But there is one bright spot that arrives in November: an embryonic group headed by avant-garde Austin musician Bill Miller comes to Bill Josey's attention through John Ike Walton, the 13th Floor Elevators' original drummer who is friendly with both Bills (we'll refer to Bill Miller as "Miller" and to Bill Josey as "Bill"). An earlier incarnation of Miller's group performs in Austin under the name Amethyst but is in the process of recasting itself as successor to the psychedelic throne once held by the Elevators, who have been through one too many drug busts (Bill testifies as a character witness for Elevators' front-man Roky Erickson at the band's 1966 drug trial). After recording a long demo tape with Miller singing his catalog of original songs, Bill feels the material has great potential. Tommy Hall gives the Elevators an otherworldly sound with his electric jug, and Miller gives his group an equally ethereal sound with his electric autoharp, which provides a challenge to successfully record. Bill begins what will become a series of marathon sessions well into mid-1971 working with Miller's group.

Sonobeat's 1970 commercial releases

MarianiRe-Birth Day b/w Memories Lost and Found • R-s116
Wali and the Afro-CaravanHome Lost and Found (The Natural Sound) • Solid State SS-18065

Rim Kelley in the Western Hills Drive studio control room; custom 3-piece mixing console is in the foreground with equipment rack mounted in the doorless closet