Sonobeat History • 1974

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

Cutting a new path

Sonobeat's first sessions of 1974 are live recordings of the Country Nu-Notes onstage at south Austin's Broken Spoke dance hall
Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studio, nestled in the Texas hill country on the outskirts of Liberty Hill

The relocation of Sonobeat's studios from Austin, Texas, to nearby Liberty Hill in August 1973 essentially shuts Sonobeat down for several months as Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. retrofits the old A.M.E. stone church on the outskirts of Liberty Hill that he's leased into a recording studio. Now, entering 1974, Bill has held only a few "work for hire" recording sessions at his new Blue Hole Sounds studio and hasn't had the time or resources to devote to development of music acts for the Sonobeat label. Bill begins 1974 with a remote recording session featuring a young band, the Country Nu-Notes, headed by Johnny Lyon. Johnny and his singing partner Janet Lynn record with Sonobeat in 1973, before the studio moves to Liberty Hill, and Bill is anxious to record more with them. Bill hauls his recording gear to The Broken Spoke, a honky tonk dance hall on South Lamar in Austin that's become one of city's liveliest live country music venues.

The Nu-Notes play good ol' traditional country music in stark contrast to the new progressive, "outlaw" country music movement that's been growing in Austin since 1971 and that's showing no signs of flagging. The Nu-Notes are somewhat of an anomaly but nonetheless are a solid and talented band that Bill thinks holds promise. He records 29 songs with the band during a long Sunday session at the Broken Spoke, but ultimately nothing comes of the recordings.

Also in '74, folk singer and songwriter Arma Harper begins recording from time to time at Blue Hole Sounds. Bill likes Arma's original material, a gentle pop and folk fusion, and puts months of time and energy into recording a dozen tracks for a potential album with Arma. Suddenly, it seems good fortune is returning to Sonobeat and that the move to Liberty Hill and the time and effort spent refurbishing the old church into Blue Hole Sounds have been worth it.

Although business at Blue Hole Sounds – almost entirely "work for hire" assignments – picks up in the second half of the year, Sonobeat puts out no releases on its own label and sells nothing to any national label. But Bill needs the custom work (for which he charges hourly studio rental and engineering fees) in order to cover overhead and living expenses and to recover from the cost of his 1973 studio move to Liberty Hill and the subsequent retrofitting of the A.M.E. church into Blue Hole Sounds. The mostly barren 1974 will give way to a more interesting 1975, as Bill begins to again develop artists for potential Sonobeat label releases.

There are many "Blue Hole" natural swimming holes throughout Central Texas; the Blue Hole that Sonobeat's Liberty Hill studio is named for is just down the road from the studio itself, where the South Fork of the San Gabriel River widens as the result of a low water dam