Sonobeat History • 1976
The story of Austin's Sonobeat Recording Company, Sonobeat Records, and Sonosong Music in the 1960s and '70s
Bill receives a letter from a music aficionado in Hungary
Bill responds to the young Hungarian music enthusiast by sending him a selection of Sonobeat singles and albums
It's 1976, Sonobeat's worst and final year. What makes 1976 such a downer is that Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. has been diagnosed with cancer, has already been hospitalized twice, and is continuing chemotherapy from the previous autumn. But 1976 is not without a couple of highs: first, with the financial backing of composer/musician David Flack, Mindbender, The David Flack Quorum album that has been sitting "in the can" for three years, finally is released. Then, in June, Bill receives an unusual plea from a "starved" music lover in then-communist Hungary who is desperate to hear some American jazz, rock, and country music. Bill sends the correspondent, an aspiring avante garde artist named Gábor Attalai, a selection of Sonobeat singles and albums. Gábor, unable to send money out of Hungary, offers his works of art in exchange for the phonograph records. We don't know whether Bill takes Gábor up on the offer but, if not, he should have: Gábor goes on to become a leading conceptual and graphic artist in the Hungarian artistic nomadism movement. So, the release of Mindbender and Gábor's letter each perk Bill up and seem to give him renewed energy, if only temporarily.
In March, the Austin Blues-Rockers return for another round of recording sessions at Bill's Blue Hole Sounds studios on the outskirts of Liberty Hill, Texas. Soon thereafter country singer Jeannine Hoke records Your Touch Is Like a Whisper and Let's Get to Houston Today at Blue Hole Sounds. In spring '76, Jeannine's is the final single issued on the Sonobeat label. Al & Alec record in late spring or early summer, but their material sits on the shelf. Michele Murphy records a handful of tracks on May 17th, and sometime in the month or two after that, Al & Alec record the last sessions Bill conducts. Bill's struggle with cancer hospitalizes him again and finally depletes his funds, cutting off his opportunities to release an Austin Blues-Rockers' single or shop it and Al & Alec's material to major labels. But, with Helmer's financial assistance, Bill is able to release Toe-Tapping Tunes, Helmer's album of polka, pop, and rock tunes performed entirely on a Baldwin electric organ and Arp Pro-Soloist synthesizer. Notably, for Sonobeat's three 1976 vinyl releases, Bill moves mastering and pressing away from Nashville Records, which he has used for only one release, in 1975, to a mastering and pressing facility that is unidentified in the Sonobeat archives but believed to be Wakefield Manufacturing in Phoenix, Arizona.
Bill continues chemotherapy, which he receives through the Veterans' Administration (Bill Sr. had served in the Navy as a Patrol Torpedo boat skipper in the South Pacific during World War II, and it's one of his old Navy colleagues, Dr. Hal Gaddy of Georgetown, Texas, who first diagnoses Bill's cancer in 1975). In August '76, Bill is hospitalized still again, and this time the prognosis is far worse. But his doctor gives him clearance to take a short day trip, so his son Jack brings him back to Liberty Hill for a last visit to Blue Hole Sounds and Bill's mobile home. Jack recalls never seeing his father as serene and content as during that final drive through the beautiful Central Texas countryside.
There, in Liberty Hill, Texas, Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. finds what he most needs just when he most needs it: a place to live unpretentiously and inexpensively, a peaceful setting, and a community that cares about him. In September 1976, Bill succumbs to lymphocarcinoma at the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Temple, Texas, leaving family, friends, and the Central Texas music community at a loss. On the now-defunct but archived Cold Sun web site, Bill Miller remembers Bill fondly: "I lost track of Bill Sr. news around the time I began to help Roky [Erickson, of the 13th Floor Elevators] develop his songs ... circa 1974 ... I regret not visiting [Bill Sr.] again. He was a great man, gave a lot to the Texas scene." Austin songwriter Herman Nelson reflects, "Bill was not only a good friend, he was a bright light with a lot of good ideas. His head swam with them. He was a man truly ahead of his time." Paul New writes "what a wonderful man", and Bob Trenchard, who works with Sonobeat on multiple recording projects including Mariani and Pall Rabbit, calls Bill "ahead of his time – a real pioneer in the Austin music scene." Concluding his 1977 Sonobeat retrospective in the Texas music fanzine Not Fade Away, Doug Hanners writes, "Success is measured in many ways but in the record business at least, the music speaks for itself."