Sonobeat History • Today

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


The Sonobeat master tape library and the Otari half-inch 4-track tape deck used to transfer the tapes to a digital music workstation
The Sonobeat half-inch tape library
Ricky Stein's 2014 book, Sonobeat Records: Pioneering the Austin Sound in the '60s, racked in the Texas History section of an Austin-area bookstore
Sonobeat Historical Archives' 50th anniversary (September 2017) digital reissue of its first single release
Sonobeat Historical Archives' second digital reissue (2014), collecting all three Lavender Hill Express singles plus a previously-unreleased bonus track into an EP entitled Visions

On Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr.'s death in September 1976, Sonobeat ceases doing business, and the Sonobeat master tape library – about 200 quarter-inch and half-inch boxed reels – are stored away, first in the back of Bill's old station wagon (parked outside his mobile home next to his Blue Hole Studio on the outskirts of Liberty Hill, Texas) and then variously in relatives' attics, garages, and closets in and around Austin, Texas. In the mid-1980s, Bill Sr.'s sons Jack and Bill Jr. catalog and pack the library in sealed containers for storage in a climate-controlled environment. Since then, the tapes are rarely touched except to make digital transfers.

During the years since Sonobeat shutters in 1976, copies of Sonobeat singles and albums, including ultra-rare vinyl test pressings and "white jacket" limited editions, regularly change hands at record collector conventions (esepcially the world-famous Austin Record Convention) and over the internet on sites like eBay. Sonobeat gems, such as the Mariani, David Flack Quorum, Wali and the Afro-Caravan, Johnny Winter, and Cold Sun albums; vinyl singles by Lavender Hill Express, Sweetarts, The Conqueroo, The Thingies, Wali and The Afro-Caravan, and Plymouth Rock; and Sonobeat's song demo albums by Herman Nelson and Bill Wilson, bring extraordinary prices among collectors. Even today, in 2023, Sonobeat's stereo singles are avidly sought out by Texas music aficianados around the world.

The earliest Sonobeat tapes, now 56 years old, are recorded on fragile 3M (Scotch) 201 acetate tape stock. In 1968, Sonobeat starts recording on Scotch and Ampex Mylar-based tapes, which have a long shelf-life. Surprisingly, given the haphazard conditions in which the tapes are stored until the mid-'80s, most masters survive with little damage, although a few recordings on the 3M (Scotch) 201 stock have deteriorated beyond salvage. In the early 2000s, Bill Josey Sr.'s son Jack begins the tedious and delicate tasks of inspecting, repairing, and restoring the tapes. In 2004, the Josey family forms a collective, Sonobeat Historical Archives – operated by Bill Jr. and Jack – to create for the dual purposes of celebrating the singers, songwriters, and musicians, most from Austin and Central Texas, who Sonobeat records from the mid-'60s through the mid-'70s, and memorializing Sonobeat's history and contributions to the Central Texas music scene. A Who's Who provides an alphabetical listing of all acts and individuals who we know to have recorded with Sonobeat (including an indication of those known to have passed in the intervening years), and our Songbook catalogues all songs known to exist in the Sonobeat archives.

Over the years we've reconnected with dozens of former Sonobeat artists. We've rekindled old friendships and recounted the stories of songwriters, singers, and musicians who built Austin's amazing music heritage and helped make Austin The Live Music Capital of the World. We owe a deep debt of gratitude and give heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed their recollections and, occasionally, documents and photos, to make more robust and complete.

In January 2014, History Press publishes Austin musician Ricky Stein's Sonobeat Records: Pioneering the Austin Sound in the '60s, an expanded and enhanced version of his 2013 University of Texas American Studies thesis. The Sweetarts, who record Sonobeat's first single in 1967, perform for only the second time in more than 40 years at Ricky's book signing party at Antone's Records in Austin.

In March 2014, Sonobeat Historical Archives begins a series of digital reissues of select material from the Sonobeat catalog. The Sweetarts' 1967 A Picture Of Me and Without You, which comprise the first Sonobeat vinyl release, fittingly are first to be reissued digitally via the iTunes and Amazon Music stores. Sonobeat's second vinyl single, the jazzy There Will Never Be Another You backed with Meditation by the Lee Arlano Trio, and an album collecting the three Lavender Hill Express singles plus a previously-unreleased bonus track, Trouble, are digitally reissued in July 2014 and supported by live reunion performances in Austin by the Lavender Hill Express and Sweetarts. On September 18, 2015, Sonobeat Historical Archives reissues Plymouth Rock's 1969 single Memorandum and Just A Start in a new stereo version never before available. The reissue process dates from 2008, when Jack embarks on a two year project to make new high resolution digital transfers of every analog tape in the Sonobeat archives, acquiring Otari quarter-inch 2-track and half-inch 4-track tape decks specifically for that purpose. Today, Jack and Bill Jr. continue to digitally restore the Sonobeat music archives.

In October 2015, Sonobeat Historical Archives digitally remasters and reissues Sonobeat's first album release, 1968's Jazz to the Third Power by the Lee Arlano Trio, available worldwide on iTunes, Amazon Music, and other digital download and streaming platforms. The album includes two previously unreleased bonus tracks pulled from Sonobeat's archives, both recorded in 1967.

In 2017, Sonobeat celebrates it's 50th anniversary with major enhancements to its website, and in September reissues a newly-remastered 50th anniversary edition of the Sweetarts' A Picture Of Me, followed in December by a freshly-remastered 50th anniversary edition of Lavender Hill Express' Visions, making them available on all major digital download and streaming platforms worldwide.

Sonobeat concludes its golden anniversary celebration in May 2018 with the roll-out of new website features. Celebrating the beginning of Sonobeat's 51st anniversary, Sonobeat Historical Archives issues the 50th anniversary digital remaster of Lavender Hill Express' Watch Out! in June 2018, and, in December 2019, the 50th anniversary remixed and remastered edition of Plymouth Rock's Memorandum. Notably, A Picture Of Me, Visions, Watch Out!, and Memorandum are Apple Digital Masters, the highest quality digital format offered on iTunes and Apple Music, all spectacularly remastered by Colin Leonard of SING Mastering in Atlanta using patented SING Technology®.

On October 30, 2020, Sonobeat Historical Archives reissues the highly-anticipated restored and remastered digital edition of The Conqueroo's 1968 Sonobeat single 1 To 3 and I've Got Time, favorably reviewed in the January 2021 issue (#111) of Shindig Magazine. Not exactly a 50th anniversary edition, since we're running two years behind, but nonetheless worth the wait. The June 11, 2021, issue of the online It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine publishes an interview with Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley exploring the Sonobeat story. The (Sono)beat goes on.

Special thanks!

For graciously sharing information, anecdotes, and photos, we are indebted to Steve Anderson, Bob Brown, Hope Camacho, Anne Cline, Norman Darwen, Layton DePenning, Paul Drummond, Gary Dry, Dwight Dow, Mike Galbraith, Bob Galindo, Ernie Gammage, Stanley Gilbert, Ed Guinn, Russell "Rusty" Haeuser, Danny Hickman, Craig Hillis, Mike Hobren, John Inmon, Barbara Light Lacy, Mike Lucas, Carrie McAfee, Brad McGrew, Jay Meade, Ralph Y. Michaels, Jim Mings, Michele "Mike" Murphy, Bruce Newlin, Johnny Richardson, Jerri Lynn Robinson, Johnny Schwertner, Bob Simmons, Bob Snider, Kim Snider, Scott Steelman, Ricky Stein, Tommy Taylor, Bob Trenchard, Tom Van Zandt, Daniel Warner, Christen Weaver, Pat Whitefield, Bon Wier, Chuck Williamson, Kirk Wilson, Jess Yaryan, Gary York, and Arlene Youngblood.

Sonobeat's digital reissues

All available on iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and dozens of digital download and streaming platforms worldwide

SweetartsAustin, TX 1967 • includes 1967's A Picture Of Me and Without You (2014)
Lavender Hill ExpressVisions • includes all three LHE singles (1967-1968) plus a previously unreleased bonus track (2014)
Lee Arlano TrioThere Will Never Be Another You • includes 1967's There Will Never Be Another You and Meditation (2014)
Plymouth Rock • Restored, remastered, and remixed digital reissue of 1969's Memorandum and Just A Start (2015)
Lee Arlano TrioJazz To The Third Power • includes all tracks from the 1968 album plus two previously unreleased tracks (2015)
Sweetarts • 50th anniversary remastered digital reissue of 1967's A Picture Of Me (Apple Digital Master) and Without You (2017)
Lavender Hill Express • 50th anniversary remastered digital reissue of 1967's Visions (Apple Digital Master) and Trying To Live A Life (2017)
Lavender Hill Express • 50th anniversary remastered digital reissue of 1968's Watch Out! (Apple Digital Master) (2018)
Plymouth Rock • 50th anniversary remixed and remastered digital reissue of Memorandum (Apple Digital Master) (2019)
The Conqueroo • Restored and remastered digital reissue of 1968's 1 To 3 and I've Got Time (2020)

Sonobeat Historical Archives' digital reissue (2015) of the Lee Arlano Trio's Jazz To The Third Power album, featuring previously-unreleased bonus tracks
Sonobeat Historical Archives' 50th anniversary (December 2017) digital reissue of its second rock single release
Sonobeat Historical Archives' 50th anniversary (June 2018) digital reissue of its fifth rock single release
Sonobeat Historical Archives' 50th anniversary (December 2019) digital reissue of the 1969 Plymouth Rock single
Sonobeat Historical Archives' 2020 restored and remastered digital reissue of the 1968 Conqueroo single