Records with Sonobeat in 1969 & 1971
One commercial 45 RPM release on Sonobeat Records (1969)
- Rhythm & Blues Jazz James Polk and the Brothers • The Robot (1969)
Sonobeat's James Polk and the Brothers single doesn't get a picture sleeve when originally issued in 1969, so this is our fantasy jacket
The James Polk and the Brothers stereo 45 RPM single tape master
James Polk in the late-1970s
It's August 1969, and Sonobeat is recording its first soul/rhythm & blues group, James Polk and the Brothers. The sessions are among the first to be recorded entirely at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio in northwest Austin; the studio previously is used primarily for vocal overdub and mixing sessions. Although there are no photos from the sessions in the Sonobeat archives, Sonobeat co-founder and recording engineer Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) recalls that the tiny studio – which also houses the mixing console and tape decks – is so crowded that the musicians are practically falling over each other, requiring extremely close miking and several overdubs to get acceptable stereo separation.
The sessions yield two solid original songs that are released as Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM single R-s115. With a positive message, the gospel-influenced "A" side, Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness, is lead singer Yvonne Joseph's original composition. Imogene Polk and Teresa Maxwell provide backing vocals. The single's "B" side, The Robot, is a slow, jazz-influenced instrumental written by James and might have started a dance craze if it had been the "A" side. The James Polk and the Brothers single really deserves a picture sleeve, like Sonobeat's earlier singles releases, but by 1969, Sonobeat has given up on the extra effort and expense to make them. Based on the relationship Sonobeat has established with Liberty Records, who has purchased Sonobeat's Johnny Winter album, The Progressive Blues Experiment, in 1968, Sonobeat co-founder and producer Bill Josey Sr. offers the Polk single to Liberty for its Minit label; although Liberty considers a deal, ultimately it never happens. And for that reason, Sonobeat finally releases the single on its own label the second week of November 1969. The single becomes one of Sonobeat's instant classics; we find a rare copy auctioned off on eBay in September 2015 for $217.50, one of the highest prices we've ever seen paid for a Sonobeat single.
James returns to cut an album for Bill Sr. in March 1971, but the Sonobeat archives are unclear where the sessions are recorded or who the session players are. It's a good bet, however, that these sessions also are recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio. The resulting 45 minute untitled album features seven tracks, one weighing in at a hefty 13 minutes. The half-inch 4-track master tape box indicates that Bill Sr., who both produced and engineered the sessions, covers the drum kit with three mikes, taps the guitar amp speaker directly into the mixer, and places one mike on each of the organ and sax. The album contains a mix of cover versions of pop tunes, such as On a Clear Day, and Polk originals, including the fun and funky Polk Chops. Poor Butterfly is a cover of a pop classic dating from 1916 and popularized in the 1940s by Benny Goodman's big band. It's clear Bill Sr. is looking to create an album that he can sell to a national label, but there appear no takers. Soon after the 1971 Sonobeat sessions, James starts his own Austin-based label, Twink Records.
Originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, James is a formally trained music theorist, classical and jazz pianist, and prolific composer who spends two years touring as Lionel Hampton's bassist, starting in 1970, and eight years touring with the Ray Charles orchestra starting in the late '70s. For a moment in 1973, he quits music and takes a job at IBM in Austin. But he can't stay away from music and returns two years later, and never looks back.
Michael Point, writing about the 52nd annual Texas Jazz Festival (2012) in Downbeat Magazine
James earns an undergraduate degree from Huston-Tillotson College in Austin and a Master of Music Degree from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas, and is awarded an honorary doctorate from Huston-Tillotson in 1995. He's inducted into the Austin Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2001 and receives a special honor at the Austin Music Awards during the 2014 SXSW conference. Although James now has retired from his post as Associate Professor and Associate Director of Jazz Studies at Texas State University, he remains an influential member of the Central Texas music community, active with the Dr. James Polk Academy of Arts and Technology and the Austin Jazz Workshop. Now 87, James still performs regularly with his jazz sextet Centerpiece, most often at Elephant Room on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin.
Celebrating Kahron Spearman's excellent piece on Dr. Polk that appears in the January 17, 2019, edition of The Austin Chronicle, we've added some new Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness excerpts below. The first is Yvonne's lead vocal without the backup singers and the second, of course, includes the backup singers in the version that's used for Sonobeat's 1969 vinyl release.
Reginald Caldwell: sax
Donald Jennings: trumpet
Yvonne Joseph: lead vocal
Teresa Maxwell: backing vocals
Tim Pickard: guitar
Imogene Polk: backing vocals
James Polk: organ
John Taylor: drums
"A" side: Stick-To-It-Ive-Ness (Yvonne Joseph) • 3:15
"B" side: The Robot (James Polk) • 2:46
Produced by Bill Josey Sr.
Engineered by Rim Kelley
Recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, Austin, Texas, on August 16, 1969
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, Scully 280 half-inch 4-track tape deck, Ampex 354 quarter-inch 2-track tape deck, custom 10-channel portable stereo mixer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, 3M (Scotch) 206 and Ampex 681 tape stock
Approximately 1,500 copies pressed
Lacquers mastered and vinyl copies pressed by Sidney J. Wakefield & Company, Phoenix, Arizona
Label blanks printed by Powell Offset Services, Austin, Texas
In the dead wax:
Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness: R-S115 A, 12720, and HEC
The Robot: R-S115 B, 12720, and HEC
"HEC" in the dead wax are the initials of the mastering engineer at Sidney J. Wakefield & Company
What's that flower-shape in the dead wax? It's the Sidney J. Wakefield logo, stamped into the lacquer masters next to the matrix number.
Intended for an album release:
Aregin • 5:50
Back Up • 4:40
Jeannine’s Dilemma • 8:10
Just Plain Funk • 4:28
On a Clear Day • 2:46
Polk Chops •6:30
Poor Butterfly • 13:00
And one extra tune for good measure:
Here Come The Judge