Lavender Hill Express

Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1967 & 1968
Three commercial 45 RPM releases on Sonobeat Records (1967 & 1968)
Digital reissue on and Amazon MP3 (2014)
  1. Sonobeat 50th Anniversary Artist Rock Country-Rock
    Lavender Hill Express • Visions • Sonobeat's second rock release (1967)
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Sonobeat R-S102 single sleeve, using a publicity photo supplied by the band
"A" side of sleeve for Sonobeat single R-S105, using a publicity photo taken on band keyboardist Johnny Schwertner's family ranch in Schwertner, Texas
"B" side of sleeve for Sonobeat single R-S105, using a publicity photo taken in Schwertner, Texas
Jade Room in Austin, where Lavender Hill Express frequently performs in 1968 and 1969
Lavender Hill Express onstage at Jade Room (1968); from left, Johnny Schwertner, Jess Yaryan, Rusty Wier, and Layton DePenning
From a cache of slides and photos discovered in the Sonobeat archives in February 2017, Lavender Hill Express onstage at Jade Room (1968); from left, Leonard Arnold, Rusty Wier, Johnny Schwertner, Jess Yaryan, and Layton DePenning
2014 digital reissue cover art
Lavender Hill Express practice session at Layton DePenning's recording studio in Buda, Texas (July 22, 2014), for reunion performances at Güero's Taco Bar (July 23, 2014) and Saxon Pub (July 26, 2014), both in Austin, Texas
Late 1968 Lavender Hill Express publicity photo reused for 2014 digital reissue
courtesy Layton DePenning

It's approaching the end of 1967. Sonobeat has enjoyed moderate success with its first three stereo 45 RPM releases earlier in its first year of operation: the Sweetarts (rock), The Lee Arlano Trio (jazz), and Don Dean (pop). But Sonobeat co-founders Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) really want to find another great Austin rock band to record. The year before, in 1966, two of Austin's hottest club bands, The Wig and the Baby Cakes, have broken up, and former members from each have coalesced into a new unit. During one of the new unit's first practice sessions, keyboardist Johnny Schwertner sees a TV listing for the old gangster movie The Lavender Hill Mob and thinks of using the name but replacing "Mob" with "Express" to sound more contemporary. All the band members immediately agree, so Lavender Hill Express is born (despite the similar time frames, the band is unrelated to the Clefs of Lavender Hill, a Miami, Florida, band formed in 1966 and that disbanded in 1968). Bill Sr. and Rim spend evenings and weekends tracking hot bands performing around Austin and catch Lavender Hill Express a couple of times in late '66 and early '67 at Jade Room. The band is managed by Sonobeat friend Mike Lucas, program director and afternoon deejay at Austin's top rock 'n' roll radio station KNOW, who makes introductions. Soon thereafter, Lavender Hill Express begins a one-year multi-record relationship with Sonobeat Records. They write most of the material they play at clubs, so they're the perfect group to record new material for Sonobeat and to feed Sonobeat's publishing company, Sonosong Music.

[Visions] was written in a time in America when youthful rebellion was the theme of the day. There were many statements about splitting off from current life philosophies and forging new paths and rejecting the established ones of our parents. Early on, the music and rhetoric was somewhat innocent and idealistic compared to the militant and often violent expressions to come later. [Visions] was like the theme of the then current and popular movie The Graduate. As a young college student at the time, I could relate.
July 2014 Sonobeat Historical Archives interview with Layton DePenning
I grew up in Schwertner, Texas, a small rural community 40 miles northeast of Austin, that was founded in the early 1900s by my great-grandfather, after he emigrated to Texas from Europe in the 1880s. [Trying to Live a Life] was my teen-aged response to the way adults in my community and high school reacted to the "evils" of rock and roll, since there had been virtually no live bands of this type in my area up to this point in time. Also, I have to admit that the song was partially the result of a huge crush I had on a beautiful high school [classmate]; unfortunately, that relationship never worked out as I hoped – but at least it led to a song to remind me of those golden days.
July 2014 Sonobeat Historical Archives interview with Johnny Schwertner

The first of LHE's Sonobeat releases is guitarist Layton DePenning's up-tempo Visions, a pop-rock tour-de-force with a catchy hook and strong vocal harmonies. The flip side is keyboardist Johnny Schwertner's ballad Trying to Live a Life, on which Johnny also provides lead vocal. In '67, Sonobeat has no recording studio, so it rents night clubs during off hours and carts in its portable recording gear for sessions. Only months before, Sonobeat has recorded its first single, by the Sweetarts, at Swingers Club in north Austin; there Sonobeat returns for the LHE session. The resulting instrumental backing tracks are solid, but producer Rim Kelley thinks a string arrangement will add a contemporary sound, a trend popularized by the Beatles, Mamas and Papas, and Motown artists. Sonobeat hires arranger/conductor Richard Green, who contracts a string quartet – two violins, a viola, and a cello – composed of members of the Austin Symphony Orchestra for the overdub session. Green also plays harpsichord alongside the string quartet. The string and harpsichord overdub session, held at the KAZZ-FM studios in downtown Austin, is scheduled for November 25, 1967, giving Richard about a month to pencil out arrangements for both tunes. The vocal overdubs are recorded a day after the strings are recorded, also at the KAZZ studios, and on December 6th Bill Sr. drives the final mixes to Houston, Texas, for mastering and pressing by Houston Records, Inc. The process of recording the single is documented in a Sonobeat special feature. The Lavender Hill Express' first single barely makes it out in '67, hitting Austin record stores just before Christmas week. It sells well enough for a second pressing in February '68, at which time the band makes a promotional appearance at a record-signing event at Austin discount record retailer G. C. Murphy, one of Austin's leading discount record retailers in the '60s. Collectors can tell whether they have a copy from the first pressing or the second pressing; the first pressing uses Sonobeat's yellow label background and the second is the first appearance of Sonobeat's blue-gray label background. The February 3, 1968, edition of Cash Box names Visions a Best Bet.

Made for mono and stereo sets, this rock track has extra appeal for coin-operators but is likely to succeed on the basis of its own rock attraction.
February 3, 1968, Cash Box Magazine review of Visions

Lavender Hill Express immediately benefits from airplay that Visions gets on Texas radio stations. Layton DePenning recalls that the release of the single legitimizes the band, providing opportunities to open for the Beach Boys, Lovin' Spoonful, Animals, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Buffalo Springfield, and amost every other national act that comes through Austin in the months following the single's release.

When it comes time to record Lavender Hill's next single, Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. wants to take a turn at producing. Sessions with LHE are scheduled in mid-March 1968. The fiercely driving Watch Out! by drummer Rusty Wier is selected as the "A" side. The "B" side is lead guitarist Leonard Arnold's Country Music's Here to Stay, foreshadowing Austin's progressive country movement that will begin in the early '70s and in which four of LHE's members will figure prominently. Guest musician Jim Brown is brought in to play steel guitar on Country Music's Here to Stay.

...a powerhouse single that borrows from many, but imitates none.
July 20, 1968, Cash Box Magazine review of Watch Out!

This go-'round, the basic tracks for Watch Out and Country Music's Here to Stay are recorded at Austin's hottest music venue, Vulcan Gas CompanyThe Vulcan is Austin's first successful hippie music hall, opening in 1967 in an old warehouse at 316 Congress Avenue and closing in 1970. in downtown Austin. The sessions are recorded during off-hours hours in the Vulcan's empty auditorium-sized dance hall. The reverb on Rusty Wier's rim shot, used as punctuation in the chorus of Watch Out!, is created by placing a mike at the far end of the hall; the mike is turned on just as Rusty strikes his snare to capture the Vulcan's booming acoustics. With the Vulcan sessions completed, back at Sonobeat's then-new Western Hills Drive studio in northwest Austin, engineer Rim Kelley heavily "flanges" the instrumental track for Watch Out! before the lead guitar and vocals are overdubbed. Although the basic instrumental track is flanged throughout, the effect is timed to create a particularly dramatic swoosh on the snare reverb. The single is released regionally in June '68, and gets a Newcomer Pick in the July 20, 1968, issue of Cash Box Magazine.

I remember Rusty Wier carrying around a small note pad for several weeks. Every time he thought of or heard a clever rhyme he liked, he wrote it down. These rhymes were usually cryptic, but almost always unrelated to each other in their inception. The folk poets like Bob Dylan were new and popular at the time. We suspected that Dylan was often doing the same thing, putting together rhymes that were unrelated, and leaving it to the listener to make the connections and derive meaning from them. So, when Rusty had enough rhymes, he put them together into the song Silly Rhymes. What does it mean? The clue is in the title.
July 2014 Sonobeat Historical Archives interview with Layton DePenning

The third and final Lavender Hill Express single for Sonobeat, recorded in September 1968 and released the following month, is Outside My Window, Layton DePenning's experimental song with highly visual lyrics and a jam-like progression. Sonobeat returns to Vulcan Gas Company to record the tune's instrumental backing track, and additional instruments and vocals are overdubbed at the Western Hills Drive studio. Outside My Window runs seven and a half minutes but is faded at 3:45 for the single. Layton's tune is backed with Rusty Wier's acoustic guitar and electric bass ballad Silly Rhymes, recorded entirely at the Western Hills Drive studio and one of the first sessions in which Sonobeat uses its new Scully half-inch 4-track recorder. Rim, who produced the first Lavender Hill Express single, wants to bring arranger Richard Green back to add a string section to Silly Rhymes, but Sonobeat's heavy 1968 recording and release schedule, which is stretching its resources to the limit, make the strings an unaffordable luxury. Finally, in 2009, using a digital music workstation, Rim adds a light dusting of glockenspiel and strings, more or less as he remembers envisioning back in 1968, to a 2008 digital transfer of the track, a snipped of which you can hear below. Meanwhile, Outside My Window becomes the only single Sonobeat releases in two versions; the alternate version – distributed only to radio station deejays – offers the commercial stereo mix (for FM stations) on one side and a special monaural mix (for AM stations) on the other. This version isn't sold to the public. The single picks up a Best Bet review in the December 7, 1968, issue of Cash Box Magazine.

[Outside My Window] was my shot at the popular psychedelic style of writing musically, with a tried and true ‘my baby’s leaving me’ theme at the center. The twist was the references to the stoppage of time.
July 2014 Sonobeat Historical Archives interview with Layton DePenning

A third song going by the working title Trouble, written and with lead vocal by Rusty Wier, also is recorded alongside Outside My Window at the Vulcan and is intended as the first of several additional tunes that eventually will round out a 10- to 12-track album, which is prematurely reported in the October 25, 1968, issue of The Armored Sentinel, the official newspaper of Fort Hood Army base in Temple, Texas. The paper reports "Austin rock group Lavender Hill Express is putting the finishing touches on their new album which they're hoping to have released before the new year. They are much in demand in Texas for personal appearances and the album could be their springboard to national recognition". But the additional tracks are never recorded and the album is never finished, so Trouble is shelved.

Visions is packaged in a single-sided black and white picture sleeve, but Bill Sr. pulls out all the stops for Watch Out!, which is released in a double-sided, two-color picture sleeve so that stores can rack the single in both the rock and the country sections, depending on which side of the sleeve faces out. Rim designs the sleeves for both singles using photos supplied by the band. By the time Outside My Window is released, LHE is well established, so the single wears only a generic paper sleeve.

Only three months after release of its third Sonobeat single, Lavender Hill Express performs on January 21, 1969, at one of six simultaneous inaugural balls held in Austin for newly-elected Texas governor Preston Smith and Lieutenant Governor Ben Barnes. LHE's performance is at the Commodore Perry Hotel in downtown Austin.

Lavender Hill Express is considered Sonobeat's first super group, and all of LHE's singles are big hits by Sonobeat standards. It's no wonder. In 1967 and '68, LHE is composed of some of Austin's most talented and formidable rock musicians: Layton DePenning and Leonard Arnold had been founding members of the Babycakes, managed by Mike Lucas. Rusty Wier and Jess Yaryan were founding members of the Wig, perhaps Austin's hottest band in the mid-'60s, managed by Rim's friend Paul Harrison, an afternoon deejay at KNOW-AM radio. Johnny Schwertner had been in the popular Reasons Why. Johnny Schwertner leaves LHE to co-found Plymouth Rock, which records a single with Sonobeat in 1969. Gary P. Nunn, who also will become a significant figure in the cosmic country movement, joins LHE as Johnny Schwertner's replacement on keyboards after Sonobeat's recordings and later will become a founding member of Jerry Jeff Walker's Lost Gonzo Band; Gary's song London Homesick Blues is picked as the theme for Austin City Limits and attains iconic stature. Post-LHE, Rusty and Layton are joined by ex-Plymouth Rock guitarist John Inmon in the trio Rusty, Layton & John, and eventually, with Leonard Arnold, go on to become influential musicians in Austin's cosmic country movement in the '70s. Rusty enjoys a successful career based in Austin, with many solo albums to his credit and a hit tune of his own, Don't It Make You Want to Dance (Bonnie Raitt's 1980 cover, part of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack, hits #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart). Rusty succumbs to cancer on October 9, 2009. Band manager Paul Harrison dies of natural causes on December 2, 2012. Leonard Arnold co-founds Austin progressive rock band Phoenix, later performs in Austin country-rock band Blue Steel, and eventually moves to Nashville, where he performs with Vince Gill and dozens of other country greats. Leonard succumbs to cancer in September 2015. Layton DePenning returns to Sonobeat in 1971 as a founding member of Genesee and later does a stint with B. W. Stevenson. Layton is a founding member of present day Austin country-rock bands Denim and Sons of Slim, and operates a recording studio just south of Austin in Buda, Texas.

Lavender Hill Express holds the record for the most singles – three – that Sonobeat releases by the same artist. A super group in every way, the collective talents of the band's members as songwriters, singers, and musicians are self-evident in its Sonobeat legacy and in the remarkable musical careers each enjoys in the years following LHE.

In June 2014, Sonobeat Historical Archives begins digital restoration and remastering of LHE's material, with a digital reissue via the iTunes and Amazon MP3 stores hitting on July 22, 2014. The long-shelved song Trouble is included as a bonus track, fulfilling The Armored Sentinel's prophecy of an impending album, albeit 46 years later. The surviving members of LHE support the digital reissue with a reunion performance at the Saxon Pub in Austin (Rusty Wier's son Bon takes his late dad's seat at the drums and on vocals) on July 26, 2014. Bonus: the Sweetarts reunion lineup makes a special guest appearance with LHE at the Saxon to celebrate both bands' 2014 digital reissues.

Get Lavender Hill Express on digital now

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Lavender Hill Express personnel

Leonard Arnold: lead guitar and vocals
Jim Brown: steel guitar (guest musician on Country Music's Here to Stay)
Layton DePenning: guitar and vocals
Richard Green: harpsicord (guest musician on and string section arranger for Visions and Trying to Live a Life)
Gary P. Nunn: keyboards (replaces Johnny Schwertner late in 1968, but isn't part of the Sonobeat sessions)
Johnny Schwertner: keyboards and lead vocals
Rusty Wier: drums, standard guitar, and vocals
Jess Yaryan: bass and vocals
Unidentified members of the Austin Symphony Orchestra: string section (on Visions and Trying to Live a Life)

Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM release R-s102 (1967)

"A" side: Visions (Layton DePenning) • 2:15
"B" side: Trying to Live a Life (Johnny Schwertner) • 2:00

Released week of December 18th, 1967* • R-s102
Produced and engineered by Rim Kelley
Single-sided black and white picture sleeve
Basic tracks recorded at Swingers Club , Austin, Texas, during mid-October 1967
String quartet and harpsichord overdubs recorded at KAZZ-FM studios, Austin, Texas, on November 25, 1967
Vocal overdubs recorded at KAZZ-FM studios on November 26, 1967
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, Ampex 350 and 354 tape decks, custom 6-channel portable FET stereo mixer, 3M (Scotch) 202 tape stock
Vinyl collector information for R-s102

Between 1,000 and 1,500 copies pressed; 50-100 copies marked "PROMO" and "NOT FOR SALE"
Initial pressing (December 1967) features Sonobeat's yellow background label; second pressing (February 1968) features Sonobeat's blue-gray background label
Lacquers mastered and vinyl copies pressed by Houston Records, Inc., Houston, Texas
Single-sided black and white picture sleeve
Label blanks and picture sleeve printed by Powell Offset Services, Austin, Texas
In the dead wax on both the yellow label and blue-gray label versions:
   Visions: LH-3932
   Trying to Live a Life: LH-3933
   "LH" in the matrix number means "Location Houston", which identifies Houston Records, Inc. as the lacquer mastering and pressing plant

As of January 7, 2017, a first edition in its original picture sleeve is available on eBay at just under $350

Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM release R-s105 (1968)

"A" side: Watch Out! (Rusty Wier) • 3:14
"B" side: Country Music's Here to Stay (Leonard Arnold) • 2:09

Released week of June 2, 1968* • R-s105
Produced by Bill Josey Sr. and engineered by Rim Kelley
Double-sided two-color picture sleeve
Basic tracks and some vocal overdubs recorded at Vulcan Gas Company, Austin, Texas, on March 19, 1968
Vocal and lead guitar overdubs completed at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studios in northwest Austin on or about March 20, 1968
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, AKG D707E dynamic microphone, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, Ampex AG350 and 354 tape decks, custom 10-channel portable stereo mixer, 3M (Scotch) 202 tape stock
Vinyl collector information for R-s105

Between 1,000 and 1,500 copies pressed; 50-100 copies marked "PROMO" and "NOT FOR SALE"
Blue-gray background label
Lacquers mastered and vinyl copies pressed by Houston Records, Inc., Houston, Texas
Double-sided two-color picture sleeve
Label blanks and picture sleeve printed by Powell Offset Services, Austin, Texas
In the dead wax:
   Watch Out!: LW and R-S105B-1
   Country Music's Here to Stay: LW and R-S105B-1
   "LW" in the matrix number is believed to reference Longwear, a manufacturer of lacquer blanks used by many mastering and record pressing facilities, including Houston Records

As of January 7, 2017, a copy in its original double-sided picture sleeve and with a Sonobeat promotional insert is available on eBay at just under $400

Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM release R-s110/R-m110 (1968)

"A" side: Outside My Window (Layton DePenning) • 3:45
"B" side: Silly Rhymes (Rusty Wier) • 2:52

Released week of October 20, 1968* • R-s110 (consumer version) and R-m110 (radio station version)
Produced and engineered by Rim Kelley
Generic sleeve
Basic tracks for Outside My Window and Trouble (unreleased until 2014) recorded at Vulcan Gas Company, Austin, Texas, on September 10, 1968
Vocal overdubs for Outside My Window and Trouble completed at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studios in northwest Austin on September 28, 1968
Instrumental track and vocal overdub for Silly Rhymes recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studios on September 28, 1968
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, AKG D707E dynamic microphone, Scully 280 half-inch 4-track tape deck, Stemco half-inch 4-track tape deck, Ampex AG350 tape deck, custom 10-channel suitcase stereo mixer, Fairchild Lumiten 663ST optical compressor, Blonder-Tongue Audio Baton 9-band stereo graphic equalizer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, 3M (Scotch) 202 tape stock
Vinyl collector information for R-s110/R-m110

Between 1,000 and 1,500 consumer copies pressed
Approximately 250 radio station promo copies pressed featuring stereo and mono version of Outside My Window
Blue-gray background label
Lacquers mastered and vinyl copies pressed by Sidney J. Wakefield & Company, Phoenix, Arizona
Generic sleeve
Label blanks printed by Powell Offset Services, Austin, Texas
In the dead wax:
   Outside My Window (mono radio station deejay version): SJW-10896 and R-M110 deejay
   Outside My Window (stereo): SJW-10897 and R-S110A
   Silly Rhymes: SJW-10897 (same number as Outside My Window [stereo]) and R-S110B
   "SJW" in the matrix number identifies Sidney J. Wakefield & Company as the lacquer mastering and pressing plant

Digital reissue (2014)

On July 22, 2014, Sonobeat Historical Archives reissues all three Lavender Hill Express singles, consisting of Visions, Trying to Live a Life, Watch Out!, Country Music's Here to Stay, Outside My Window, and Silly Rhymes on iTunes, Amazon MP3, eMusic, Groove, Rhapsody, Spotify, and dozens of other digital download and streaming services worldwide. Available as individual tracks or together as Visions, which includes the previously unreleased track Trouble, as a bonus. All three singles have been out of print since 1968. For the 2014 reissue, Sonobeat Historical Archives digitally restores and remasters all tracks from the original analog session master session tapes. The Lavender Hill Express reissue is the third of many scheduled digital reissues from the Sonobeat vaults.

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Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Other than alternate takes of released songs, there are no unreleased recordings by Lavender Hill Express in the Sonobeat archives

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Lavender Hill Express National Reviews

Visions picks up a Best Bet review in the February 3, 1968, issue of Cash Box Magazine. Says Cash Box: "Made for mono and stereo sets, this rock track has extra appeal for coin-operators but is likely to succeed on the basis of its own rock attraction. Mid-speed outing with some good showings on vocal and instrumental work."

Watch Out! is reviewed as a Newcomer Pick in the July 20, 1968, issue of Cash Box Magazine, and Sonobeat slips a reprint of the review into the sleeve of promo copies of the single it circulates to radio stations and newspapers. The glowing review says: "Outstanding production intermingles tempting smidges of a number of leading stylings from the blues-beat and underground leaders to come up with a powerhouse single that borrows from many, but imitates none. Team has a rock feel that should captivate top forty listeners, and enough strength to score breakout sales."

Outside My Window gets a Best Bet pick in the December 7, 1968, issue of Cash Box Magazine. One can surmise that Cash Box has become a fan of Lavender Hill Express, saying in the review that "This group has had some fine outings before, and could have a winner here to give them the breakthrough step. Good semi-progressive/semi-teen rock side."

Visions and Trying To Live A Life string quartet overdub master tape
Lacquer mastering instructions to Houston Records for Visions and Trying To Live A Life
The band supports the release of Visions with a signing party at Austin discount record store G. C. Murphy in Hancock Center
Country Music's Here To Stay and Watch Out! final mix master tape
Rusty Wier and Johnny Schwertner during Watch Out! recording session at Vulcan Gas Company
courtesy Layton DePenning
Outside My Window master tape box for the stereo/mono radio station version
Cash Box reviews Visions in its February 3, 1968, issue
Cash Box reviews Watch Out in its July 20, 1968, issue
Cash Box reviews Outside My Window in its December 7, 1968, issue