Fran Nelson

Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1967 & 1968
One commercial 45 RPM release on Sonobeat Records (1968)
Listen to more below
A photo and short blurb about Fran appears in the June 24, 1967, edition of the Austin American-Statesman newspaper
A February 1967 Austin American-Statesman newspaper ad for Fran Nelson's appearance at The 11th Door Folk Cellar in Austin alongside the club's manager Allen Damron; The 11th Door and The Match Box (which features underground films and rock acts) are co-owned, so their newspaper ads frequently appear together

It's a relatively mild Austin, Texas, October in 1968, and singer/songwriter Fran Nelson – who seems to specialize in torch songs – records Sonobeat's 15th stereo 45 RPM single, the last of Sonobeat's releases in the year. Fran's "A" side is a toasty bossa nova cover of the Beatles' 1965 hit Yesterday. The "B" side is Fran's original song, No Regrets, delivered in a smoky jazz club style enhanced by Sonobeat's stereo steel plate reverb. You can almost feel Fran's hot breath in your ear and might even need a gin and tonic to make it all the way through her torrid performance.

The autumn 1968 sessions are not Fran's first with Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. As 1966 is coming to an end, Allen Damron, manager of Austin's popular 11th Door folk cabaret, introduces Fran, who has just started performing regularly at the club, to Bill Sr. On the strength of her 11th Door performances, in early '67 Bill Sr. invites Fran to record a test session at the KAZZ-FM studios in downtown Austin, where Bill Sr. is station manager. Bill Sr. also is the on-air host of many of KAZZ's live remote broadcasts from nightclubs throughout Austin, including The 11th Door. Fran's KAZZ test session features Beg Me Blues (which may be Fran's original composition), Sad Stranger Blues, Tomorrow When I Wake Up, several takes of her sultry cover of Stevie Wonder's Come Back Baby, and a simple version of her own No Regrets, all self-accompanied on guitar. But the recordings (taped on off-brand Sheraton AP-12 tape stock) are amateurishly recorded and useful only as raw examples of Fran's guitar and vocal skills. Nonetheless, Fran's performances influence Bill Sr.'s decision to record a stereo single with Fran once he and son Bill Josey Jr. formally launch Sonobeat Recording Company in summer '67. In the meantime, impressed with her talent, Bill Sr. introduces Fran to Don Dean, manager of Austin's swanky Club Seville, who books Fran into the Seville's posh Embassy Room for a series of Thursday evening performances beginning in May 1967.

When Sonobeat finally starts work on Fran's single in July 1967, Bill Sr. turns to the Lee Arellano Trio (better known as Sonobeat's first jazz act under the name Lee Arlano Trio) to provide the instrumental backing, but those backing tracks are scrapped, and Fran's single is back-burnered for more than a year. The final 1968 release versions of No Regrets and Yesterday are backed by Sonobeat favorite The Michael Stevens IV, a versatile pop-jazz combo that regularly performs as house band at The Club Seville in the Crest Motor Inn (now The LINE Austin). The Michael Stevens IV regularly backs vocalists at The Club Seville, whereas the Arellano (or Arlano) Trio primarily is a jazz instrumental combo with less experience backing vocalists, which is why its 1967 backing tracks are abandoned. The Michael Stevens IV also provides the instrumental backings for Sonobeat's Don Dean and Bach-Yen singles.

Sonobeat records The Michael Stevens IV's basic instrumental backings for Yesterday and No Regrets during off-hours at The Club Seville, and then Fran overdubs her vocals at Sonobeat's home-based Western Hills Drive studio in northwest Austin. The Sonobeat archives hold no additional information about Fran, but our 2018 online research using the Austin American-Statesman and University of Texas Daily Texan newspaper archives uncovers that she's a protege of notable Texas folk singer Carol Hedin, who also appears regularly at The 11th Door. Fran is even credited with writing songs for Carol. During the time frame of her KAZZ-FM and Sonobeat recordings, Fran is a University of Texas drama major, performing in many UT Drama Department plays. Fran appears unrelated to either outlaw country icon Willie Nelson or prolific Sonosong composer Herman Nelson.

Fran Nelson personnel

Fran Nelson: standard guitar and vocals
Backing band: Michael Stevens IV
   Mark Chaney: bass violin
   Ike Ramirez: trumpet
   Michael Stevens: piano and vibes
   Billy West: drums

Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM release PV-s113 (1968)

"A" side: Yesterday (Lennon-McCartney) • 2:40
"B" side: No Regrets (Fran Nelson) • 3:43

Released week of November 24, 1968* • PV-s113
Produced by Bill Josey Sr.
Engineered by Rim Kelley
Instrumental tracks recorded at The Club Seville at the Crest Motor Inn in Austin, Texas, in October 1968
Vocal overdubs recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, Austin, Texas, in October 1968
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Ampex AG350 and 354 quarter-inch 2-track tape decks, custom 10-channel portable stereo mixer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, 3M (Scotch) 201 and Ampex 681 tape stock
Vinyl collector information for PV-s113

Approximately 1,000 copies pressed; 50-75 copies marked "PROMO" and "NOT FOR SALE"
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:
   Yesterday: SJW 10907 and PV-s113 A
   No Regrets: SJW 10907 and PV-S113 B
   "SJW" in the matrix number identifies Sidney J. Wakefield & Company as the lacquer mastering and pressing plant

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Beg Me Blues
Come Back Baby
Sad Stranger Blues
Tomorrow When I Wake Up
Unidentified song

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Fran Nelson's Sonobeat 45 RPM stereo single, released in November 1968
The master tape for Fran's Sonobeat single; what's not shown here is that the first set of instrumental backings for her single are recorded by the Lee Arellano Trio (also known as the Lee Arlano Trio) but are scrapped because the Trio, an instrumental act, isn't experienced in arranging songs for vocal accompaniment. Fran's final instrumental backing is provided by The Michael Stevens IV.
About a year earlier than she records her Sonobeat single, Fran makes some test recordings for producer Bill Josey Sr. at KAZZ-FM's studios in downtown Austin