Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1971
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
An October 1971 Jade Room ad appearing in The University of Texas' school newspaper, The Daily Texan
A promotional photo used by band manager Mike Lucas to solicit gigs for Phoenix

It's 1970, and Austin, Texas, supergroup Lavender Hill Express, that records three singles for Sonobeat in '67 and '68, breaks up. Guitarist Leonard Arnold, a Lavender Hill Express' founding member, forms Phoenix with Armore, Oklahoma, native Rodney Garrison (at the time, Rodney, only 19 years old, has just relocated to Austin to pursue a music career) and Tom Harmon. Coming into 1971, Phoenix already has an established reputation throughout Central Texas as a solid rock trio and is booked into all of Austin's most popular night clubs. The band opens for ZZ Top in a 1970 performance widely reported as occurring in Wichita Falls, Texas, but more likely it's at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, and, after the band's Sonobeat sessions, for Sugarloaf in a San Antonio, Texas, performance in 1972. Beginning February 4, 1971, Sonobeat producer Bill Josey Sr. records a demo of two of the unit's original songs, Changes and I Found Love. Although the location of the sessions isn't documented in the Sonobeat archives, we're pretty sure Phoenix is recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio in northwest Austin, which is just large enough, with its drum and vocal isolation booth and small studio floor, to comfortably accommodate a small combo like Phoenix.

Although Bill typically keeps recording session notes, those for Phoenix don't shed any light on the group itself, although Bill's notes do show how he mixes the band's songs from the 4-track session master to the 2-track stereo demo. The Sonobeat archives provide no indication why Sonobeat never releases the Phoenix songs, but we're guessing that one reason is that the band's two tracks, each over 4 minutes in length, are a bit too long for a stereo 45 RPM single which, for high energy rock tracks that require deeper grooves to be cut in the acetate master, maxes out at 4 minutes per side.

The sound bite we offer below demonstrates that Phoenix is a tight and talented rock group with great promise, but we surmise that the band doesn't last beyond 1972, since Leonard and his former Lavender Hill Express bandmates Rusty Wier (1944-2009), Layton DePenning, and Gary P. Nunn go on to help establish the progressive country music movement that takes over Austin in the early '70s. There's just a hint of the beginnings of progressive country in Phoenix's vocals, but the total sound is distinctively Austin rock. Leonard eventually ends up in Nashville, Tennessee, and for years backs up more country stars, all famous, than we can list. We lose Leonard to cancer on September 25, 2015. Following Phoenix, Rodney moves on to play bass for progressive country superstar, B.W. Stevenson, whose backup band also features Layton DePenning on guitar and Plymouth Rock and South Canadian Overflow alum Donnie Dolan on drums. After years on the road, Rodney leaves music to take a job as a machinist, eventually retiring to Bowie, Texas, in 2001, where he takes up music again. We lose Rodney to cancer on March 17, 2019.

Phoenix personnel

Leonard Arnold: lead guitar
Rodney Garrison: bass
Tom Harmon: drums and lead vocals

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

I Found Love

Produced and engineered by Bill Josey Sr.
Recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studios, Austin, Texas, on February 4 and 8, 1971
Recording equipment: 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 quarter-inch 2-track tape deck, custom 16-channel 4-bus mixing console, Fairchild Lumiten 663ST optical compressor, Blonder-Tongue Audio Baton 9-band stereo graphic equalizer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, 3M (Scotch) 202 and Ampex 681 tape stock
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The Phoenix demo tape
Producer Bill Josey Sr.'s not-too-detailed mix-down notes for the two Phoenix songs