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Remembering Bill Josey Sr.

Sonobeat co-founder • 1921-1976
A teenage Bill Josey Sr. (circa 1937) at the San Jacinto Monument, Houston, Texas
Bill Sr.'s official U.S. Navy portrait (circa 1945)

Sonobeat Recording Company co-founder Bill Josey Sr. passed away on September 28, 1976. Born in Houston, Texas, on December 14, 1921, Bill was the only child of James and Grace Josey. He attended public schools in Houston and The University of Texas in Austin, where he earned undergraduate and masters degrees in psychology. It also was at The University of Texas that Bill met his future bride, Austin native Marie Joyce.

During World War II, Bill served as an officer in the US Navy, commanding a Patrol Torpedo boat in the Pacific theater. Returning from active duty in 1946, he married Marie in Miami, and on completion of his military service, the couple relocated to Bill's native Houston. Their first child, Bill Jr., was born in 1947, and in 1948 the young family moved to Galveston, where Bill Sr. attended The University of Texas Medical School. His medical education was permanently interrupted when he was bedridden for weeks by mumps, which he contracted from Bill Jr., so the family returned to Houston. There, Bill Sr. opened a solo psychology practice catering to the booming post-war industrial complex – chemical and oil companies, in particular – along the Texas Gulf Coast. Caught up in the 1950s Red Scare and, out of fear of widespread infiltration of communists into U.S. businesses, these industries engaged psychologists, including Bill, to screen potential employees with a battery of personality and occupational tests. By 1958, the Red Scare had subsided and the previous high demand for the services of industrial psychologists had waned.

So the Josey family, which by then had grown to four children, moved to Austin in 1959, where Bill began a series of career changes that led to work in radio ad sales and, in 1965, to the position of station manager of Austin's KAZZ-FM, where Bill Jr., then an undergrad at The University of Texas, was employed as a deejay. In '66, Bill Sr. encouraged son Jack, then 13, to become the youngest working deejay in Texas radio, beginning Jack's long career as a prominent Central Texas radio personality and entrepreneur.

As described in Sonobeat's history, Bill Sr. enjoyed producing and hosting live remote broadcasts of jazz, pop, and rock groups on KAZZ-FM from 1965 to 1967, and from the resulting connections with the musical acts and their managers that Bill Sr. made, he and Bill Jr. formed Sonobeat Recording Company and Sonobeat Records in early 1967.

Bill strived for excellence... He was a perfectionist who had no qualms about 'do overs' if a recording we were working on didn’t come out just right. This is not to say that Bill was any sort of 'taskmaster'. He was one of the most gentle, easygoing people you’d ever want to meet. He took a genuine interest in finding new, unrecorded talent (like us) and giving them their dream shot! He was a huge contributor to the Austin alternative-music scene and helped a lot of people up the ladder, many of whom would later go on to become major players in the R&R scene, such as progressive-blues guitarist Johnny Winter.
White Light guitarist Mike Hobren quoted from an interview in It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine (2015)

An amateur musician, Bill Sr. developed theories about the primal function and importance of the rhythm and "beat" in music, which were reflected in his preference for jazz, R&B, and rock. He loved meeting, encouraging, and producing aspiring artists and actively fostered the growth of the Austin music scene from the mid-'60s to the mid-'70s, during which he produced hundreds of recordings with dozens of Central Texas' most promising and talented songwriters, singers, and musicians. He encouraged the artists he worked with to be "commercial" – that is, to perform songs with a beat, with drums, that could be danced to – in order to be successful. At the same time, he encouraged originality and experimentation, which, beginning in the mid-'60s, became a hallmark of Austin and Central Texas music. A staunch advocate of freedom of artistic expression, Bill stood as a character witness at the drug bust trial of 13th Floor Elevators' front man Roky Erickson.

Bill was not only a good friend, he was a bright light with a lot of good ideas. His head swam with them. He was a man truly ahead of his time.
Sonosong composer Herman M. Nelson

As a producer and recording engineer, Bill Sr. pushed Sonobeat's recording equipment beyond reasonable expectations, finding unique ways to meet and beat challenging conditions. Always resourceful, during Sonobeat's early years, when it had no recording studio of its own, he arranged for Sonobeat to use Austin nighclubs (ranging from The Swingers Club in north Austin to the iconic Vulcan Gas Company in downtown Austin) and even his church's auditorium as makeshift recording studios. One of Bill Sr.'s notable wild experiments was recording progressive rock group Mariani in an open field on a 100 acre ranch outside Austin, providing the musicians a rare opportunity to perform at uninhibited volume levels. With Bill Jr., he built two of Sonobeat's three custom recording and mixing consoles and its steel plate reverb. Bill Sr. also was an early experimenter in quadraphonic recording techniques, retrofitting Sonobeat's custom recording console with quad mixing modules.

[Bill] sincerely cared about the people he worked with, and bent over backwards to accommodate our needs and musical goals. When we met Bill we were unaware that he had a serious medical condition – he never allowed his failing health to affect his attitude or work ethic. The memory of Bill’s long hours working with us in the studio, and afterwards in engineering and mixing our music, is both inspiring and heart-wrenching. He passed away just 6 months after completing our album work tape. To this day, he is one of my greatest heroes.
White Light bass and keyboard player Rob Haeuser quoted from an interview in It's Psychedelic Baby Magazine (2015)

In mid-'73, Bill Sr. moved the Sonobeat studios from Austin to the outskirts of rural Liberty Hill in the beautiful Central Texas hill country, 30 miles north of Austin, converting an old stone church into a comfortable and inviting recording environment, "Blue Hole Sounds", that served as Sonobeat's home base until Bill's death. During those final years at Blue Hole Sounds, Bill recorded dozens of musicians and, even toward the end, when he was seriosly ill, pushed on, inspired and fortified by the artists he recorded.

Under the huge live oak trees surrounding Blue Hole Sounds, Bill Sr. threw a Texas-size barbecue party in May 1976 for his oldest daughter, Deb, celebrating her graduation from The University of Texas. Two months later he walked his youngest daughter, Jan, down the aisle for her wedding only days before checking himself into the Veterans Administration Hospital in nearby Temple, Texas. Bill succumbed to lymphocarcinoma at the Veterans Hospital on September 28, 1976.

Dating from 1966 and 1967, we're pleased to present two of Bill Sr.'s live remote broadcasts from the Embassy Room at The Club Seville at the Sheraton Crest Hotel (now The LINE Austin) in downtown Austin. The Variety IV, featured in the first broadcast, were Carmen Hamm (vocals and drums), Jack Hamm (piano), Jane Bartell (guitar and bass), and Tony Bartell (trumpet and vibes). The Michael Stevens IV, also known as The Kings IV, featured in the second broadcast, were Michael Stevens (piano and vibes), Mark Chaney (bass violin), Billy West (drums), and Ike Ramirez (trumpet).

The Josey family outside the Western Hills Drive home/studio (circa 1969); from left, Bill Sr., Jack, Bill Jr., Deb, and, standing on wall behind Jack, Jan
Bill Sr.'s Sonobeat business card (the handwritten phone number reflects the Sonobeat studio move from northwest Austin to near downtown Austin in 1971)
Bill Sr. in his Blue Hole Sounds office (circa 1974)
Bill Sr. relaxes at his Blue Hole Sounds studio in Liberty Hill, Texas (circa 1975)
Bill Sr. at the front entrance to Blue Hole Sounds studio (circa 1974)