Records with Sonobeat circa 1970
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
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In June 1967, a unique country-gospel-folk-bluegrass-rock-jug band mashup forms in Austin, Texas. Whistler's instrumentation and vocal harmonies are reminiscent of '60s groups The New Christy Minstrels, the one-hit wonder We Five, and The Mamas and Papas. But even as a mash-up of many genres, this talented quartet performs in a style mostly influenced by Austin's strong late '60s folk and country-rock music scene. Whistler takes its name from a 1920s jug band that its founding members admire. The group frequently plays the Vulcan Gas Company – Austin's iconic hippie live music emporium – and the Chequered Flag, Austin's premiere folk-jazz cabaret, gathering a cross-over audience of hippies and folk and Americana aficianados alike. Mixing well-known modern folk songs like The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and May The Circle Be Unbroken with the band's original songs, by spring 1970, Whistler has captured a regular Wednesday night slot at Bonnie's Place, a modest but popular barbeque joint on East 6th Street in East Austin. Whistler becomes an Austin cult favorite, bringing notoriety – and large, hungry crowds – to Bonnie's.

Spring 1970 also is when Whistler comes to record with Sonobeat co-founder and producer Bill Josey Sr. Although the Sonobeat archives are silent on the location of Whistler's sessions, we're reasonably certain that they're held at Sonobeat's intimate Western Hills Drive studio in northwest Austin. The sessions yield two tracks – Jean Harlow and We Crossed the Line, both originals by the band's guitarist and lead vocalist, Roy Robinson. We've been unable to locate the original half-inch 4-track session masters, which the archives refer to; we find only monaural mix-downs of the two songs. Both songs are solidly performed, and we can assume that Bill Sr. intends to release them as a Sonobeat single during summer 1970. But Whistler's single is never released, and we think we know why: the band abruptly moves to San Francisco in late spring, shortly after completing its Sonobeat sessions. This makes the band's personal appearances to promote the single impossible, thus assuring a Sonobeat regional release would be a commercial failure. The band moves to California in hopes of capitalizing on the folksy hippie movement that coalesces during 1967's Summer of Love in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, and, indeed, Whistler plays gigs at The Family Dog and Fillmore West and briefly tours with Santana. But the band returns to Austin in August and, immediately on returning, books regular weeknight gigs at the New Orleans Old World Nightclub and The Chequered Flag, both in downtown Austin. And Whistler is one of only three acts selected to play the opening night – August 7, 1970 – at Vulcan Gas Company's successor, Armadillo World Headquarters. But only weeks after the 'Dillo's grand opening performance, the band falls apart. Core members reform in September '70 as country-boogie trio Cross Country, performing frequently at the Armadillo as well as at The Chequered Flag.

The Whistler unit Sonobeat records in spring 1970 features Roy Robinson (professionally known today as Amos Staggs), Linda Robinson (Roy's wife), Jenkins Garrett, and Bill Dorman. In 1973, after a three year hiaitus, Whistler regroups, this time with a line-up featuring Bill Dorman, Roy and Linda Robinson, Richard "Red" Schulz (pedal steel and dobro), and George Smid (drums). This new incarnation of Whistler opens and then continues to play regular gigs at Austin's Soap Creek Saloon, Castle Creek, and River City Inn (where it holds down a regular Sunday night spot for months). On April 18, 1973, an Austin Statesman newspaper feature by Mary Pat O'Malley warmly captures Whistler's "homey country rock" return to Austin on the occasion of the band's "whing-ding" performance with Willie Nelson at Armadillo World Headquarters. In 1974, the band takes its final bow. Roy, taking the stage name Amos Staggs, continues a long-running career touring the U.S. with dozens of country and pop music icons.

Thank you!

Thanks to Jerri Lynn Robinson for providing the names of the members of Whistler and details of the band's background.

Whistler personnel

Bill Dorman: bass
Jenkins Garrett: guitar
Linda Robinson: piano and vocals
Roy Robinson: guitar and lead vocals

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Jean Harlow
We Crossed the Line

Produced by Bill Josey Sr.
Engineered by Rim Kelley
Recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, Austin, Texas, early- to mid-1970
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 16-channel 4-bus mixing console, custom steel plate stereo reverb, Ampex 681 tape stock

Final word

As unlikely as it may seem for as folksy a folk-rock band as is Whistler, from 1967 to 1970, the group frequently plays gigs at Austin's legendary psychedelic music hall, Vulcan Gas Company. Then, in August 1970, Whistler is the opening act at the Vulcan's successor, Armadillo World Headquarters, and becomes such a regular there that it's considered a 'Dillo house band. Sometime around 1970, a singer/songwriter on the verge of starting the outlaw country movement opens for Whistler: his name, Willie Nelson. Whistler goes on to open honky tonk venue Soap Creek Saloon in 1973.
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The Whistler master tape box; there are only monaural mixes in the Sonobeat archives
A candid of the 1973 incarnation of Whistler accompanying Mary Pat O'Malley's Austin Statesman newspaper feature celebrating the band's return after a three year hiaitus