Sonobeat Seasons -Winter 1967-'68

The artists Sonobeat records from December 22, 1967, to March 19, 1968
Winter 1967's first recording session is with Shiva's Headband, an Austin hippie favorite
Although Vietnamese songbird Bach-Yen records the basic tracks for her Sonobeat 45 RPM single in January 1968, the single isn't completed and released until October
California-based pop singer Paul New stops by Sonobeat to record three songs in early March 1968

Austin, Texas-based Sonobeat Recording Company launches in spring 1967 and by the end of autumn '67 has released its first four 45 RPM stereo singles, including the Sweetarts' rocker A Picture of Me, Lee Arlano Trio's jazzy There Will Never Be Another You, and Lavender Hill Express' sunshine pop rocker Visions. Austin's last day of autumn – December 21st – is rainy and a warm and humid 71°. As the saying goes in Texas, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes." Sure 'nuff, the next day, December 22nd, the first day of winter brings Austin sunny skies but a dramatic temperature drop to an overnight low of 33° and afternoon high of 48°.

Sonobeat is the natural outgrowth of Austin's eclectic KAZZ-FM, that features a mixed programming format with blocks of country, pop, showtunes, rock, folk, jazz, and rhythm 'n' blues. And, uniquely, three to four nights a week KAZZ broadcasts live remotes originating from Austin-area night clubs. Sonobeat co-founders Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley are station manager and afternoon rock block deejay, respectively, and it's through KAZZ's remote broadcasts, which they take turns hosting, that they meet dozens of Austin's most talented solo and group musical acts. When Bill Sr. and Rim launch Sonobeat, they have no recording equipment of their own, so they borrow KAZZ's professional audio equipment – Ampex tape decks and ElectroVoice microphones – for Sonobeat recording sessions. But in December 1967, KAZZ-FM is sold to Austin's country-format AM station, KOKE, and, in the first week of January 1968, KAZZ shuts down, pink slipping all its employees. The station will reboot two months later as KOKE-FM, simulcasting KOKE-AM's signal. Without jobs and without KAZZ's equipment to use for their recording sessions, Bill Sr. and Rim are left to focus all their energies on finding another source of recording equipment and building Sonobeat. As a chilly winter arrives in Austin, Sonobeat is about to embark on its most productive year, a matter of necessity and survival.

Shiva's Headband

Spencer Perskin's electric violin painted the walls of the Vulcan in ... spine-tingling colors, while his vocals were a call to eternal bliss. Pianist and vocalist Shawn Siegel mixed Thelonious Monk with Jelly Roll Morton on his keyboard, and also sang with a sense of counterculture devotion. Drummer Jerry Barnett never met a backbeat or shuffle he couldn't turn into an intricate examination of what a drum kit was capable of, and bassist Kenny Parker stood stock-still, playing hypnotic basslines like he'd invented them, which he probably had.
Bill Bentley on a half-century of Shiva's Headband in The Austin Chronicle (December 1, 2017)

Hippie favorite Shiva's Headband, the de facto house band of downtown Austin's iconic 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. music hall, usually gets lumped into the Central Texas psychedelic music scene alongside its '60s contemporaries 13th Floor Elevators, The Conqueroo, and The Thingies. Each has a trademark sound derived from both its musical approach and its use of an unusual musical instrument or an unusual way of playing a common musical instrument. For example, the Elevators have the etherial fwoops of the electric jug and Roky Erickson's banshee-style vocal delivery; The Conqueroo, a free-form jazz-rock style offered up in long, intricate jams with vocals ranging from dreamy to dramatic; and The Thingies, oddball lyrics performed against a simple instrumentation, itself punctuated by a penetrating fuzz guitar. And Shiva's Headband has an electric violin and a head full of original songs you assume must have been invented during acid trips.

Sonobeat begins recording Shiva's on December 27, 1967, using Vulcan Gas Company during off-hours as a remote recording studio. Neither the band nor Sonobeat co-founders Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley are happy with results of the December 27th recording session, so the tapes – there are only instrumental backing tracks without vocal overdubs – are shelved. But the songs – Kaleidoscoptic and There's No Tears – are really good, and band founder Spencer Perskin's electric violin is distinctively different and distinctively cool. Sonobeat schedules new sessions with the band in February 1968, starting from scratch. Both Kaleidoscoptic and There's No Tears are re-recorded and vocals are overdubbed, again using the Vulcan and again to the dissatisfaction of the band. The Shiva's single is scrapped after test pressings are made and remain unreleased.

Bach-Yen

In 1965, Vietnamese songbird Bach-Yen treks to the U.S. specifically for a performance on America's favorite Sunday night TV variety program, the Ed Sullivan Show. Bach's trip to America is the brainchild of two Navy officers stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam conflict: bring a singing ambassador from Saigon to America to build sympathy and support for the war-torn South Vietnamese people. A months-long search leads the officers to Bach-Yen, but it takes a lot of convincing to get her to agree to come to the U.S. and still more convincing to get backers, finally convincing the producers of the Ed Sullivan Show to pay to fly her to New York. Bach's performance on Ed Sullvan's program is sensational, and she's immediately booked into a guest slot on another TV variety show, Shindig. Before you know it, Bach has extended her original two-week visit to the U.S. by not just months, but years. This ends up being fortunate for Sonobeat.

[Lt. Glenn] Craig and I had great respect and sympathy for the people of South Vietnam and their cause, and we thought they deserved all the support the United States could give them. It seemed to us that if the Americans at home could get to know the Vietnamese people a little better, American support would be more solid. We considered a number of Vietnamese singers and then, early in 1964, we read about Bach Yen, who had just returned from France and was opening a singing engagement at one of Saigon's big clubs, the Dai Kim Do.
Lt. L Lamont Phemister, quoted in Lou Phillips' article Cinderella From Saigon in Stars and Stripes (Vol. 9, No. 37, December 12, 1965)

How Bach-Yen gets to Sonobeat to record its 11th 45 RPM single involves a series of fortunate events. Touring the U.S. as South Vietnam's musical emmissary brings Bach-Yen to the attention of action movie star John Wayne, whose feature film The Green Berets is scheduled to shoot in summer 1967. The movie's plot centers around the elite military unit's deployment to Vietnam in 1965. Bach-Yen is cast in the film as, ironically, a Saigon night club singer. Austin radio and TV personality Cactus Pryor, a long time Wayne buddy, also has a role in the movie, meets Bach on the set and is wow'd by her performance. Cactus' friend Don Dean manages Austin's posh Club Seville dinner and dance club at Wilbur Clark's Crest Motor Inn on Austin's Town Lake, and when Cactus returns from shooting his part in The Green Berets, he urges Don to book Bach-Yen into the club. Sonobeat co-founder Bill Josey Sr. and Don are friends, and, indeed, Don has recorded Sonobeat's third 45 RPM single. Soon after Bach arrives in Austin, Don introduces her to Bill, suggesting she record a single for Sonobeat. By mid-January 1968, Sonobeat indeed is recording Bach, using The Club Seville's house band, The Michael Stevens IV, to provide backing. The recording session, in which the band lays down the backing tracks and Bach overdubs her vocals, is conducted on January 18th during off-hours at The Club Seville. Although the tracks are good, Bill Sr. feels they're too thin to support Bach's powerful vocals, so her master tapes are shelved until autumn 1968, when Bill decides to overdub string and horn sections to thicken up the sound. Bach's single is released in autumn '68.

Paul New

Still another of The Club Seville's popular acts gets a Sonobeat recording session in winter '67-'68. Paul New hails from Los Angeles, touring the night club circuit throughout the U.S. in the '60s and '70s. A few years earlier, Club Seville manager Don Dean cuts his hospitality teeth at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, home of the world famous Coconut Grove night club, working for Paul New's father. But, back then, Paul is a kid growing up around legendary singers who perform at the Coconut Grove, like Harry Belefonte and Eddie Fisher (Carrie Fisher's father). When Paul's grown up and has a pop act of his own, Don books him into The Club Seville. However, this is no payback to Paul's father; Paul is a truly talented pianist and pop vocalist, putting his own spin on the most popular songs of the era and writing original material as well. Sonobeat records Paul and his band on March 7th and 8th, 1968, using The Club Seville during off-hours as a remote studio facility. Of the three tracks Paul completes, All That's Left Is The Lemon Tree, a bouncy cover of the Don Ho hit, and Balboa, a Paul New original that pays tribute to Balboa Island, a popular resort destination in Southern California where Paul and his band start out in the early '60s, are selected for a Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM single. Both tracks feature slick performances and are well-recorded. Even though the single makes it to the test pressing stage, for reasons undocumented in the Sonobeat archives, Paul's single is never released.

The Conqueroo

Back in autumn 1967, Sonobeat records several tracks with The Conqueroo, a psychedelic rock band whose Austin contemporaries include the the 13th Floor Elevators and Shiva's Headband. The Conqueroo regularly performs at Austin's iconic 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., and pioneer a fusion of folk, rock, jazz, and blues performed to the background of a pulsating liquid light showPut water and colored oils in a small glass tray, add heat and an overhead projector, and you get a kinetic visual experience that plays well with hallucinogens. projected on the Vulcan's walls and ceiling. The autumn 1967 recordings aren't quite polished: the instrumental performances are rushed and rough around the edges, and Sonobeat producer/recording engineer Rim Kelley hasn't quite mastered the Vulcan Gas Company's unique acoustics. The band's original songs I've Got Time backed with 1 To 3 are re-recorded as winter comes to an end in March 1968, again using the Vulcan Gas Company as a remote recording studio. Sonobeat releases The Conqueroo's single with a double-sided black and white picture sleeve in spring 1968. An erroneous note on the sleeve indicates that the recordings are recorded "live", but they're actually not; once again, they're recorded during the Vulcan's off-hours, when the venue is closed to the public. The single picks up a Best Bet review in the June 29, 1968, issue of national record and radio trade journal Cash Box.

Lavender Hill Express

In autumn 1967, Sonobeat has recorded and released its second rock single, by hot Austin rock band Lavender Hill Express. The band is a bit of a phoenix, rising from the ashes of two of Austin's most popular '60s rock bands, The Wig and Baby Cakes, after both collapse in mid-'67. Lavender Hill Express' first Sonobeat single, Visions (celebrating its 50th anniversary in December 2017), is a bona fide Central Texas hit and begins the band's multi-single relationship with Sonobeat, the second of which is recorded on March 19 and 20, 1968, as winter in Austin is coming to an end. The single features flip sides that couldn't be more different: the "A" side is Watch Out!, a hard rocking tour de force – complete with a "flanged" instrumental backing track – written and sung by drummer Rusty Wier; the "B" side, Country Music's Here To Stay, is a bass-heavy country tune, written by guitarist Leonard Arnold, that features a pedal steel guitar. Both tracks are recorded at Vulcan Gas Company during off-hours. Country Music's Here To Stay foreshadows the outlaw country movement that will take Austin by storm in the early 1970s and in which Leonard will become a prominent figure. The single is held back for release until June 1968 because Sonobeat has a backlog of releases scheduled ahead of it, including The Conqueroo's and The Thingies', as well as the label's first album, Jazz To The Third Power by the Lee Arlano Trio. Like its first single, Visions, Lavender Hill Express' second Sonobeat single also is released in a picture sleeve, but this time it's a double-sided, two-color sleeve that promotes Watch Out! on one side and Country Music's Here To Stay on the other, giving record retailers the ability to rack copies of the single in both the rock and country sections.

The Conqueroo's winter 1967-'68 Sonobeat single, with cover photo by Belmer Wright and artwork and layout by Gilbert Shelton
Although recorded in winter 1967-'68, Lavender Hill Express' second Sonobeat single isn't released until late summer 1968