The Austin music scene in the mid-'60s was a rapidly growing one and its voice was radio station KAZZ-FM. The manager of the station, Bill Josey, and his son, Bill Jr., a DJ who went by the air name of Rim Kelly, had the first truly progressive radio in Texas. KAZZ was far ahead of its time; broadcasting live concerts on weekends and featuring separate shows for top 40, folk, jazz and blues. Their live broadcasts usually emanated from the 11th Door or the New Orleans Club and the artists ranged from Townes Van Zandt/Mance Lipscomb to Janice Joplin/13th Floor Elevators. The Joseys were early boosters of the Elevators and the group got heavy airplay along with frequent live broadcasts of KAZZ. KNOW, Austin's large AM station, refused to play Elevators records, even after they had a national hit, but "You're Gonna Miss Me/Tried to Hide" stayed on KAZZ's playlist for months. Bill Josey even testified on the group's behalf at their initial drub bust trial. The station/staff were also well acquainted with most of the other bands in the area from producing shows and benefits. All these circumstances served to make the Josey's move into the record business a logical one.
There were other labels around Austin when Bill Josey and Rim Kelly (Bill Jr.) decided to start Sonobeat in late 1966, but they were mostly one-shot operations existing as outlets at local studios for artists recording there who didn't want to go through the hassle of making up their own label. Since Domino Records, Austin's major label in the '50s, had ceased activities, there were no large record companies in town. The Elevators had a fairly large label but it was the Houston-based International Artists and had the group been free, they would have almost certainly signed with Sonobeat.
The first recording studio used by Sonobeat was one of the local clubs after-hours and the initial equipment, primitive by today's standards, still managed to produce some amazing records including the first stereo single in the U.S.. Rim usually produced or co-produced the records while his father, Bill, handled the engineering and some occasional production. Later on, a permanent studio was set up in the basement of the Josey's home.
The first group signed was a fraternity-oriented band called the Sweetarts. Although the underground "hippie" movement was growing rapidly, it made no sense to ignore the Greeks who represented a large and well-heeled audience for band bookings and record sales. The Sweetarts single, #101 "A Picture Of Me/Without You", was written by member Ernie Gammage and came out in early '67. The group had met the Joseys after an earlier record, done for the Vandan label of Dallas, received play on KAZZ with favorable reactions. The Sonobeat 45, an excellent pop single, was a good seller due to its quality and the band's reputation with the frats. However, the next group on Sonobeat was to be the label's most consistent and long-lived pop act, the Lavender Hill Express.
Lavender Hill recorded the second 45 on Sonobeat with #102, "Visions/Trying To Live A Life", another good seller in the pop mold. The group was known as one of the best frat/show bands, but they began experimenting more with their music; the next single, #103 "Watch Out/Country Music's Here To Stay", being fairly innovative. The B-side, "Country Music's", utilized steel guitar and country vocals to produce a nearly straightforward C&W song. Their third and final Sonobeat record, #110 "Outside My Window/Sill Rhymes" was yet another experiment. Again the B-side, "Silly Rhymes", was a country flavored tune but this time with a more folkie influence. This was definitely early evidence of the progressive country boom that hit Austin a few years later, especially when added to the fact that Rusty Wier, an original member of LHE, wrote "Silly Rhymes" (recently recut for his LP Black Hat Saloon) and is now a leader in the local C&W movement.
The third group on Sonobeat, Conqueroo, was the first hippie band for the label. Things were really starting to pick up on the psychedelic scene in Austin with Conqueroo one of the leading bands, along with Shivas and the Elevators. Their single, #103 "I've Got Time/1 To 3", sold well in the "head" circuit and some copies found their way to San Francisco where Conqueroo also played. Ed Guinn, Charlie Pritchard, Bob Brown and Gerry Storm made some of the best music heard in Texas or California, whatever label is put on itacid rock, psychedelic, etc. Their reputation is enormous considering their total recorded output was the single Sonobeat 45. (Part of the group did make another single for ESP Records under another name and style.) Things didn't happened for Conqueroo as they should have, but at least the excellent Sonobeat 45 remains to show how good they were.
Sonobeat single #104 introduced another underground band to the label called the Thingies. As the story goes, the group originated in Florida and was on their way to California whey they stopped in Austin. They played their version hard rock around town and impressed the Joseys enough that a record was done for Sonobeat. "Mass Confusion/Rainy Sunday Morning" is another great record, combining elements of the Pretty Things and Cream; even a slightly effected English accent comes through from the vocalist. Besides the Plymouth Rock single (see following), this is the hardest rock on Sonobeat. Not much is knows about the band as the records didn't sell too well and they continued on to California.
In the fall of '67 KAZZ-FM was sold to KOKE which ended progressive radio in Austin for a few years. Ironically enough, later KOKE-FM became the trendsetting progressive country station and a very successful one. KAZZ-FM was just too early for its format and FM receivers not common enough for KAZZ to compete with the AM stations. The Joseys now devoted all their efforts to their record company and it paid off with their next group, who because Sonobeat's most successful and well-know act.
Johnny Winter had grown up in Beaumont, Texas, and recorded many records for local labels in the early '60s, but real success had eluded him. In 1968 he decided to try the blossoming hippie scene in Austin with at a hard-driving blues/rock band called simply "Winter", Tommy Shannon and John Turner supplied the backing and the group played many shows around town. Bill Josey heard of this terrific band and in checking with Johnny found he was free of contracts. Josey immediately signed him to a short term deal and recorded several tracks at the Vulcan Gas Co.. A single was released, #197 "Mean Town Blues/Rollin' N' Tumblin'", but other people were amazed by this incredible guitar player and the Johnny Winter publicity campaign started rolling. Rolling Stone did a story on Texas that featured Johnny (Larry Sepulvado of Mother Magazine wrote quite a bit of that Texas issue for R.S.). Steve Paul, of NYC, got interested and put Winter under an exclusive management contract, then the record company bidding began. Meanwhile Sonobeat pressed up a couple hundred demo LPs of "Winter" and passed them around. Some were sold thr0ugh local stores and the mail, but it was a simple white jacket advance album designed to stir up record company interest. After the dust had settled, Johnny was with Columbia and the Sonobeat LP had been bought by United Artists. It was issued on Imperial as "The Progressive Blues Experiment" and several years later reissued on UA as "Johnny Winter--Austin, Texas".
Plymouth Rock might be called the Sonobeat supergroup due to the fact that the members were from previous Austin bands, including Lavender Hill and the Sweetarts (Editors Note: Incorrect -- no Sweetart was ever in Plymouth Rock.) , but also because they were very good. Their brand of hard rock even surpassed the Thingies and the single, #114 "Just A Start/Memorandum", was a great one by any standards. At any rate it had limited success when it was issued in '69 and the group never issued a follow-up.
As Sonobeat moved into the '70s, their new hope was as group called Mariani after leader and drummer Vince Mariani. The band's first single, #116 "Pulsar/Boots", was as pair of drum solos psychedelicised with studio electronics and issued under simply Vince Mariani. As drum solos were already wearing thin, even in early '70, sales were not good. A second single, #118 "Memories/Re-Birthday", succeeded better. It was a more commercial attempt with good songs built around Vince's drumming and Eric Johnson's guitar work. Johnson was a 16-year old guitar whiz (now with the Electromagnets) and the trio of guitar, bass, and drums began establishing a reputation as a powerhouse at concerts. They became so promising that Sonobeat pressed up 100 LPs to interest the major record companies, as they had with Winter. For a while it looked as though UA would again by the album but negotiations dragged on and finally the group broke up. The LP became the only Sonobeat album that did not get commercially released.
Sonobeat was a small label but a very diverse one; they released records in almost every category of music besides the pop/rock/blues records already discussed. Wali and the Aftro-Caravan were an extremely good soul/jazz band that preceded the mass popularity of this music in the '70s. The country-swing of Ronnie and the West Winds would be right at home with Asleep At The Wheel or Alvin Crow, and Ray Campi's Sonobeat 45 is quite different from his usual style, but is still a, uhunique record. Campi was/is a rockabilly rebel of the '50s and made several good records in this style before and since the Sonobeat single. He even bridged the gap from the '50s to the '60s in Austin record companies by recording for Domino in '58 and Sonobeat in '68. His record for Sonobeat is a satire on one side, "Civil Disobedience", and an Irving Berlin song, "He's A Devil", in a 1930's style, on the flip. The single was a poor seller to say the least. Jazz for Sonobeat was supplied by the Lee Arlano Trio, a pleasant cocktail club type group, but their real distinction was that they recorded the only LP commercially released on Sonobeat itself and that the cover art was Jim Franklin's first attempt at album graphics.
The label became inactive through the early '70s except for a couple of gospel releases by the Royal Light Singers. The studio stayed fairly busy as usual with custom work and demos by various artists and bands. Rim left to teach at the University of Alabama and Bill moved the studio to a rural location near Round Rock, a small town north of Austin. He bought an old stone church and turned it into a beautiful recording studio. Bill worked with many groups and artists, but only one got released on Sonobeat. A folk/country singer, Arma, whose single #121, "Plea For Freedom/Just One Too Many Times", was the last issued on the label in late 1975. Bill Josey became ill that year and died in September of 1976.
Success is measured in many ways but in the record business at least, the music speaks for itself.
There are several singles in the discography that were not discussed and a short description follows each one.
401 - Don Dean - "Night Life/Where Or When". A country vocal record issued with a picture sleeve.
501 - Lee Arlano Trio - "Meditation/Never Be Another". Issued with picture sleeve.
101 - Sweetarts - "A Picture Of Me/Without You". Issued with picture sleeve.
102 - Lavender Hill Express - "Visions/Trying To Live A Life". Issued with picture
103 - Conqueroo - "I've Got Time/1 To 3". Issued with picture sleeve.
104 - Thingies - "Rainy Sunday Morning/Mass Confusion". The only early single not issued with picture sleeve.
105 - Lavender Hill Express - "Watch Out/Country Music's Here To Stay". Issued with picture sleeve.
106 - Wali and the Afro-Caravan - "Comin' Home Baby/Afro-Twist".
107 - Winter - "Mean Town Blues/Rollin' n' Tumblin'". Issued with picture sleeve.
108 - Ronnie and the West Winds - "Can't Win For Losing/Windy Blues".
109 - Bach-Yen - "This Is My Song/Magali". A female vocal record in an easy-listening style.
110 - Lavender Hill Express - "Outside My Window/Silly Rhymes".
111 - Ray Campi - "Civil Disobedience/He's A Devil". The label actually reads 'Ray Campi Establishment'.
112 - Jim Chesnut - "About To Be Woman/Leaves". Country vocal record.
113 - Fran Nelson - "Yesterday/No Regrets". Female vocal with country flavor.
114 - Plymouth Rock - "Memorandum/Just A Start". A classic!
115 - James Polk and The Brothers - "Stick-To-It-Tive-Ness/The Robot". A soul record.
116 - Vince Mariani - "Pulsar/Boots". Drummer for the band on single #118.
117 - Lee Arlano Trio - "School Daze/Meditation" The B-side is from single #501.
118 - Mariani - "Memories/Re-Birth Day".
119 - Royal Light Singers. Gospel recording.
120 - Royal Light Singers. Gospel recording.
121 - Arma - "Just One Two Many Times/Plea For Freedom"
122B - Jeannine "Your Touch is Like A Whisper/Let's Get To Houston Today"
1001 - Lee Arlano Trio - Jazz To The Third Power. Only LP actually on the label. Cover by Jim Franklin.
1002 - Johnny Winter - Winter. Released as demo then sold to UA/Imperial Records.
1003 - Wali and the Afro-Caravan - Home Lost And Found. Released as a demo then sold to Solid State Records.
HEC 411/HEC 412 - Mariani - Perpetual Mobile. Again released as demo but not sold.
These white jacket advance pressings all had stamped titles and were individually numbered. A songwriter, Bill Wilson, also had a demo LP issued on Sonobeat but only to sell his compositions from the Sonosong publishing catalog. The serial numbers for Wilson's LP are WEJ 285M and WEJ 286M (sides 1 and 2, respectively).
A few Sonobeat groups had records on other labels either before or after their association with the Joseys. The Sweetarts had the already-mentioned single on the Vandan label of Dallas, #8195, "So Many Times/You Don't Have To Hurt Me", and Lavender Hill Express had a 45 on MVL Records, #101 "Mr. Peabody/Going Back To Mexico", that was done after their stay at Sonobeat. Also some of Conqueroo assisted on Austinite Gilbert Shelton's ESP single, #4501 "If I Was A Hell's Angel/Southern Stock Car Man". It was issued with a unique picture sleeve and the record was credited to The Gilbert Shelton Ensemble
Of course Johnny Winter has had numerous records before and after Sonobeat, along with Ray Campi, and we can't list them all here. Rusty Wier made a couple of singles with The Wig then went on to his subsequently successful solo career. These are the most obvious standouts from the galaxy of Texas musicians that were associated with the Joseys and Sonobeat but there are very few bands in Central Texas today that don't have some tie to the Joseys and their record company. In future NFAs we plan to do features on some of the most interesting Sonobeat artists and their careers.