BASE

Austin, Texas

Experimental studio band
Records with Sonobeat in 1972 & 1973
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
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Producer Bill Josey Sr. puts his session notes in a strange place: on the paper leader tape separating takes. This note calls out "Tail of jam Tues. July 25, 1972 [Eric/Ronnie/Danny/Bobby]" who are, respectively, Eric Johnson, Ronnie Leatherman, Danny Galindo, and Bobby Rector.
Electronic schematic designed by Sonobeat co-founder Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) for a quad audio mixing console using a joystick-style control to place sound anywhere in a 360° spectrum.

Sonobeat's quadraphonic experiments

It's 1972 in Austin, Texas, home to Sonobeat Records. Its co-founder Bill Josey Sr. is experimenting with quadraphonic audio recording and mixing techniques at Sonobeat's North Lamar studio. Bill anticipates that American consumers will flock to adopt at least one of the many new surrounding sound phonograph record playback systems that have been introduced beginning in 1970. By '72, the apparent leaders in the quad audio hardware race are ElectroVoice's EV-4, CBS/Sony's SQ, and Sansui's QS systems, all of which are "matrix" systems that encode the two front and two rear audio channels into standard two-channel stereo that is then decoded back to four channels during playback. These matrix systems make it possible to release a single or LP that will play in monaural, stereo, or quad, but quad playback requires the consumer's record player to be connected to compatible decoding hardware. Before 1972, many Sonobeat sessions are recorded on 4-track machines, but none are recorded or mixed specifically for playback on four speakers – front left, front right, rear right, and rear left – to create a 360° sonic experience. Although the Sonobeat logo on the Lee Arlano Trio's Jazz to the Third Power album includes the words "Surrounding Sound", insinuating a 360° listening experience, that's strictly marketing hyperbole, since none of Sonobeat's commercial singles or albums are mixed or encoded for quadraphonic playback.

Bill's belief in quad is deep enough that he convinces many artists he records from mid-1972 through mid-1973 to experiment with the format. Bill calls his quadraphonic mixing technique "Sonoquad" and even, for a brief period, renames his recording facility "Sonoquad Studios", anticipating a recorded music trend that, in fact, fizzles out long before it has a chance to catch on with consumers. Quad's downfall can be attributed to two factors: first, the lack of a single industry-standard technology means there are too many incompatible competing formats that confuse consumers; and, second, the cost of a quad system is double that of a standard two-channel, two-speaker stereo hi-fi system. Although they fail as home audiophile systems, the ill-fated quad formats are predecessors to the surround sound systems that first appear in movie theaters in the 1990s and then finally migrate to home television theaters in the 2000s.

Base (first incarnation)

To kickstart his quadraphonic experiments, Bill organizes an elite group of Austin rock musicians into a studio band he calls "Base", either as a play on "bass", since four different bass players perform on the recordings, or, more likely, as a reflection that this core group of musicians represents his foundation or "base" for creating a new sound. The 1972 Base sessions are tracked and mixed at the Sonobeat Studios in the KVET Building at 705 North Lamar in Austin, Texas.

The June and July '72 Base sessions feature a cast of luminary musicians with whom Bill has worked previously or who are otherwise friends of Sonobeat: guitar whiz kid Eric Johnson (Mariani), drummers Bobby Rector (Golden Dawn, a contemporary of the 13th Floor Elevators) and Jay Meade (New Atlantis), and bassists Ronnie Leatherman (13th Floor Elevators), Danny Galindo (13th Floor Elevators and Fast Cotton), Mike Reid (New Atlantis), and David Harrell. Bill has recorded every individual musician appearing in Base before, with the exceptions of Rector, who Bill knows indirectly through Danny Galindo, and Harrell, who Bill meets in '71 when auditioning the Austin band YOU. And Harrell also knows Eric Johnson. Ronnie Leatherman recalls that Stacy Sutherland (a founding member of the Elevators and whose tragic personal story is the subject of Vicki Welch Ayo's book), jams with Eric on at least one Base track.

The 1972 Base tracks include several freeform jams. There are no known 2-track stereo mixes of these tracks in the Sonobeat archives, and none may have ever existed. Fortunately, the original 4-track session masters have been preserved in the archives and serve as the source for the new mixes we present below, including a track featuring Eric Johnson, who at age 15 records with Sonobeat as a founding member of the rock fusion band Mariani. When we begin digitizing the 4-track masters in 2008, we discover that Bill Sr. has written track notes on the paper leader tape separating takes. These unusual notes, along with Bill's annotations on the master tape boxes themselves, help form a picture of what he's trying to achieve in the early '70s by building a potential Austin supergroup. But in 1972, a new supergroup isn't his specific goal.

As summer '72 ends, Bill turns his attention to other recording projects and puts aside the Base tapes, but he doesn't let go of his desire to record and release quadraphonic stereo singles and albums. Major labels – Capitol, Columbia, Decca, and MCA – and the leading hi-fi stereo equipment manufacturers are heavily promoting quad recordings and playback equipment, and Bill believes this is the next consumer audio breakthrough technology.

Base (second incarnation, featuring Ernie Gammage)

Bill reboots Base in late 1973, when Austin rock songwriter, guitarist, and singer Ernie Gammage returns to Austin from a sabbatical in England. It's clear from Bill's actions that he now intends to produce commercial quad tracks with Base to sell to major record labels. Ernie, a seasoned songwriter with an ear for a great hook, is the headliner Bill believes will make that possible. With his participation in Base, Ernie now has made three appearances in groups Sonobeat records: first, in the Sweetarts, who record Sonobeat's inaugural 45 RPM release, A Picture of Me, in 1967; then in Fast Cotton, that records five original songs with Sonobeat in 1970, but disbands before any can be released; and, finally, in Base version 2. The 1973 Base sessions that Ernie headlines yield Lady, a soulful remake of Ernie's ballad that he first records with the Sweetarts and then again with Fast Cotton (both versions are unreleased and together with the Base version, Lady is Sonobeat's most recorded original song), and a cover of Taj Mahal's She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride, a song borrowed from Fast Cotton's live performance repertoire. Ernie's participation in the '73 sessions is so fundamental that Bill changes the name of the group to "Ernie Gammage and Base". Ronnie Leatherman recalls that Roky Erickson and a reconstituted 13th Floor Elevators that features Ronnie, John Ike Walton, and Roky's brother Donnie record at least one track, Maxine, during the course of the 1973 Base sessions.

Bill sends the session tapes for Lady and She Caught the Katy, mixed in quad on Sonobeat's half-inch 4-track Scully 280, to his friend Ron Bledsoe at Columbia Records for processing with a CBS/Sony SQ matrix encoder. This process creates a quad/stereo/mono compatible 2-track master. We present Bill's audio instruction to Columbia SQ mastering engineer below, which also provides a good description of how Bill has miked, recorded, and mixed the Base sessions for Lady and She Caught the Katy. Bill circulates the SQ-encoded 2-track open reel dubs of the tracks as well as audiocassette copies to major labels, but nothing comes of the material, which remains unreleased.

Thank you!

Our thanks to singer/songwriter Ernie Gammage for permission to present Base's recording of Lady in its entirety (we love this track), to Chuck Willamson for identifying David Harrell, and to Elevators historian Paul Drummond (author of the 13th Floor Elevators biography Eye Mind) for passing along recollections from Ronnie Leatherman.

Base personnel

Danny Galindo: bass
Ernie Gammage: guitars and vocals
David Harrell: bass
Eric Johnson: guitars
Ronnie Leatherman: bass
Jay Meade: drums
Bobby Rector: drums
Mike Reid: bass
Stacy Sutherland: guitars

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Hot Quad
Lady (Ernie Gammage)
She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride (Taj Mahal)
Maxine
Various untitled jams and song fragments

Produced and engineered by Bill Josey Sr.
Recorded at Sonobeat's North Lamar studios in Austin, Texas, on various dates in 1972 and 1973
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, 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 tape deck, custom 10-channel portable stereo mixer, custom 16-channel quad-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 tape stock
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A July 1972 Base work tape featuring a variety of different musicians on multiple tracks
Producer Bill Josey Sr.'s notes on this Base tape box, circulated to his A&R friends at major record labels, are thick. He points out that the tape should be processed with a Dolby type "A" decoder and CBS/Sony SQ encoder.
Half-inch 4-track Base master tape Bill Josey Sr. sends to mastering engineer Bob McGraw at Columbia Records for processing through a CBS/Sony SQ matrix encoder

Bill Josey Sr.'s note to mastering engineer Bob McGraw at Columbia Records who will process the 4-track tape through a CBS/Sony SQ matrix encoder to yield a 2-track quad/stereo/mono compatible master