Leo and the Prophets

Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1967
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
  1. Sonobeat 50th Anniversary Artist Psychedelic Rock
    Leo and the Prophets • Flowers on the Hill (unreleased; 1967) 
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Dan Hickman of Leo and the Prophets on stage in Austin, Texas, circa 1967
courtesy Danny Hickman
Drummer Bill Powell and producer Rim Kelley at the Prophets' sessions at Swingers Club, Austin, Texas (July 1967)

Austin '60s rock band Leo and the Prophets holds the distinction of being the first rock group fledgling Austin label Sonobeat records. In 1966 and '67, Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) are general manager and afternoon rock 'n' roll deejay, respectively, at Austin's tiny KAZZ-FM, and through KAZZ's weekly live remote broadcasts from various Austin nightclubs, Bill Sr. and Rim have come to know many rock, jazz, and pop groups. They've broadcast Leo and the Prophets from Jade Room and Club Saracen, two clubs frequently featured in KAZZ live remotes. The band is a contemporary of the 13th Floor Elevators and performs in a similar psychedelic rock style. In spring 1967, Bill Sr. and Rim are about to launch Sonobeat records and have had KAZZ's chief engineer, Bill Curtis, build them a portable audio mixer. The mixer is housed in a small wood box with a metal faceplate on which are mounted the volume and pan controls for six inputs. The XLR microphone and quarter inch line input and output sockets are mounted on the backside of the box. Inside the mixer box is a tangle of bare wires, transistors, capacitors, and resistors. Curtis literally solders the components together "in the air" and leaves them dangling "under the hood". The Joseys are ready to try out the mixer.

In April '67, Leo and the Prophets release their regionally-successful single Tilt-A-Whirl backed with Parking Meter on Totem Records, one of Sonobeat's few Austin competitors when it launches. Austin's leading top 40 AM station, KNOW, refuses to play Tilt-A-Whirl, citing drug references in its lyrics. But if there are drug references in the lyrics, they're oblique at best, so Rim plays the single on his KAZZ-FM radio program. As it turns out, Bill Sr. knows Leo and the Prophets' manager and arranges to record the band to give the Curtis mixer an acid test.

Prophets' guitarist Danny Hickman recalls the first session is held either at the Ozone Forest nightclub at 34th and Guadalupe, where the Prophets are the house band, or the Lake Austin Inn (in the shadow of the Mansfield Dam that separates Lake Travis from Lake Austin). Rim, who engineers the session with Bill Curtis, recalls the session is held in the parking lot of the Lake Austin Inn on a slightly crisp day, and scribblings on at least one tape box in the Sonobeat archives confirm the location as the Lake Austin Inn along with a session date in May.

The Joseys record the Prophets on an Ampex 354 quarter-inch two-track professional tape deck borrowed from KAZZ, which Bill Sr. mounts in a frame made of 2x4 wood studs to make it portable. The session, which Rim engineers, yields two untitled tracks that are thin and distorted, a combination of the ElectroVoice 665 dynamic microphones overloading the mixer pre-amps, the lack of VU meters on the mixer to monitor volume peaks, and Rim's recording inexperience. Although the quality of the recordings is disappointing, Bill Sr. and Rim still want to work with the Prophets but first need to give Bill Curtis time to rework and test the circuitry in the homebrew mixer.

The follow-up session with the Prophets is delayed until July 11th. The Joseys schedule this session during afternoon hours at Swingers Club in north Austin. The vocal overdub session is held the following weekend at the KAZZ studios in downtown Austin using KAZZ's Ampex 350 and 354 stereo tape decks. The July 11th session yields three instrumental tracks: Ozone Forest, Prophecy Of Love, and Flowers On The Hill, all original Prophets tunes, but only one track, Flowers On The Hill, is completed with vocal overdubs. Although Flowers On The Hill has potential as the "A" side of a commercial single release, both the band and the Joseys believe neither of the other two tracks will make a good "B" side. The band never comes up with a second commercially-viable song for the "B" side and misses an opportunity to be Sonobeat's first commercial release. In fact, the Prophets end up a one-hit-wonder with Tilt-A-Whirl, now considered a Texas garage rock classic.

Thank you!

Our thanks to former Leo and the Prophets rhythm guitarist Danny Hickman for photos and background on the Prophets.

Leo and the Prophets personnel

Leo Ellis: lead guitar and vocals
Travis Ellis: percussion and vocals
Rod Haywood: bass
Danny Hickman: rhythm guitar
Bill Powell: drums

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings
Ozone Forest
Prophecy Of Love
Flowers On The Hill
Produced by Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley
Engineered by Rim Kelley and Bill Curtis
Basic instrumental tracks recorded at Lake Austin Inn, Austin, Texas, in May 1967 and at Swingers Club, Austin, Texas, on July 11, 1967
Vocal overdubs for Flowers On The Hill recorded at KAZZ-FM studios, Austin, Texas, on July 16, 1967
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, Ampex 350 and 354 quarter-inch 2-track tape decks, custom 6-channel portable FET stereo mixer, Ampex 201 tape stock
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A close-up of the tape box holding the Prophets' July 11, 1967, instrumental backing tracks for three songs, only one of which, Flowers On The Hill will be completed with vocal overdubs
The instrumental tracks recorded at Swingers Club in July 1967
The only Leo and the Prophets song from the July 1967 Sonobeat sessions that's completed with vocal overdubs