Sweetarts

Austin, Texas

Recorded with Sonobeat in 1967 & 1969
One commercial 45 RPM release on Sonobeat Records (1967)
Digital reissue on and Amazon Digital Music (2014)
  1. Updated March 16, 2017 Sonobeat 50th Anniversary Artist Rock
    Sweetarts • A Picture of Me • "A" side of Sonobeat's first release (1967)
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Original 1967 vinyl release sleeve using publicity photo supplied by band
Sonobeat's first 45 RPM stereo single, by the Sweetarts, released in 1967; all 1967 releases feature Sonobeat's yellow label background
Cover art for 2014 digital reissue

July 1967, Austin, Texas. A typical toasty Central Texas summer. Sonobeat co-founders Bill Josey Sr. and Bill Josey Jr. have been planning the launch of their record label for months, gathering recording equipment and holding practice recording sessions. Bill Jr., a deejay at Austin's KAZZ-FM, and Bill Sr., KAZZ's general manager, know all the top local music venues – Jade Room, Club Saracen, Action Club, IL Club, Swingers A Go-Go, New Orleans Club – where they're on the lookout for the "right" rock band to record for Sonobeat's first commercial release. They initially try with Austin's semi-psychedelic band Leo and the Prophets, using the Swingers Club in north Austin as a remote recording studio, but those sessions produce no useable tracks. Waiting in the wings is a high-energy Austin rock band that Rim has been following for more than a year, the Sweetarts. The band has a strong University of Texas fraternity and club following. Rim has played So Many Times, the Sweetarts' 1966 release on Dallas-based Vanadan Records, on his KAZZ rock 'n' roll program, and the song is popular enough to stay on the station's playlist for weeks. The band also wins the 1966 Austin Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands, further raising its public profile (the band wins again in 1968). The tipping point is Rim's February 16, 1967, live broadcast over KAZZ of the band performing at the Club Saracen in downtown Austin. KAZZ is known for its weekly live music broadcasts from a cross-section of Austin clubs, which has given the station and the Joseys reputations as strong supporters of the developing Austin music scene. At the Club Saracen broadcast, the Sweetarts demonstrates it's a tight, virtuoso unit, playing both original material and familiar Beatles and Otis Redding covers. But it's the band's crowd-pleasing performance of its original song Without You that convinces Rim to offer to record the Sweetarts for the start-up Sonobeat label.

I'm telling you, the seasons are endless; that winding ol' road... is secretly bendless...
Ernie Gammage's lyrics from A Picture of Me

Months pass following the February Club Saracen broadcast before the Joseys finally are ready to record the Sweetarts. Although the sessions with Leo and the Prophets on July 11, 1967, have yielded no useful tracks, the Swingers Club, that the Joseys rent for the Prophets session, proves to be a good make-shift studio with plenty of floor space and good acoustics, so they return there for a July 18th afternoon session with the 'Tarts. KAZZ-FM's chief engineer has built the Joseys a battery-powered portable 6-input stereo mixer, housed in a small wooden box. The Joseys mount KAZZ's Ampex 354 2-track stereo recorder in a wood frame and gather half a dozen ElectroVoice 665 dynamic microphones for the session, which yields the basic instrumental tracks for what will become Sonobeat's first release. A week later, in a late-night session at KAZZ-FM's studios in downtown Austin, Rim combines the basic stereo instrumental tracks with vocals, tambourine, and shaker overdubs on a mix-down from KAZZ's Ampex 354 quarter-inch 2-track tape deck to its Ampex 350 deck. KAZZ's facilities present a challenge and an opportunity: the offices and studios are on the 10th floor of the Perry Brooks Building. The north and south sides of the 10th floor are divided by a tunnel-like corridor. KAZZ occupies one side of the long hallway and Austin's classical music station KMFA-FM the other. For the overdub session, Rim sets up a mike at the far end of the hallway to capture its natural reverberation and a vocal mike at the end nearest KAZZ's office entrance. He threads the mike cords into the KAZZ production room, then coordinates with KAZZ's deejay (KMFA doesn't broadcast late at night) to avoid recording when he's announcing on-air. Between each take the band members gather in KAZZ's production room to listen until all agree on the takes that are keepers.

...better than average rock side presented with a good group showing...
October 7, 1967, Cash Box Magazine review of A Picture of Me

Ernie Gammage's A Picture of Me is an innovative and well-crafted pop tune by any standard, with a lot going for it: thoughtful lyrics, Ernie's solid lead vocal, an infectious beat, a tight band performance with an unusual four bar break – probably influenced by the Beatles' We Can Work It Out – and polished backup harmonies that dramatically end the song on a minor chord. Without You, also an Ernie Gammage original, is an equally impressive and solid rock romp with a good bit of country influence, punctuated by Tom Van Zandt's Farfisa organ riffs, Pat Whitefield's clever bass break, and a neat little hi-hat trick courtesy of Dwight Dow. As good as both songs are, though, there is never any doubt in Rim's mind that A Picture of Me will be the single's "A" side. A few weeks later, Bill Sr. drives the master tapes – along with the master tapes for Sonobeat's first jazz single, by The Lee Arlano Trio, which is recorded during the same week as the Sweetarts' sessions – to Houston, Texas, where Houston Records, Inc. masters the lacquers and presses 1,000 copies of the single. Packaged in a black and white picture sleeve, the stereo 45 RPM single is released throughout Central Texas during Labor Day week in 1967. The Lee Arlano Trio single is released a week later.

Bill Sr. is dissatisfied with the quality of the Houston Records mastering and decides to try an experiment with high-end Fine Recoreding in Manhattan. He ships the Sweetarts master tape to Fine, noted for its Scully lathes and custom Westrex cutting heads, for new lacquers to be mastered. The new lacquers are then shipped to Houston Records for test pressings. But the Joseys find no significant sonic difference between the two versions – that mastered by Houston Records and that mastered by Fine in New York – so Bill Sr. lets it go for now, thinking the deficiencies may be caused by Houston Records' pressing equipment rather than by its mastering, an issue he'll revisit in 1968.

Sonobeat promotes A Picture of Me as the first monaural-compatible stereo 45 RPM single in the U.S., although a few major labels previously have dabbled in, then abandoned, stereo singles. The Sweetarts' single also is the first that Sonobeat packages in a picture sleeve, an unusual extra expense for small regional labels. Although the Sweetarts' single is sold only in Austin-area record stores, the Joseys consider their first release a success.

Ernie's first composer royalty statement from Sonosong Music (Sonobeat's publishing arm), dated in February 1968, shows sales of 627 copies during the single's first four months of release. Ernie's royalty for each composition is one cent, so he receives $12.54 total, equal to about $86.50 in 2016 dollars. As an example of art coincidentally imitating art, star country artist George Jones releases a top 10-charting single in 1972 entitled, yep, A Picture of Me (Without You).

The Sweetarts return in July 1969 to start recording new original material. These sessions occur during a musical transition for the 'Tarts, who in mid-'68 have added guitarist Steve Weisberg, and the group has shifted from top 40-style frat rock to rhythm and blues and experimental original material. The 1969 sessions focus on Ernie Gammage's ballad Lady, recorded in multiple versions. There's debate about a second song attributed to the Sweetarts in the July '69 sessions: Summer Sunshine is a complex, highly crafted tune and performance with instrumentation that parallels that in Lady, but the vocalist is not Ernie Gammage. There's evidence in the Sonobeat archives leading us to believe Summer Sunshine indeed belongs to the Sweetarts, but no one in the band recalls composing or recording it. Perhaps it's a Steve Weisberg or Randy Thornton song; Randy also joins the Sweetarts sometime in late-1968, after the 'Tarts have won the Austin Aqua Festival Battle of the Bands on August 8th. We're left with an air of mystery and uncertainty about Summer Sunshine, which we can't say with authority is or isn't a Sweetarts recording.

In addition to the Sweetarts new sound, the 1969 sessions, recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, are technically superior to the 1967 sessions. By 1969 Sonobeat has built an intimate studio with a drum isolation booth on the lower level of the Josey family's split-level home in northwest Austin. Sonobeat also has acquired a top of the line half-inch 4-track Scully 280 tape recorder and an array of professional microphones, including a matched pair of Sony ECM22 electret condenser mikes, and has built a 10-channel custom solid state mixer and massive steel plate reverb. In December 1968, the Joseys deliver their master recordings of Johnny Winter's The Progressive Blues Experiment album to Liberty Records in Los Angeles and visit Liberty's Hollywood recording studios, where Rim grabs a stash of Liberty Recorders tape box labels. Weeks later, back in Austin, he uses one of the labels to document the Sweetarts's 1969 sessions, thinking Sonobeat may be able to sell this new batch of Sweetarts recordings to Liberty, too. But work on the second Sweetarts single ends with little completed as the band makes significant personnel changes and regroups as Fast Cotton. The timing is not right to restart sessions with Fast Cotton, but it will be in 1970.

Tonight, happening sounds... the Sweetarts... and, well, they're great."
Rim Kelley's intro for the band on a February 1967 KAZZ-FM live broadcast

You'll find a thorough history of the Sweetarts, beginning with the group's roots as the Fabulous Chevelles and continuing through its rebirth as Fast Cotton, and audio clips from the KAZZ-FM broadcast of the Sweetarts from the Club Saracen, at the Sweetarts retrospective site.

Sometimes great bands take long breaks: on March 13, 2013, during SXSW in Austin, the Sweetarts reunite at Tom's Tabooley/Antone's Records for only their second performance since disbanding in 1969 to form Fast Cotton. Rim Kelley introduces the 'Tarts at the 2013 event. On February 9, 2014, the Sweetarts reunite again, also at Tom's Tabooley/Antone's Records, to support Ricky Stein's book signing event (for Sonobeat Records: Pioneering the Austin Sound in the '60s). In March 2014, Sonobeat Historical Archives reissues restored and remastered versions of A Picture of Me and Without You on iTunes and Amazon Digital Music. The band takes a final bow with an appearance on July 26, 2014, at the Saxon Pub in Austin with fellow Austin bandmates Lavender Hill Express to help celebrate the digital reissue of all three of Lavender Hill Express' Sonobeat singles.

More great photos of the Sweetarts (and Fast Cotton) are at Ernie Gammage's website, definitely worth exploration.

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Sweetarts personnel

Dwight Dow: drums
Mike Galbraith: vocals and percussion
Ernie Gammage: guitar and lead vocals
Randy Thornton: vocals (replaces Mike Galbraith in 1968 and may sing lead on Summer Sunshine)
Tom Van Zandt: keyboards
Pat Whitefield: bass
Steve Weisberg: guitar (joins in 1968 and performs on Lady and, possibly, Summer Sunshine)

Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM release R-s101 (1967)

"A" side: A Picture of Me (Ernie Gammage) • 2:25
"B" side: Without You (Ernie Gammage) • 2:17

Released week of September 4, 1967* • R-s101
Produced and engineered by Rim Kelley
Black and white picture sleeve
Basic tracks recorded at the Swingers Club, Austin, Texas, on July 18, 1967
Vocals and percussion overdubs recorded at KAZZ-FM studios, Austin, Texas, on or about July 25, 1967
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, Ampex 350 and 354 quarter-inch 2-track tape decks, custom 6-channel portable FET stereo mixer, Scotch 201 tape stock
Vinyl collector information for R-s101

Between 1,000 and 1,500 copies pressed; 50-100 copies overprinted with "PROMO" and "NOT FOR SALE"; A Picture of Me side of promo copies also overprinted with a to indicate the side radio stations should play
Lacquers mastered and vinyl copies pressed by Houston Records, Inc., Houston, Texas
Single-sided black and white picture sleeve
Label blanks and picture sleeve printed by Powell Offset Services, Austin, Texas
In the dead wax:
   A Picture of Me: LH-3510
   Without You: LH-3511
   "LH" in the matrix number means "Location Houston", which identifies Houston Records, Inc., as the mastering and pressing plant

There are no copies of the test pressing in circulation, but for the record, in the dead wax:
   A Picture of Me: LH-3510-IFM-NY
   Without You: LH-3511-IFM-NY

As of January 7, 2017, a promo copy with the label imprinted PROMO COPY, NOT FOR SALE, and s marking the "A" side is available on eBay at just under $150

Digital reissue (2014)

On March 11, 2014, Sonobeat Historical Archives reissues A Picture of Me and Without You on iTunes and Amazon Digital Music. Available as individual tracks or together as Austin, TX 1967, the Sweetarts' single is the first of many scheduled reissues from the Sonobeat vaults. The Sweetarts' single, which launched Sonobeat Records in 1967, had been unavailable for almost 50 years. For the digital reissue, Sonobeat Historical Archives digitally restores and remasters the single from the original analog session master tapes.

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Lady (Ernie Gammage)
Summer Sunshine – Although markings on the master tape box indicate this tune was recorded by the Sweetarts, and the "sound" and instrumentation feel distinctly similar to Lady, none of the members of the band recall the song or recording it

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Sweetarts National Review

In its October 7, 1967, issue, Cash Box Magazine reviews the "A" side of the Sweetarts' Sonobeat single, A Picture of Me, proclaiming: "Somewhat better than average rock side presented with a good group showing is set out of the run-of-the-mill category by excellent stereo recording that should bring considerable attention among discerning teens and disco listeners. The strong beat adds sales vigor."

Similar to its better known competitor Billboard, Cash Box is a weekly music trade publication aimed at radio station program directors, deejays, record labels, record wholesalers and retailers, and coin-operated juke box operators. Cash Box ceases publishing in 1996.

A Picture Of Me and Without You instrumental backing tracks master tape
Unreleased material recorded by the Sweetarts in 1969
August 9, 1968, newspaper article in The Austin Statesman