Bill Wilson

Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis, Indiana

Records with Sonobeat in 1969 & 1970
One non-commercial song demo album on Sonobeat Records (1969)
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Bill Wilson's Sonobeat song demo album is issued in a plain white jacket, so this is our fantasy jacket artwork
Master tape box for side 1 of Bill Wilson's song demo album, to which producer Bill Josey Sr. tapes a printer's proof of the album label
Master tape box for side 2 of Bill Wilson's song demo album
Bill Wilson takes a break during the sessions for his Sonosong Music demo album (1969)

Lebanon, Indiana, native, Viet Nam war veteran, and singer/songwriter Bill Wilson spends the late '60s in Austin, Texas, serving the final year of his military service at Bergstrom Air Force Base (which has since become Austin's sprawling Austin-Bergstrom International Airport). Wilson meets Sonobeat owners Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) through Austin minstrel Cody Hubach, with whom Wilson performs on weekends in south Austin bars and clubs and for whom he later writes the tribute song, Ballad of Cody.

Wilson's first work with Sonobeat begins in 1969. He records a song demo album for Sonobeat's publishing subsidiary, Sonosong, showcasing his original compositions. Songs from the Catalog of Sonosong Music Company: Bill Wilson, Composer features an eclectic mix of folk, country, and pop tunes. We find a copy on auction at eBay with a winning bid on August 17, 2016, of $450, demonstrating that Wilson's music remains in high demand decades after recorded.

Because Wilson performs his Sonosong demo album with only guitar and harmonica accompaniment and, perhaps because the sole purpose of the album is to promote Wilson's songs and not Wilson as a performer, Sonobeat's archives contain only monaural mixes. Nonetheless, Wilson's vocal performances are solid and convincing and demonstrate his broad range of talents. Wilson is joined in harmony vocal by Cindy Reynolds on The Merry-Go Man, a song about living an ignorant life that addresses the Viet Nam war but that also may be inspired by, but remains distinctly different from, the Beatles' Nowhere Man. We recently find Big Train, a blues piece that doesn't appear on Wilson's Sonosong demo album, hidden away in the Sonobeat vaults. These 48-year-old recordings demonstrate Wilson's versatility as songwriter and singer.

Sonobeat presses 100 copies of the demo album to circulate to national record company A&R departments, hoping to solicit major artists to record some of Wilson's tunes. The album is issued in mid-November, even as Wilson continues to cut addition original tracks for Sonobeat. Prolific Sonosong composer Herman Nelson is so impressed with Wilson's song demos that when Herman begins work on Songs from the Catalog of Sonosong Music Company: Herman Nelson, Composer, Volume 2, he asks Sonobeat to engage Wilson to perform the 12 songs on it.

Wilson returns in November '69 for additional sessions with Sonobeat that yield The Man in Black, Wanna Go Back, Tastes of Summer, and The Old Man, but none of these recordings are ever released. Sonobeat regular Mike Waugh plays bass on The Old Man, and Bill Sr. sends a master tape of the song out for a 33-1/3 RPM reference dub to be cut, perhaps to send to his friend Ron Bledsoe at Columbia Records in Nashville.

Wilson is as impressive a blues and rock singer as he is a composer and is tapped by the Joseys for Sonobeat's legendary Mariani sessions in 1970. Wilson contributes his strong and distinctive vocal talents to two songs on Mariani's only album, Perpetuum Mobile, which Sonobeat issues only as a non-commercial "advance" pressing circulated to the major national record labels. Wilson's powerful performances on Last Milestone and I Can't Hurt Myself are reminiscent of Blood, Sweat & Tears' great vocalist David Clayton-Thomas.

After completing his tour of duty in the Air Force, Wilson returns to native Indiana, settling in Bloomington, where in 1972 he joins The Pleasant Street Band. He brings the band to Austin that year to record an album at Sonobeat. In fact, Wilson enjoys a banner year in 1972, when, partially on the strength of his Sonosong demo album and his work with The Pleasant Street Band, Columbia Records commissions his first solo album, Ever Changing Minstrel. But a change in Columbia's management just as the album is released in 1973 interrupts Wilson's career on the label. Wilson formally resigns from The Pleasant Street Band in '74 and forms Bill Wilson and Friends. He goes on to record three independent albums (none recorded at Sonobeat), Talking to Stars, Made in the U.S.A., and Traction in the Rain. He is best known, perhaps, for his moving Soldier's Song, a reflection on the plight of returning Viet Nam war veterans.

Wilson dies suddenly on November 25, 1993, victim of a massive heart failure; his death is a tragic loss to family, friends, and the music community. Fans remember Wilson at a tribute web site.

Sonobeat Tags

Bill Wilson personnel

Bill Wilson: composer, guitar, harmonica, and vocals
Cindy Reynolds: harmony vocal on The Merry-Go Man
Mike Waugh: bass on The Old Man and Tastes of Summer

Sonobeat song demo album WEJ-285M/WEJ-286M (1969)

Songs from the Catalog of Sonosong Music Company: Bill Wilson, Composer
Side 1:
   Peace of Mind
   Summer Morning
   Janie
   Keep on Pickin'
   All Alone
   Death Row Blues
Side 2:
   When She Was Mine
   Where Do You Run
   Barry's Song
   100 Miles Out of Denver
   The Merry-Go Man

Produced by Bill Josey Sr.
Engineered by Rim Kelley
Recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, Austin, Texas, on October 24, 1969
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, Scully 280 half-inch 4-track tape deck, Ampex 354 quarter-inch 2-track tape deck, custom 16-input 4-channel mixing console, Fairchild Lumiten 663ST optical compressor, Blonder-Tongue Audio Baton 9-band stereo graphic equalizer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, Ampex 681 tape stock
Vinyl collector information for Sonobeat album WEJ-285M/WEJ-286M

Approximately 100 copies pressed
Issued in mid-November 1969* • monaural only
Lacquers mastered and vinyl copies pressed by Sidney J. Wakefield & Company, Phoenix, Arizona
Plain white jacket rubber stamped "SONGS FROM THE CATALOG OF SONOSONG MUSIC COMPANY" and "Bill Wilson, Composer"
Label blanks printed by Powell Offset Services, Austin, Texas
In the dead wax:
   Side 1: WEJ-285M, 12715, and HEC
   Side 2: WEJ-286M, 12715, and HEC
   "HEC" in the dead wax are the initials of the mastering engineer at Sidney J. Wakefield & Company
What's that flower-shape in the dead wax? It's the Sidney J. Wakefield logo, stamped into the lacquer masters next to the matrix number.

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Big Train
The Man in Black
Nancy Ann
The Old Man
Tastes of Summer
Time for the Tell
Wanna Go Back

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Like all of Sonobeat's advance and demo pressings, Bill Wilson's is issued in a simple rubber-stamped "white jacket"
For Bill Wilson's song demo album, Sonobeat includes a track list with brief descriptions to help national record company A&R execs identify songs that may be of interest to their artists; the track list is attached to the back of the album jackets
In November 1969, Bill Wilson returns to Sonobeat to record additional original songs, potentially for a second song demo album that's never released