White Light

New Orleans, Louisiana, and Austin, Texas

Records with Sonobeat in 1975 & 1976
No commercial releases on Sonobeat Records
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White Light's Michael Hobren overdubs a vocal at Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studio outside Liberty Hill, Texas (1976)
courtesy Michael Hobren
White Light's Robert Haeuser performs at Liberty Lunch, Austin, Texas (1976)
courtesy Michael Hobren
White Light's Rusty Haeuser overdubs flute at Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studio (1976)
courtesy Michael Hobren

It's mid-December 1975 in the small Central Texas town of Liberty Hill, 35 miles north of Austin. Sonobeat producer Bill Josey Sr. is recording White Light at his Blue Hole Sounds studio. White Light, a progressive rock unit originally formed in New Orleans as a traditional rock quintet, recently has rebooted in Central Texas as a trio.

The New Orleans incarnation of White Light forms in 1966 as a high school garage band. It falls apart in '69 as its members go off in different directions. Robert Haeuser joins the Air Force and in 1973 is transferred to Austin's Bergstrom Air Force Base. By '74, Robert has finished his Air Force tour of duty, is groovin' on Austin's eclectic music scene, and is anxious to put White Light back together. But only Michael Hobren from the original band is available, so Robert enlists his brother, Russell, better known as Rusty, a drummer (who isn't in White Light's initial lineup in New Orleans), to round out the unit. In September 1974 Michael and Russell join Robert in Austin where the three move into a ramshackle house. Michael recalls a sequence of serendipitous events: after "terrorizing" their neighbors with their "bombastic electrified" practice sessions for more than a year, the group takes up the rural life, moving into a mobile home with no nearby neighbors. Their new digs are just down the road from Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studio on the outskirts of Liberty Hill (a rural community nestled in the idyllic Central Texas hill country 35 miles north of Austin). Michael, Robert, and Russell frequently drive past Blue Hole Sounds, and one day finally decide to introduce themselves to Sonobeat producer and Blue Hole Sounds owner Bill Josey Sr. Bill shows the boys the studio and eventually they spend $50 to record three original songs at the studio. Bill is only interested in bands with original material, is impressed with the songs he hears in that first White Light session, and invites them to work with him in the studio, this time to create an album at Sonobeat's expense.

It was a bitter winter outside, but inside that old stone church/recording studio there was always a warm magic when we were recording.
Mike Hobren and Russell Haeuser recollections in an exclusive July 2015 Sonobeat.com interview

The resulting Sonobeat sessions – produced over many intensive weeks between mid-December 1975 and February 1976 and in which Bill encourages uninhibited experimentation – yield eight completed original tracks that Bill and the group sequence into an untitled album. Bill also makes an unusual deal with the band, one in which he provides free studio time, shops the resulting demo album to his major label contacts and, if the album sells, will produce and engineer a more polished version for release; but, departing from his custom and practice, he'll let the band itself make a direct deal with the major label, with Bill taking only a producing fee.

Bill submits White Light's demo album to United Artists, Columbia, and Arista, where he has long-established contacts, but all pass, considering the material too esoteric. As all this is unfolding, Bill's battle with cancer, diagnosed in 1975 and which he hasn't revealed to the band, is taking a progressively harsher physical toll on him (and which may be the motivation for his unusual deal with the band). Surprisingly, just a few weeks after passing on the masters, United Artists goes through a management shakeup, and its new management asks to reconsider the album. Bill resubmits it in April '76, but then months pass with no decision. In the meantime, White Light begins playing gigs at the landmark Liberty Lunch club in downtown Austin, just north of Lady Bird Lake. Soon thereafter, the trio starts playing gigs at the popular Castle Creek Club on Lavaca and 15th Street, a block northwest of the Texas State Capitol in downtown Austin. But within months, frustrated by the big record companies' rejection of their album, progressive country's aggressive encroachment into Austin's live music venues, and Bill's death in September '76 (leaving the status of United Artists' interest in the album in limbo), White Light disbands.

Because White Light viewed itself as a three-man orchestra and used so many instruments and special effects, we overdubbed extensively on the album. Electric and acoustic guitars were recorded using offsetting counterpoint techniques, and percussion instruments were overdubbed repeatedly until [producer] Bill [Josey Sr.] ... began saying, 'Acceptable.' It’s amazing the power that a single word can have.
Mike Hobren and Russell Haeuser recollections in an exclusive July 2015 Sonobeat.com interview

White Light's music is purely an experimental form of progressive rock crossed with jazz-rock fusion, inspired in part by British bands Yes and Genesis. White Light's album is intricate and engaging and features several long, evolving songs using unusual instrumentation, including Russell on glockenspiel. Many songs are improvisational and some include vocals that are often "played" like an instrument. Occasionally a song digresses into a pure free-form jam, strengthening its moments of true inspiration and evident originality and craftsmanship.

White Light demonstrates that the Austin music scene in the mid-'70s is still diverse and dynamic even in the face of the outlaw country movement that has taken a firm grip on Central Texas. White Light's album remains an inventive and energetic musical legacy that's considerably ahead of its time.

Rusty succumbs to cancer on October 17, 2015.

Thank you!

Our thanks to White Light co-founders Mike Hobren and Russell "Rusty" Haeuser for providing details of the band's background and lots of great band photos.

White Light personnel

Robert Haeuser: bass and synthesizers
Russell ("Rusty") Haeuser: drums, congas, and flute
Michael Hobren: lead and acoustic guitars, slide guitar, and vocals

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Untitled album (all songs composed by White Light)
Side 1:
   Fields
   Mere Drop in the Pool
   Solar Offering
   Oceans
   Spirits on the Wing
Side 2:
   Pacemaker
   Song for Leo
   Stargazer

Produced and engineered by Bill Josey Sr.
Recorded at Sonobeat's Blue Hole Sounds studio, Liberty Hill, Texas, December 13, 1975, January 10, 1976, February 21, 1976, February 26, 1976, and March 1976
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, Dokorder 7140 quarter inch 4-track tape deck, custom 16-channel 4-bus mixing console, Fairchild Lumiten 663ST optical compressor, Blonder-Tongue Audio Baton 9-band stereo graphic equalizer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, TDK L-1800 and Scotch 207 tape stock
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Producer Bill Josey's White Light session notes (December 1975)
White Light's instrumental masters from its first Sonobeat session, in December 1975
The demo album Sonobeat producer Bill Josey Sr. and White Light sequence and send to national record labels for consideration