Today we are thrilled to feature an interview with one of our recent graduates, Ricky Stein, who has published a book based on his undergraduate thesis, Sonobeat Records: Pioneering the Austin Sound in the ’60s. We sat down with Ricky to discuss his book, his time in American Studies at UT, and what’s next for him and his research on Austin music.
What was the inspiration for this project?
Music and musicology have always been what I go for. I grew up listening to all the great rock records and got endlessly interested in music. My other interest is in my hometown of Austin and its history. Austin has, I think, a history that you don’t hear a lot about. It’s not on par with some of the other major cities in the country, but it has a really nice little history. I was also interested in seeing how it went from being a sleepy college town, a settler’s town, really, to this up-and-coming city on the rise known throughout the country. The thing with Sonobeat, well, that was a gift–it’s amazing what can happen after one conversation. One minute I was working as an intern at KLRU and this guy says I should check out this website, Sonobeat Records, because he knew I was interested in Austin music. I checked it out and two weeks later got invited to participate in the senior thesis class taught by Dr. Janet Davis. I’m so glad I did that, because it dawned on me then that I had a chance to write about this local story.
How did you go from writing an undergraduate thesis on Sonobeat Records to writing a book?
It occurred really naturally. I am also a musician and worked for about ten years before going to college. For a long time I tried to get a record deal and then when I finally went to college the book just happened. I was so lucky, because it’s a really good topic and people are interested in it, especially because Austin has become the music town it has become. When I interviewed one of the musicians who was in a band signed with the Sonobeat label he knew of a publisher, The History Press that does city and local histories. He got me in touch with them, and they read the thesis I had written. They liked it and asked if I could expand it, double it, basically. And we drew up a timetable and they drew up a contract, and it was too cool–a little less than a year later I expanded it into a book and now it’s published.
We had an event this past Sunday at Antone’s Record Shop–there was a book signing, and we had one of the Sonobeat bands playing, The Sweetarts. I wish more students went to Antone’s Records, because I always loved going there when I was at UT and I wish I got out there more. It has a perfect location, right by campus, and they specialize in these old records, the old vinyls. We’re also doing a book signing this week at Waterloo Records on Thursday at 5:00.
How did your work in American Studies prepare you to do what you are doing now?
One of the things I really love about American Studies and one of the reasons I chose it as my degree was the interdisciplinary nature of it. It’s like history meets anthropology, sort of. I’m a culture junkie; I love film and music and art and history and literature, and that’s literally what I wake up thinking about in the morning. So American Studies spoke to me directly because it fit what I was interested in. I think the class I took that most stands out to me is Main Currents in American Cultural History, one of the courses that every American Studies student takes. We studied cities; the professor focused on studies of places like Chicago, New York, the Rust Belt, and we studies Los Angeles when we were talking about the twentieth-century rise of the Sun Belt from Los Angeles to Houston. I found that really interesting–the evolution of the American city–so that definitely had a big influence on writing the book. The broad scope of American Studies is great–there’s a lot of room for research there.
What’s next for you?
I have applied for the Texas State Historical Association conference. I’m on a team with a couple of grad students that is headed by Jason Mellard who is a really brilliant musicologist and American Studies professor at Texas State. He was a big help for me as I was working on the book, and his book on Progressive Country just came out from the University of Texas Press. My topic for the panel is the East Austin music scene, which you don’t hear a lot about–the juke joints of the 1950s back when Austin was a segregated city. I’m not sure where the research will go, but I want to do as much research as I can and continue writing. I loved writing this book–the whole process was so cool and came so naturally. It’s something I’m really proud of. So I hope to do more of that, and I am gearing up to apply to grad school and I want to be a professor of American Studies or History and read and write for as long as I can.