Bobby BeauSoleil is an American musician and multi-disciplined artist who has produced a wide-ranging body of original recorded music, sound design and visual art, most of it over the past five decades while doing time behind bars for a murder he committed in his youth. Publishing artistic works at a level unprecedented for a prisoner of the state, these pursuits became the path BeauSoleil chose in seeking redemption for the crime he committed in 1969, at the age of 21 — a crime he has long characterized as having been motivated by petty and cowardly objectives. Distinguishing himself with dedication and perseverance in creative endeavor, BeauSoleil has largely transcended his past failings and imprisonment.
Read essay "Manifesto of an Artist in Prison"
Born in Santa Barbara, California, on November 6, 1947, and christened Robert Kenneth Beausoleil at birth by his working-class parents, Bobby BeauSoleil was the first born of five children in a typical Catholic family of post-WWII America. During that period Santa Barbara was sleepy and staid, often said by its residents to be "a town for the newly wed and nearly dead." Feeling suffocated and uninspired in that environment, BeauSoleil, after a few minor brushes with the law in his early teens, left home for good at the age of 15 to join the fledgling counterculture music scene in Los Angeles.
BeauSoleil landed his first stint as a professional musician at age 17 when he joined the folk-rock band The Grass Roots (later renamed Love), fronted by irascible singer-songwriter Arthur Lee. In late 1965, BeauSoleil relocated to San Francisco, whereupon he became founding member of The (Electric Chamber) Orkustra, a prog-rock ensemble that became renowned in the Bay Area counterculture concert circuit for its signature psychedelic instrumentals.
Underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger encountered BeauSoleil in mid-1967, during a performance by The Orkustra. Impressed by the young musician's talent and charisma, Anger asked BeauSoleil to star in his new film, Lucifer Rising, an antithetical follow up to his earlier film success, the biker-themed Scorpio Rising. To avoid being distracted from his music career, BeauSoleil agreed to accept the acting role in the new film on the condition that the filmmaker allow him to compose and perform its musical soundtrack. A bargain was struck, and BeauSoleil set about forming a new band. The Magick Powerhouse of Oz, as a vehicle for performing his compositions for the soundtrack. Unfortunately, the project came to an abrupt halt in the fall of 1967, when Anger suffered an emotional breakdown.
Shortly after San Francisco's 'Summer of Love' sputtered to a nervous climax, BeauSoleil moved back to Los Angeles to explore new directions in his music career, including solo performing and recording session guitarist. In early 1968, BeauSoleil met aspiring singer-songwriter Charles Manson, beginning a sporadic association over the next year and a half. BeauSoleil, like Dennis Wilson, drummer in The Beach Boys, and others involved in the Los Angeles music scene, saw in Manson a unique raw music talent. He agreed to help Manson record some demo tapes showcasing Manson's songs.
In unrelated circumstances, BeauSoleil became caught up in events that led to the murder of another friend and associate of Manson and his communal following, some of whom were involved in the murder. When he speaks of the crime at all, BeauSoleil describes it as a tragedy that arose out of desperate paranoia and a series of bumbling misjudgements. BeauSoleil was arrested for the crime and sitting in jail when Manson and members of his commune committed the infamous murders the group would become known for, greatly exacerbating the conditions of BeauSoleil’s confinement over the subsequent decades.
Following his criminal conviction in 1970, BeauSoleil was sent to state prison at San Quentin, first to death row for two years, then to the general prison population when his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment with eligibility for parole after 7 years. His first several years of incarceration were tumultuous, marked by altercations with members of prison gangs. He has described having an awakening that pulled him off the self-destructive path he had been on. At that crossroads in his life he foreswore violence and vowed to dedicate himself to life-affirming creative pursuits in the hope that they would honor the man whose life he had taken.
BeauSoleil began drawing in earnest, while studying the work of other artists, and exploring various modes of creative expression in visual media, along with continuing to expand his knowledge of music and related technologies. At the state prison in Tracy, California, BeauSoleil set about the task of developing a music program, the first that had been at that prison since the 1950s. Over the intervening decades BeauSoleil would facilitate the installation of music programs and other creative arts programs for prison inmates at many other prisons in both California and Oregon.
In 1975, Kenneth Anger returned to New York City from England, where he had found new funding for his Lucifer Rising film project. Anger had shot footage for the film at locations in Europe and Egypt, featuring Marianne Faithful, Donald Cammell, Leslie Huggins and Myriam Gibril in acting roles. He had tapped Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) to create the musical score for the film. Anger had decided to move back to New York after an argument with Page over (according to Anger) the direction of the project.
When he learned that Anger had been dissatisfied with the results of Page's work on his soundtrack recordings, BeauSoleil contacted the filmmaker in New York and pitched the idea, through letters and phone calls, that he could compose and record the Lucifer Rising soundtrack in prison, with approval from the warden. Anger took a chance and supplied a roughly edited black and white print of the film and some modest recording equipment to prison staff for BeauSoleil's use. Editing from hours of raw recordings he made with his prison band, The Freedom Orchestra, BeauSoleil completed his part of the project and delivered the master tape of the soundtrack to Anger in 1979. The film debuted at a film festival in New York in 1980. The soundtrack album (LP) of BeauSoleil's score was released on the Lethal Records label that same year. The legendary soundtrack has been reissued numerous times in several formats on six different label imprints, including a 4-disk boxed anthology on the Ajna label, of all of BeauSoleil’s recordings for the soundtrack project entitled the The Lucifer Rising Suite.
BeauSoleil was married in 1981 to Barbara Ellen Baston, a union that survived the rigors imposed by BeauSoleil's incarceration for over three decades, until Barbara's untimely death from an abrupt illness in 2012. The longevity of the marriage may be attributed to the couple characterizing their marriage as a sacred partnership. For his part, BeauSoleil has often credited Barbara with being profoundly influential in his healing from the trauma of the crime he committed, and in his maturation. BeauSoleil remains devoted to this partnership through his abiding devotion to Barbara's children and grandchildren.
In 1994, after serving 25 years in prison and exhausting all available opportunities in the California prison system for upgrading his vocational training, BeauSoleil was transferred to the Oregon state prison system on the interstate prisoner exchange program. He had requested the transfer to be closer to his mother and other relations who were living in Oregon. Barbara followed her husband to Oregon and purchased a home there.
Upon his arrival at Oregon State Penitentiary the prison's administrative staff reviewed BeauSoleil's prison record and learned of his considerable training and experience with media technology. The staff asked BeauSoleil to take a leadership role in establishing a video production installation at the prison. For the next twenty years BeauSoleil functioned as the multimedia specialist for the Oregon Department of Corrections. During that period BeauSoleil produced a dizzying array of informational and training videos for educating both inmates and staff, videos and multimedia projects in support of youth outreach programs, programs promotion, event documentation, and more.
The prison authorities in Oregon reciprocated BeauSoleil's contributions to their programs by supporting his personal creative aspirations. While he was incarcerated in the Oregon system BeauSoleil recorded and produced six albums of original music, and released them to the public. The most recent was the ambitious double concept album Voodoo Shivaya, a work metaphorically documenting BeauSoleil's personal journey as a seeker after higher truth that took BeauSoleil seven years to complete. BeauSoleil also significantly expanded his body of paintings and drawings while in the Oregon system.
The California Board of Parole Hearings ordered BeauSoleil's return to the California prison system in late 2015, after he had been in the Oregon system for 21 years. It was deemed that with both his wife and mother having died there was no longer a justification for BeauSoleil to remain in the Oregon system. On January 3, 2019, that same agency found BeauSoleil suitable for parole after his having served half a century of imprisonment. He awaits release from prison.
ed. publicist, 2019