Named after a children’s game in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, SA psychedelic rock ‘n’ rollers Bubble Puppy formed in San Antonio in 1966 to help steer the South Texas psych scene towards (relative) commercial success. Their ’68 hit “Hot Smoke and Sassafras,” a viciously tight, wandering tune of fantasy imagery and self-discovery, went to No. 14 on the Billboard chart and earned Houston’s International Artists label its greatest hit. Though the label helped champion the Texas psych of Bubble Puppy and the 13th Floor Elevators, poor business practices nudged both bands away from International Artists, sending Bubble Puppy towards California. Changing their name to Demian, the Bubble Puppy boys released one more LP, ’71’s Demian, before calling it quits the following year. And so, the Bubble Puppy material sat in the vaults until 2011, when Austin Chronicle co-founder and music editor Margaret Moser invited the band to a musical revival at the Austin Chronicle Music Awards to claim their title as Texas psych forefathers. In anticipation of their performance at Sam’s Burger Joint, the Current spoke with original Bubble Puppy members Rod Prince (guitar/vocals) and David Fore (drums).
What was the SA music scene like in the ’60s?
RP: San Antonio back then had a strong musical scene, a big city to be sure, but still that rural culture played a part. The music community was very tight-knit. Everyone knew everyone, like a family, without much in the way of showbiz competition.
How did “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” come about?
DF: We were rehearsing at the studio and we came up with the music but without any words. We always lived together back at the time and we were sitting around the TV and there was an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies on. Granny says, “Hot smoke and sassafrass, what is that?” and we built out from there.
RP: The name of the song was “Hot Smokin’ Sassafras,” but [International Artists] registered it as “Hot Smoke and Sassafras.”
How did International Artists mishandle Bubble Puppy?
DF: As we were coming to International Artists, the Elevators were leaving because they were dissatisfied [with] the way they were treated. Literally as they were walking out the door, we were walking in and they said, “Don’t sign with these guys.” We said, “We trust ‘em, we just want to make music.’ Todd [Potter, guitarist] and I were 17; what did we know? I don’t think we had a lawyer the whole time. A couple years later we were walking out the door and Ginger Valley was walking in and [we] said, “Don’t sign with these guys.” They literally said, “We trust ‘em, we just want to make music.” There was a lot of naivety going on there and a lot of rude awakenings. They were our management company, our publishing company and our recording company, which is a very bad idea.
Why did you change the band’s name to Demian?
DF: Well, bubblegum music came out. And if there’s anything we weren’t, it [was] bubblegum. But people associated us with bubblegum because of Bubble Puppy.
How’s the reunion been?
DF: Things are looking good. Right now we’re just polishing it up, it’s amazingly tight. I never realized how complicated it was until we started re-learning everything. I’ll listen to my drum parts and go, “Who is that guy?”
RP: We do all the Bubble Puppy songs, as well as some newer ones. Myself and Dave from the original Puppy have been joined by Mark Miller, Gregg Stegall and Jimmy Umstaddt. These guys grew up on the Puppy, and play the tunes better than they’ve ever been played. So at 66, I’m having the time of my life, immersed in the true essence of joy and magic!
Bubble Puppy feat. The MoDels, Crown, Creatura
7pm Sat, June 14
Sam’s Burger Joint
330 E Grayson