A Gathering of Promises: The Return of The Bubble Puppy
Leon casino, Photo courtesy of Lori Michaels
For far too many, Houston’s role in music history is rather two dimensional. In the national media especially, our city’s contributions are typically limited to A) Beyonce and B) ZZ Top. Done. Maybe Townes Van Zandt will get mentioned if you’re dealing with a particularly sharp outsider who knows his Americana. Somehow all the tastemakers and journalists (and certainly all of today’s supposedly all-knowing hipsters) seem to have never gotten the memo that for a period of a few short years during the sexual revolution, Houston was home to independent record label International Artists: a rare incubator for blues, rock and early psychedelic music, all with a distinctly Texas flavor. Unless you count the Red Krayola’s Mayo Thompson touring with an entirely new band (and doing mostly new music), or the 13th Floor Elevators’ Roky Erickson playing mostly post-Elevators material, the Bubble Puppy is the only IA band still gigging. Their insanely tight playing and Who-like vocal harmonies are something you’ll never hear on the Eagle (or the now long-gone Arrow), but the Bubble Puppy produced one perfect album at IA and every song on their set list is like a slice of warm, hallucinogenic apple pie.
You have maybe one of the coolest rock monikers/reputations of any rock band from your era-that is “the most feared opening act in rock”. It appears many places. Who gave you that title, and why do you think it stuck?
The most feared thing was from our habit of blowin’ most of the big name acts we played with off the stage. The Puppy was maybe the most well-rehearsed act out there in those days, when most others would just get out there and play. It was our life entirely, the music and the band-six to 10 hours daily, every day, and that made us mighty tough to get the best of. I sometimes think it was a detriment to a degree, in that nobody wants to headline a show with an opener that’s gonna make you look shabby [laughter].
Did you guys get to meet The Who at all when you opened for them in San Antonio in ‘67?
Ah, it’s common knowledge about the show with The Who. The day before the show, all of The Who except Roger came down to the club in San Antone where we rehearsed, and spent a couple hours jammin’. A fine time indeed for relative beginners like we were then, and after the show, Pete came to our place and we sat up most of the night talkin’ and joking. He’s a mighty fine person, and shared all manner of insights and career advice with us too.
Is it true that George Harrison wanted to do some kind of cover of “Hot Smoke and Sassafras”?
Well, the actual story is that Apple wanted to lease “Hot Smoke” and promote it, but of course IA wouldn’t let anyone that knew what they were doing handle anything they considered their property. One more instance of the greed and stupidity of those people, and another chance to really exploit the worldwide hit that “Hot Smoke” was was lost to IA’s foolishness. They had no clue what to do with a major hit record, and their idea of touring the Puppy was to send us to Chicago and book us in every little surrounding town for a pittance, when the major agencies would’ve had us all over the planet. Sad but true.
Do you have any plans to release Demian’s only album again?
We’ve talked of a remake of the Demian LP for sales at our shows, and I expect that to come to pass soon.
What are some challenges you encountered in your resurrection of the Bubble Puppy?
It’s been a challenge in a lot of ways, this return to performance. One of the toughest is the fact that I live two-and-a-half hours away from Austin, making rehearsal a major endeavor. Of course the major hard spot was the fact that I’d damaged my fretboard hand in ’90, and wasn’t able to play most of my old parts. This was neatly fixed by the genius of my old friend Mark Miller, who’s the only person I’ve ever know that could play my parts note for note, inflection for inflection-perfectly. In the time we’ve been together, I’ve gotten much better at it though, mostly from just playing again. But I sing more than I play these days, as you saw at the Continental. With those killer players, I don’t need to. This incarnation of the Puppy is more magical performance-wise than any other yet, and there’s no ego trips, no dissention or head games, just pure brotherhood and magic in the music. Mark, Gregg and Jimmy cut their musical teeth on the Puppy and Demian, so it’s been infinitely easy to make the band sound like the original. No, better than that, because of the joy and tight sense of family we all feel in the project. It’s a precious gift for me, and I treasure those guys.