Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

The Bubble Puppy—
Hot Smoke And Sasafrass/Lonely


Released 1968 on International Artists
The Seth Man, July 2003ce
The Bubby Puppy were a psychedelic Austin rock quartet who recorded the tenth of the original twelve albums released by the legendary Texan label, International Artists (and by that I mean excluding their “Epitaph For A Legend” double retrospective issued posthumously in 1979.) Entitled “A Gathering of Promises,” it would be The Bubble Puppy’s only album and interestingly, its cover seemed to signal a new dawn of professionalism in International Artists sleeve designs: the front cover sported a full colour photograph of the group decked out in the height of fashion while incredibly detailed lettering hovered above their hairy heads. Although in true I.A. fashion, the back cover was rendered crudely in coloured magic markers with psychedelic doodles collecting in all the unused blank space beyond the artist’s primitive though effective as hell rendition of The Bubble Puppy caught industriously jamming.

‘Primitive though effective as hell’ also describes what sticks out (in my mind, anyway) as The Bubble Puppy’s most enduring, powerful and best known moment: their first single, “Hot Smoke And Sasafrass.” It was also chosen as the first track on “A Gathering Of Promises” as it was where the full gestalt of the band was most exhaustively unleashed. Monumentally heavy though somehow compulsory drafted into the briefest of pop formats where nothing is wasted on anything extraneous cuz at a concise two and half minutes in length there’s ain’t no time for even a diminutive (though well-intentioned) harmonica solo. Nope: here the dope is boiled down to “Hot Smoke And Sasafrass” and is kinda like The Bubble Puppy’s own “Communication Breakdown” meets “Paranoid” on the corner of garage punk and proto-metal. So needless to say, it is one tightly wound, bulletproof hard and swift onslaught of a muthah. The twin guitars of bearded Rod Prince and Todd Potter shred it up while buttressed by the double-pummel of Roy Cox on conspicuously brazen bass and the crushingly hard driving drums of David “Fuzzy” Fore.

Opening with brief though upwardly roaring distortion that wrenches directly into chicken-clucking guitar scratch-ity-scratch into a tri-ply clutch of fuzztone riffs that cut into the inciting shebang of this truly sick puppy. The lead guitar gets immolated over and over by the far hairier and hairpin fuzz rhythm guitar that carries everything on its highly flammable riff. It operates more as a lead instrument, anyway and at times both guitars may be sounding off at once, it’s such a thick buzzsaw effect intensely informed by Jimmy Page’s playing on the heavier moments of the first Led Zeppelin album. (And seeing as another Texan band signed to I.A. -- The Inner Scene -- covered “Communication Breakdown” it’s not as farfetched as one might think.) “Hot Smoke And Sasafrass” continually pushes and re-blossoms outwards over and over and over again. You can get lost while listening to this track, thinking it’s time for that quiet mid-section breakdown but secretly hoping for another one of those dive-bombing sections...which luckily nine times outta ten always return. The only subtlety is when producer Ray Rush applies the slightest of phasing to the end of the second chorus that makes the punctuating crash cymbals sizzle and lurch. So subtle, you always listen for it and you never miss it. The restrained middle break is all appeasing solo guitar fretwork over reverberating bass while the drums continue onward cymbal-less but with the same unswerving pacing they’ve been keeping the whole time as the rhythm guitar sits this one out until it crashes wide open with the line “If you’re happy where you are/then you need not look too far...” BOOM! -- They’re off again continuing the same set of mind-crushing riffs and at the same breakneck speed that began it all. And with that dive-bombing Stuka rhythm guitar, rebounding lead guitar and the combination of those two elements being driven straight down the middle by the rhythm section’s motive going loco...Whoa, if these guys cut an ENTIRE album of material like this, they’d be my favourite International Artists recording artist of all time instead of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators (And that ain’t no lame claim at all -- I mean it.)

“Lonely” is the B-side, and is a far different approach from “Hot Smoke” altogether. In fact, it’s more stylistically in keeping with the rest of their album and therefore isn’t nearly as engaging as “Hot Smoke And Sasafrass.” The subdued vocal melodies are pushed to the front which cause for a far smaller ratio of Potter/Prince crosstalk fuzz guitars to blare out. It just lacks the furious focus that The Bubble Puppy had for those grand two and a half minutes on the other side. Oddly, “Lonely” was initially considered for placement on the A-side but luckily, wound up positioned in the back seat and thereby caused “Hot Smoke” to cut impressively loose on the charts big enough for International Artists to release three further Bubble Puppy singles in the hopes of following up with another hit. But ultimately it would be elusive and by 1970, The Bubble Puppy soon moved their base of operations to Los Angeles where they recorded a solitary album one name change later as Demian and dissipated soon afterwards.

If you have a workable turntable and a 45 adapter, buy this single. You’ll not only find it cheaper than a copy of “A Gathering Of Promises” on vinyl or CD, but it sounds better to boot. In fact, they’re as cheap and plentiful as mushrooms in cowpies cuz it was a regional hit not only in the USA but in Texas, too. (And you know how big Texas is, right?)