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Blast from the past


Peter Mongillo

Before Austin/Houston psychedelic rock band Bubble Puppy performed at last year's Austin Music Awards, they went to work. Their first performance in more than 25 years meant getting back to where they could play decades-old songs, including "Hot Smoke and Sassafras," the 1968 hit that put the group on the map.

In some cases, drummer David Fore, who can be heard around town holding down the beat for the Eggmen and the Kopy Kats, wasn't even sure what the 17-year-old David Fore was doing on the recordings. "It was like a different person almost," he says.

The work paid off, and the band played well, earning compliments from publications including Rolling Stone, whose Chuck Eddy was in town for South by Southwest and called their sound "huge" and "kind of gorgeous."

The band enjoyed themselves, too, enough to agree to keep going. A December show at the Saxon Pub yielded similar results. "I couldn't believe it," Fore says. "The energy in the room was insane."

Friday night at Antone's, Bubble Puppy returns again. It isn't the first time they've tried reunion shows — they got back together in 1984 (which resulted in a live album, "Wheels Go Round") — but this time around more fans are coming out, something Fore attributes to the same thing that is helping younger bands reach audiences.

"We tried this in ‘75, and we couldn't find anybody," Fore says. "We couldn't find our crowd; there was no way to advertise. Now with Facebook, it's just awesome."

The band formed in 1966 in San Antonio with Roy Cox, Rod Prince, Clayton Pulley, Todd Potter and Danny Segovia. Fore was in the audience when the band opened for the Who. "They blew my mind," Fore says of Bubble Puppy. He joined, and a year later the band moved to Austin, where they began opening shows for bands including Shiva's Headband.

Their time in Austin didn't last long — a recording contract with International Artists, who put out albums by the 13th Floor Elevators, among others, led them to Houston. They released "Hot Smoke and Sassafras" at the end of 1968. A fiery piece of rock and roll, the band combined searing guitar riffs with more spacey elements to create a hit.

They developed a reputation as a killer live act, hitting the road with Steppenwolf and even upstaging them. "It got to where Steppenwolf wouldn't even come over," Fore says. "Back in the day we would get encores sometimes and Steppenwolf wouldn't."

Fans of the band know how the rest of the story played out. In 1970, because of what they saw as a lack of support from the label, the band moved back to Austin and then on to California, where they changed their name to Demian. They broke up in 1972.

That's the past, though. Bubble Puppy's current lineup, which consists of original members Prince (vocals, guitar), Potter (vocals, guitar) and Fore (drums), as well as Mark Miller (vocals, guitar) and Jimi Umstattd (vocals, bass), are working on new material, which is faithful to the band's early vision. "We're trying to keep it fairly psychedelic and guitar-oriented," Fore says. "There's a reason you got popular, and you've got to at least pay homage to it, or you're in trouble."

Their return also comes at a time when a lot of younger bands are discovering their music. "I've seen kid bands playing ‘Hot Smoke and Sassafras'; it's amazing," Fore says. "It's really nice to be recognized. A whole generation of guitar players grew up listening to Rod and Todd."

Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696

Bubble Puppy with the Krayolas