Texas quartet Bubble Puppy was one of literally thousands of late ‘60s and early ‘70s bands to break up at the hands of vicious industry mismanagement. With a name lifted from the Beverly Hillbillies, their first single “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” landed at #14 on the Billboard 100 and scored the band a contract with International Artists alongside the now legendary Red Krayola and 13th Floor Elevators. However, the 1969 debut album also called Hot Smoke and Sassafras landed in the marketplace with barely promotion while IA was simultaneously financially crippling the band as the label went down in flames. So they moved out to the Mecca of LA in search of glory, narrowly avoiding have their gear repossessed by their drowning former label in the process.
Under the legal stress in the wake of IA’s implosion, Bubble Puppy changed their name to the title of a Herman Hesse novel, much like Steppenwolf. As Demian, they quickly signed a new contract to ABC-Dunhill, who immediately turned out to be no better than their former management, a fact compounded by the strain of living in such a disjointed, perennial rat race city. Although they secured time at the renowned Record Plant, they were given the rarely coveted 10p.m. to 6 a.m. slot and tensions within the collective slowly spread thin. Before that, the band was used to jamming whenever the mood took them, but in LA it had to be on demand, while their living situation went from amicable commune to alienating commute.
Demian’s self-titled debut (or sophomore, depending on how you see it) hit the streets in 1971. Showing their cards or lack thereof, ABC did nothing to connect the modest success of Bubble Puppy to Demian. They practically refused to promote the album at all, as they sent the band back to their native Texas on a meager six-week tour of dive bars. That was the end of the money and the album naturally made not a blip in the charts. After that, as things were slowly shaping up the same way for their third album, they tore up the latest advance cheque and went their separate ways.
Hot Smoke and Sassafras remains a classic work of late ‘60s psychedelic hard rock and a high point for the Beverly Hillbillies in pop culture (this being a couple decades away from Weird Al’s “Money For Nothing” parody). The eponymous Demian record only took the dueling lead guitar sound of the debut deeper into the ‘70s, where it sounded at home all along, and the recording quality thoroughly improved in the still recognized LA studio. The album should have seen them enter Led Zeppelin territory. Instead, you can only listen for moments of struggle. The differences in “Todd’s Tune”, as heard on the debut, compared to the Demian version is palpable. The youthful vigor and optimism of the first incarnation gave way to a disillusioned yearning as the group drifted apart in a sea of smog and sepia toned spotlights. The experience left them so soured, they effectively broke up until 16 years later, when Wheels Go Round squeaked out to little fanfare. It was history’s loss.