Johndavid Bartlett's story is a long lost chapter in the history of Texas psychedelic music; he was a singer and songwriter who traveled in the same circles as the 13th Floor Elevators and the Red Krayola and was briefly signed to the legendary International Artists label, but the album he recorded for the label was never released and his frustration with the music business led him to drop out of performing for decades, before he re-emerged in the 21st century.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas on October 8, 1950, Bartlett grew up in a household where his parents were fans of jazz, blues, and folk music, and he began learning to play guitar in his early teens after being given an old Martin acoustic that once belonged to his uncle. At age 15, Bartlett had graduated to a new Gibson J200, and he had developed a strong interest in both music and theater. In 1966, the 16-year-old Bartlett and his girlfriend, Billie Heron, were recruited by local producer Major Bill Smith (the man behind Paul & Paula, among other things) to record a single under the name Two Different; their sole recording, "Time Is Winding," was a commercial flop, but it gave Bartlett a calling card into the Texas rock music scene, and when his high-school English teacher Hazel Thompson introduced him to her son, Mayo Thompson, he learned Mayo had a band considerably further off the mainstream than Two Different. Mayo's group the Red Krayola played fractured psychedelic rock music informed both by the Theater of the Absurd (one of Bartlett's new passions) and local heroes the 13th Floor Elevators (who Johndavid had seen and enjoyed).
Bartlett became part of the Familiar Ugly, the retinue of noise-making counterculturalists who often joined the Red Krayola for their live performances, and after the band signed a record deal with International Artists Records, the local label that had spun the 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me" into a nationwide hit, Bartlett joined in with the Familiar Ugly to generate "free-form freakout" chaos between songs on the group's 1967 debut album, The Parable of Arable Land. By this time, Bartlett had begun writing his own songs, and Thompson liked them enough to suggest to International Artists that they should have Bartlett make an record of his own. The label's staff agreed, and Bartlett was signed to a three-album deal in early 1968, though Johndavid's father had to co-sign the contract since the artist was only 17.
One of Bartlett's first duties as an IA recording artist was to serve as driver and go-fer for blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins, who was cutting an album for the label; another was to help out on the recording session for the 13th Floor Elevators' final studio session, playing an ashtray as a percussion instrument for the song "May the Circle Remain Unbroken." In time, Bartlett began cutting sessions with producer Ray Rush at Gold Star Studio in Houston, and formed a short-lived band called the Eagles with guitarist Stacy Sutherland and drummer Danny Thomas, both members of the now-disintegrating 13th Floor Elevators. The Eagles never progressed beyond occasional jamming, and the slow progress of Bartlett's own album came to a halt when International Artists ran into financial difficulty and Bartlett, tired of dealing with the mismanaged label, walked away from his record deal in 1969; IA would close its doors for good two years later.
Johndavid was still performing regularly in Houston and Forth Worth, and in the fall of 1969 he served as MC and artist at a major Houston concert featuring the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Byrds. Bartlett and a group of fellow Texas hippies had formed a commune in 1969 called the Family Hand; in 1970, they relocated to New Mexico, and Bartlett started a new band called the Living Room Cat. Lou Adler expressed interest in signing the group to Ode Records, and Bartlett and his bandmates pulled up stakes for Los Angeles and potential rock stardom, but the experience soured Bartlett on making music for a living, and he returned to Texas in 1973. Bartlett worked in the oil industry, became a chef, helped manage the celebrated Forth Worth performing arts complex Caravan of Dreams, and worked in multimedia production, but stayed away from music as a professional concern (though he claimed to have co-written "Too Young to Date," a tune that became a minor hit for Texas new wave band D-Day).
In 2001, the terrorist attacks of September 11 convinced Bartlett he was foolish to ignore his muse in a world where time was precious, and he began performing again; Bartlett also self-released a collection of archival recordings, The Velvet Monkey Wrench. In 2012, the British specialist label Charly Records released Falling Through the Universe, Bartlett's first commercially released collection, featuring 20 tracks recorded between 1969 and 2006. ~ Mark Deming~ Rovi