Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson: Dope Head Blues (1927)

 |   |  <1 min read

Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson: Dope Head Blues (1927)

When Lou Reed took a bit of flak for writing about street life (drugs, hookers, transvestites) he just picked the wrong idiom. These topics were common enough in literature and pulp fiction, but new to rock music. Dope songs were certainly common in jazz and the blues -- in fact there has been a long tradition of singing about marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

These drugs were familiar in the jazz world and Louis Armstrong (a moderate drinker) was a daily smoker of marijuana right to the end of his life. He even wrote to President Eisenhower saying it should be legalised. In 1932 he recorded Kickin' the Gong Around, laughing throughout.

The history of jazz and blues is littered with songs about marijuana and cocaine: Herbert Payne's Smoke Clouds of 1917; Dick Justice's Cocaine ('28), the Memphis Jug Band's Cocaine Habit Blues ('30), Baron Lee and the Blue Rhythm Band's Reefer Man ('32), Stuff Smith's You'se a Viper of '43 ("I dreamed of a reefer five feet long") . . .

Spivey and Johnson's Dope Head Blues is just part of a long, and often funny, tradition: "Just give me one more sniffle, another sniffle of that dope, I'll catch a cow like a cowboy and throw a bull without a rope . . ."

Can't see Lou Reed as a bull wrangler though. (Cow tippin' maybe though, see here)

For more one-off or unusual songs with an interesting backstory see From the Vaults

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   From the Vaults articles index

Hotlegs: Neanderthal Man (1970)

Hotlegs: Neanderthal Man (1970)

It's not unusual for studio experiments to end up on records, less common that they become the record itself -- as was the case with this single. To backtrack a bit. The successful British... > Read more

The Fair Sect Plus One: I Love How You Love Me (1967)

The Fair Sect Plus One: I Love How You Love Me (1967)

Occasionally at the Herald, when I had written something about a Sixties rock band in New Zealand or a story about clubs of that era, one of the subs Trevor would come over for a chat. He was a man... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

CHRIS SQUIRE OF YES INTERVIEWED (2014): A career that's no disgrace

CHRIS SQUIRE OF YES INTERVIEWED (2014): A career that's no disgrace

Chris Squire – bassist and sole constant in Yes, the prog-rock band he founded – is reflecting on the group's longevity using the only reference point he had when the group formed.... > Read more

THE BARGAIN BUY: The Rolling Stones; Grrr!

THE BARGAIN BUY: The Rolling Stones; Grrr!

With the Rolling Stones promising (threatening?) a new album -- their first since A Bigger Bang in '05 -- it's maybe timely to look back at their catalogue courtesy of this triple CD collection... > Read more