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

Peter Cape: Coffee Bar Blues (1959)

Peter Cape: Coffee Bar Blues (1959)

The idiosyncratic Peter Cape (1926-79) has appeared at Elsewhere's From the Vaults previously, with his Kiwi vernacular classic She'll Be Right (here). He wrote about things that ordinary jokers... > Read more

Eddie Floyd: I Stand Accused (1967)

Eddie Floyd: I Stand Accused (1967)

Although best known for his backbeat-driven hits Knock on Wood and Raise Your Hand in 1967 -- both of which came from his Knock on Wood album -- and for writing 634-5789 with Steve Cropper for... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . MARNI NIXON: The voice of the famous faces

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . MARNI NIXON: The voice of the famous faces

When the American singer Marni Nixon died in July 2016, her passing was barely noted in the music press. Major newspapers like the New York Times weighed in with obituaries, but the silence from... > Read more

Alice Coltrane: Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop/Southbound)

Alice Coltrane: Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop/Southbound)

Although well-known in jazz circles for albums such as A Monastic Trio, Ptah the El Daoud, Universal Consciousness and others under her own name on the Impulse label, the pianist-composer Alice... > Read more