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

Blue Jeans: Reflections of My Life (1988)

Blue Jeans: Reflections of My Life (1988)

Does anyone buy CDs for their covers? Hmm. I've certainly bought more than a few records (more than a few score at a guess) for the cover art, whether it be funny, bizarre or just plain cool.... > Read more

Mavis Rivers: Farewell Samoa (1950)

Mavis Rivers: Farewell Samoa (1950)

Because her career as singer was mostly in the United States -- where Sinatra apparently called her the purest voice in jazz -- Mavis Rivers was for many decades after 1953, when she made the first... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

HOOKED: ANTI-DRUG FILMS FROM THE 30'S TO THE 70'S (Rocket/Triton DVD): Marijuana to murder in 15 minutes

HOOKED: ANTI-DRUG FILMS FROM THE 30'S TO THE 70'S (Rocket/Triton DVD): Marijuana to murder in 15 minutes

Every generation thinks it invents the same two things: swearing and sex. Equally, in the Western world at least, for the past century or so every generation gets the soundtrack it needs. And the... > Read more

Occult Detective Club: Crimes (Alive/Southbound)

Occult Detective Club: Crimes (Alive/Southbound)

This can perhaps be very brief. If you haven't heard a decent punky rock album since the Jam's In the City and All Mod Cons then this Dallas four-piece has an album for you. In fact you might... > Read more