Monday, January 18, 2010

Show 45 - Dope Head Blues



Drugs and music seem inextricably linked. It certainly shows up in some of the early recorded blues. The word dope came around during the 19th century opium craze. But by 1927, when Victoria Spivey recorded Dope Head Blues (with Lonnie Johnson on guitar and Porter Grainger on piano) the term could apply to all kinds of drugs. Dope Head Blues is about the difficulties of drug addiction and a drug-induced delusional fantasy about being rich, important and healthy:

Just give me one more sniff of, another sniff of that dope
Just give me one more sniff of, another sniff of that dope
I'll catch a cow like a cowboy, and throw a bull without a rope


Doggone, I've got more money than Henry Ford or John D. ever had
Doggone, got more money than Henry Ford or John D. ever had
I bit a dog last Monday and forty doggone dogs went mad


Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt
Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt
Got double pneumonia and still I think I got the best health


Say, Sam
Go get my airplane and drive it up to my door
Aw, Sam, go get my airplane and drive it to my door
I think I'll fly to London, these monkey men makes mama sore


The president sent for me, the Prince of Wales is on my trail
The president sent for me, the Prince of Wales is on my trail
They worry me so much, I'll take another sniff and put them both in jail
Willie the Weeper was already an old song when Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon recorded it in 1927. Jaxon's version of the song would influence Cab Calloway's hit Minnie the Moocher a few years later. Willie the Weeper goes back to the Vaudeville era and tells the story of a drug-using chimney sweep that, like the protagonist of Victoria Spivey's song, engages in fantasy when he gets high:

Have you heard the story, folks, of Willie the Weeper?
Willie's occupation was a chimney sweeper
He had a dreaming habit, he had it kind of bad,
Listen, let me tell you about the dream he had


Dreamed he bought a hound from a man that lived in Turkey
He told the gals who's dancing all to make it kind of jerky
Danced until she wore the carpets off the floor
And said, you haven't done nothing, just do it once more


At the North Pole, someone shouted "Willie!"
Turned around and saw a sight that knocked him silly
Right before him in the zero breeze
A nudie chimp(?) was dancing in his BVDs


He walked around, and his feet started freezing
Someone said, "Kid, you better listen to reason"
Says, "I want my coffee, want it good and strong
I want to have biscuits eighteen inches long"


Now tell me, what would you do
If you could have all of your dreams come true?
Why there's something tells me that you'd lock your door
Like Willie the Weeper, and cry for more


Now take my little ship, dream's about over
Called the best from up on the shore
Hump on a camel, hump on a flea
Put them two humps together, you got nothing on me


Now tell me, what would you do
If you could have all of your dreams come true
There's something tells me that you'd lock your door,
Like Willie the Weeper, and cry for -- please go away and let me sleep
Don't disturb my slumber deep
Something tells me that you'd lock your door
Like Willie the Weeper, and cry for more, more, more, more, more
Marijuana became popular as a recreational drug in the second decade of the 20th century. It was criminalized by Congress in 1937. Drugs are probably more associated with jazz than blues, and the Harlem Hamfats bridged those two musical worlds perfectly. The Hamfats were also frequent accompanists to Frankie Jaxon later in his career. Weed Smoker's Dream is another fantasy about being rich recorded in 1936.

Sitting on a million, sitting on it every day
Can’t make no money giving your stuff away
Why don’t you do now, like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market and make a million too


Fay's a betting woman, she bets on every hand
She’s a tricking mother for you every where she land
Why don’t you do now like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market and make a million too


May's a good looking frail, she lives down by the jail
On her back though she got hot stuff for sale
Why don’t you do now like the millionaires do
Put your stuff on the market and make a million too
In 1938, Jazz Gillum recorded a song complaining about his woman using too much. Reefer Head Woman:

I can't see why my baby sleeps so sound
Well, I can't see why my baby sleeps so sound
She must have smoked that reefer and it's bound to carry her down


When I left her this morning, I left her sleeping sound
When I left her this morning, I left her sleeping sound
The only way she could kiss me is to run like a full bloodhound


She said she was going to leave, going to some no good town
She said she was going to leave, going to some no good town
She was a rough-cutting woman, she didn't like to break them down


If you got a good woman, mens, please don't take her around
If you got a good woman, mens, please don't take her around
She will get full of reefers and raise sand all over this town
Reefer-Head Woman featured Big Bill Broonzy and Washboard Sam. Those guys played another drug-related song recorded for Bluebird this time under then name Wasboard Sam and His Washboard Band. The song's about giving up pimping for the better money available selling dope. Bucket's Got a Hole in It:


Oh my bucket's got a hole in it, Oh my bucket got a hole in it, Oh my bucket got a hole in it
Can't buy no beer
When you walking down Thirty-First Street, you had better look around
The vice squad is on the beat and you'll be jailhouse bound
I was standing on the corner, everything was going slow
Can't make no money, tricks ain't walking no more

Going to start a little racket, going to start it out right
Going to sell moonshine in the day and sell the dope at night
Then if I can't make no money, going to catch the Santa Fe
Going to drink good liquor and let all women be


Piano player Curtis Jones was a prolific recording artist in both the pre-war period and later. In 1938 he recorded Reefer Hound Blues:
I'm high up on my reefer, I'm nothing but a reefer hound
I'm high up on my reefer, I'm nothing but a reefer hound
My gage has just hit bottom(?), I believe I'll lay my body down


My whole body is king, I feel like I'm a millionaire
My whole body is king, I feel like I'm a millionaire
If I'm broke, I still got money, If I'm hungry, I don't even care


Lord, I really like my gage, that weed you call the reefer tea
I really like my gage, that weed you call the reefer tea
It's done sent my whole body and it sure feels good to me


This weed I've been smoking, it's done sent my very soul
This weed I've been smoking, it's done sent my very soul
And nobody could imagine, unless it's another cat who blows


I'm so high, I swear I'm as high as I could
I am so high, I'm as high as I can be
I'm so doggone high, the sun and sky even look low to me
In 1941, New pianist Champion Jack Dupree recorded the first version of a song that had been around New Orleans for a few years and would become something of a drug anthem and an incredibly influential song on countless New Orleans musicians. Junker Blues:
They call, they call me a junker
Cause I'm loaded all the time
I don't use no reefer, I'll be knocked out with that angel wine


Six months, Six months ain't no sentence
And one year ain't no time
They got boys in penitentiary doing from nine to ninety-nine


I was standing, I was standing on the corner
With my reefers in my hand
Upstairs the sergeant took my reefers out of my hand


My brother, my brother used a needle
and my sister sniffed cocaine
I don't use no junk, I'm the nicest boy you ever seen
My mother, my mother she told me
and my father told me too
That that junk is a bad habit, why don't you leave it too?


My sister she even told me
And my grandma told me too
That using junk partner was going to be the death of you
The 1941 storyteller is in denial while his family and the police sergeant try and get him off the junk. That's unlike some of the later versions of the song (many recorded as Junko Partner) where the drug use is openly embraced.

Whether legal or illegal, drugs were a part of the lives of blues musicians and they sang about it. Almost all of the songs recognize the difficulties of a lifestyle that includes drug use. Delusions, harm to your health, time in jail they all show up. And like most blues, it includes trouble caused by women.


Songs:
Dope Head Blues - Victoria Spivey
Willie the Weeper - Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon
Weed Smoker's Dream - Harlem Hamfats
Reefer Head Woman - Jazz Gillum
Bucket's Got a Hole in It - Washboard Sam and his Washboard Band
Reefer Hound Blues - Curtis Jones
Junker Blues - Champion Jack Dupree

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