1910: La Cucaracha
The Mexican Revolution of 1910 forced thousands of Mexicans north, with the weed in their luggage and Pancho Villa’s battle hymn, La Cucaracha, on their lips. The tune, the original lyrics to which concern a stoned cockroach, was to become a jazz standard.
“La cucaracha ya no puede caminar, por que no tiene marihuana por fumar” translates into: “The cockroach can’t walk anymore, because he doesn’t have any marihuana to smoke.”
1927: Willie the Weeper ? Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon
A ribald Vaudeville star and female impersonator, Frankie’s recordings were wild and laden with innuendo. In the earliest known reefer song ? the lyric of which Cab Calloway copied for Minnie the Moocher ? Jaxon’s accompanied only by piano and washboard, as heard on Viper Mad Blues.
1929: Muggles (Instrumental) ? Louis Armstrong
Recorded with pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines in Chicago, Satchmo’s best known reefer tune is a warm, lilting blues instrumental that passes the melody around like a joint. The piano lights it up with a flame-like ripple, the trombone tokes, hands it to the clarinet, and then to Pops’ trumpet. There’s a pause and Satch hits an upward gliss as the herb kicks in. The tempo takes off and Pops wails.
1932: Reefer Man ? Cab Calloway
Also covered by Don Redman and his orchestra, as well as by Baron Lee & the Blue Rhythm Band. “Have you ever met that funny reefer man?/ Have you ever met that funny reefer man?/ If he says he walks the ocean/ Every time he takes the notion/ Then you know you’re talking to that reefer man.”
1932: The Man from Harlem ? Cab Calloway
“I’ve got just what you need. Come on, sisters, light up on these weeds and get high and forget about everything.”
1933: Gimme a Reefer ? Bessie Smith
Entitled Gimme A Pigsfoot when originally released, with only one sly mention of reefer slipped into the final chorus so that slower folks would catch on that Bessie wasn’t wailing ’bout no pork.
1934: A Viper’s Drag (Instrumental) ? Fats Waller
The creation of Fats’ Rhythm group and their first recordings for the Victor label in 1934 marked a swinging new trend in jazz.
1934: Sendin’ the Vipers (Instrumental) ? Mezz Mezzrow
With Willie “the Lion” Smith on piano and Chick Webb on drums.
1934: Song of the Vipers ? Louis Armstrong
Recorded in Paris with a band of French musicians, Pops scats through the first part of the tune, which ends with a wailing horn solo. Pulled from the stores when the record company cottoned on to its meaning, it took decades for this gem to be reissued in the US.
1935: Anybody Here Want to Buy My Cabbage? ? Lil Johnson
“Now, I’ve got good cabbage, ain’t no mustard greens/ I raised my sprouts down in New Orleans… Now, I’ve got good cabbage, smelling mighty sweet/ I carry my cabbage to Thirty-fifth Street… Now, my cabbage is mighty good/ The best old cabbage in the neighborhood/ Is there anybody here want to buy my cabbage?/ Just holler hey-hey!”
1936: You’se a Viper ? Stuff Smith and Onyx Club Boys
“Dreamt about a reefer/ Five feet long/ Mighty Mezz, but not too strong/ You’ll be high, but not for long/ If you’se a viper…”
Originally recorded by the King of the Swing violin, Stuff Smith, and also recorded by Bob Howard in 1938. Fats Waller recorded a version he called The Reefer Song in 1943.
1936: Here Comes the Man With Jive ? Stuff Smith and the Onyx Club Boys
An early celebration in song of the kindly neighborhood marijuana dealer.
1936: All the Jive is Gone ? Andy Kirk and the Twelve Clouds of Joy
“All the jive is gone!/ All the jive is gone!/ What an awful fix, can’t get my kicks/ ‘Cause all the jive is gone!”
1938: That Cat is High ? The Ink Spots
This seminal vocal harmony groups’ classic was covered by Manhattan Transfer and is included on their anthology, Down in Birdland.
1938: Viper Mad ? Sidney Bechet with Noble Sissle’s Swingsters
The New Orleans legend who introduced the soprano saxophone as a jazz instrument in the 1920’s, Sidney Bechet roped in Sissle’s vipers to sing: “Wrap your chops ’round this stick of tea/ Blow this gage and get high with me/ Good tea is my weakness, I know it’s bad/ It sends me gate and I can’t wait, I’m viper mad.” This song is featured on the soundtrack to Woody Allen’s movie, Sweet & Lowdown.
1938: Reefer Head Woman ? Jazz Gillum and the Jazz Boys
Featuring Big Bill Broonzy on guitar and Washboard Sam. “I got a Reefer Headed Woman/ She fell right down from the sky (good Lord)/ I got a Reefer Headed Woman/ She fell right down from the sky… Lord, I gots to drink me two fifths of whiskey/ Just to get half as high.” Aerosmith performed a version on their 1979 album, Night in the Ruts.
1941: Knocking Myself Out ? Lil Green
“Listen girls and boys I got one stick/ Give me a match and let me take a whiff quick/ I’m gonna knock myself out, I’m gonna kill myself/ I’m gonna knock myself out, gradually, by degrees.”
1944: Save the Roach for Me ? Buck Washington
“Folks say that I’m lonesome/ Say I’m blue as I can be/ But if you’re smoking that jive when I pass by/ Then save the roach for me.”
1944: Santa’s Secret ? Johnny Guarnieri & Slam Stewart
The parting song on the legendary Savoy jazz Christmas album, Christmas Blues, is this tribute to the recently deceased Fats Waller, in which Santa is a viper!
1945: Sweet Marijuana Brown ? Barney Bigard Sextet
“In her victory garden, the seeds grow all around/ She plants, she dig, she’s flipped her wig/ Sweet Marijuana Brown.”
1945: The G Man Got the T Man ? Cee Pee Johnson
“Cats can’t buy their jive at night/ So now they hurry home/ since the G man got the T man and gone/ They have to drink their lush and stagger/ Even though they know its wrong/ Cause the G man got the T man and gone/ They’ve arrested my connection/ And I can’t find any more/ Cause the G man got the T man and gone.”
? Many pot songs are available on Reefer Songs and Viper Mad Blues from Mojo Records.