Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cocaine blues

A couple of days ago, my iPod played me Hank Thompson's "Cocaine Blues", an insanely cheerful Western swing song about killing a woman and ending up in jail - the darker version by Johnny Cash live at Folsom Prison is better known. The song is a version of the old folk song "Little Sadie".

Then, a day later, my computer played me Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne playing "Cocaine Blues", a completely different song of the same name. My curiousity was piqued, and I rooted about on the web, and ended up half-rewriting the song's wikipedia page. Here is the part I edited, on the versions that aren't the Johnny Cash one. Obviously, it is not all written by me, but based on a skeleton provided by previous editors. I imagine it will in turn be edited out of recognition, so I thought I'd put it here to preserve it, with all its flaws (already I notice I've mis-typed Ramblin' Jack Elliot), for posterity.

"Cocaine Habit Blues"/"Take a Whiff on Me"

Another song is often known as “Cocaine Blues” but is completely different; it also known, in its different versions, as “Take a Whiff on Me” and “Cocaine Habit Blues”. This song has three families of variants.

One of the most familiar, usually known as “Cocaine Blues” is Reverend Gary Davis’ arrangement, an eight-bar blues in C Major. Davis says he learnt the song in 1905 from a travelling carnival musician, Porter Irving.[2][3] This version is made up of rhyming couplets, followed by a refrain “Cocaine, running all around my brain” or “Cocaine, all around my brain”).[4] The song is sometimes known as “Coco Blues”, as on Davis’ 1965 album Pure Religion and Bad Company.

Gary Davis was a key influence on the folk revival singers of the early 1960s, including Dave Van Ronk, who learnt this version of “Cocaine Blues” from Davis (it features on his 1963 album Folksinger) and Bob Dylan (a 1961 variant features on The Minnesota Tapes, a 1962 variant is on Gaslight Tapes[2] and third version is on more recent live album Lovesick[3]).[4] (However, on Van Ronk’s record, the song is wrongly credited to Luke Jordan, who recorded a completely different of the same name, see below.)[5][6]

Davis’ version of “Cocaine Blues” was subsequently recorded by a number of artists in the folk revival/singer-songwriter tradition, including Dick Farina and Eric von Schmidt (1963), Hoyt Axton (1963 on Thunder 'n Lightning)Davey Graham (1964, on Folk, Blues and Beyond), Nick Drake (on Tanworth-in-Arden 1967-68), Warren Zevon (1976, on The Offender Meets The Pretender[5]), Jackson Browne (1977, on Running on Empty), Stefan Grossman (1978, on Acoustic Guitar), Townes Van Zandt (1993 on Roadsongs) and Ramblni' Jack Elliott (1995, on South Coast), as well as by the punk band UK Subs[7]. “Sweet Cocaine” by Fred Neil (1966) is loosely based on the same song.[8]

The refrain, “Cocaine runnin’ all ‘round my brain”, was used by reggae artist Dillinger in "Cocaine In My Brain" (“I've got cocaine runnin' around my brain”) and more recently in turn by hip hop group Poor Righteous Teachers in the song “Miss Ghetto” on the album The New World Order (“She's like cocaine, running around my brain/Miss Ghetto be like cocaine, running around your brain”).

Secondly, “Take a Whiff on Me” (again often known as “Cocaine Blues”) shares chords and many rhyming couplets with this song, but with the refrain “Honey, take a whiff on me” instead of “Cocaine runnin’ all ‘round my brain”. This version is most strongly associated with Lead Belly, whose version opens with “Walked up Ellum and I come down Main.” (“Ellum”, “Elem” and “Dep Elem” in various version, refers to Elm Street in Dallas, in that city’s red light district.[9])The song was first published by John Lomax in 1934 as "Honey, Take a Whiff on Me". Lomax stated that its origins were uncertain.[10]

Variants on the Lead Belly version have been recorded by Blind Jesse Harris (1937), Woody Guthrie, Roy Bookbinder, Merle Travis, The Byrds (1970), Mungo Jerry (as “Have a Whiff on Me”, 1971 single), The White Stripes and others.[6]

A third, very closely related to this version is the one also commonly known as “Cocaine Habit Blues”, recorded by the Memphis Jug Band in 1930 (credited to Jennie Mae Clayton).[11] It was a jug band standard, later recorded by the Panama Limited Jug Band and by Jerry Garcia in Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions in 1964.[7] It has an introductory verse “Oh cocaine habit mighty bad”.[8]

The song “Take a Drink with Me”/”Take a Drink on Me”, recorded by white old-time musicCharlie Poole in 1927 and collected by various folklorists[12], is a variant on “Take A Whiff On Me”, with alcohol rather than cocaine as the drug of choice. This in turn has been performed by a number of artists in the folk music and country music traditions, including the New Lost City Ramblers.[9] It shares some words with Frank Hutchison’s 1927 ballad “Coney Isle”.[13] performer

“Tell It to Me”

“Tell It to Me”, another traditional song of unknown authorship, is often known as “Cocaine Blues”.[14] Also called "Let The Cocaine Be", some musicologists see a relationship to "Take A Whiff On Me" since some versions share the same lines.[15] It has a similar structure to “Take A Whiff”/”Cocaine Habit Blues”, and some versions share couplets (e.g. “Cocaine's [dose] is not for a man/Doctor said will kill you, but he don't say when” and “You know I walked down Fifth and I turned down Main/Looking for a nickel for to buy cocaine” [10]), but the refrain is darker: “Cocaine that killed my honey dead”. It may also share some relationship to the Western swing version; its chorus contains the lines:

Tell it to me, tell it to me.
Drink corn liquor, let the cocaine be.

A version was collected (as “Cocaine”) by folklorist Mellinger Edward Henry (1873-1946) in his Folk Songs from the Southern Highlands from the singing of Barnet George, Lithonia, Georgia, July 1931[11]. The earliest recorded version is by white Tennesse band The Grant Brothers in 1928 (Columbia 15332-D).[16] It has been recorded by numerous folk revival artists[12][ http://www.deaddisc.com/songs/Tell_It_To_Me.htm], including David Grisman and the New York City Ramblers at the Newport Folk Festival. Grisman collaborated with the Grateful Dead[13] It has more recently been covered by The Old Crow Medicine Show and White Ghost Shivers. in 1970, and they included it in their live repertoire at that time.

"Cocaine"

Another song of the same title (sometimes called simply "Cocaine" or "Simply Wild About My Good Cocaine") was recorded by black bluesman Luke Jordan in 1927 (lyrics are here http://www.mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=8060).[17] This song was also recorded by white bluesman Dick Justice in 1929/30 (lyrics are here: http://www.cocaine.org/cocaine.htm). A version was recored, under the title "Good Cocaine (Mama Don't Allow It)" by the Kentucky Ramblers. David Bromberg recorded a version as "Cocaine Blues". The Luke Jordan lyrics share some lines ("Cocaine's for horses and not for men/Doctor says it'll kill you but don't know when") with "Take a Whiff on Me" as recorded by Lead Belly and the Reverend Gary Davis version of "Cocaine Blues" as recorded by Bob Dylan.

1 comment:

kayla said...

Please you can enjoy the song but don't enjoy with cocaine. once you use it, you can't stay away from it. keep step away from cocaine

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kayla

Crack Cocaine