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YouTube Gold: Cocaine Blues

Be smart and take the advice

Photo of Woody Guthrie
Woody Guthrie was one of many who sang Cocaine Blues

Cocaine has a long and complex history in the United States.

For a long time, like virtually all drugs, it was legal and easily available. It was an early ingredient in Coca-Cola before the company dropped it largely due to public pressure.

Cocaine was outlawed in the US in 1914 and use declined but it remained popular among musicians.

In the 1970s, usage soared as the Colombian cartels began to export it in vast quantities and in 1986, when Maryland supernova Len Bias died of an overdose, the public turned firmly against it again. Many laws were passed against the drug and its stepchild from hell, crack cocaine. In general people began to understand that it was not a harmless drug and in fact was wreaking havoc across the country.

But the same musicians who used it all along could have told us that messing with it was a bad idea.

There were two songs called Cocaine Blues that were recorded by multiple artists.

One is a soft blues lament about addiction while in the other, a more raucous country song, a guy sings that “I took a shot of cocaine and I shot my woman down” and went on the run.

He got caught and in the end warns “stay off that cocaine and let that whiskey be.”

Good advice always but especially today when we keep reading about drugs being cut with Fentanyl which has led to tens of thousands of deaths.

Here are several versions of both songs. You’ll notice that Keith Richards did his version as nearly a direct copy of what Mississippi John Hurt did much earlier and in the Billy Hughes recording, he kills his baby and her lover and runs to El Paso rather than Mexico, but makes it a point to take his hypodermic, kindly warning his listeners to never use a needle “more than twice.”



George Thorogood