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Vipers and Doobie Ashtrays: a Texan history of marijuana music

August 13, 2014

willie-nelson-pot-marijuana

Though the slang has changed, singing about weed has been a staple of Texas music since the early hours of its recorded history. Here’s a brief (and certainly incomplete) retrospective look at songs and artists down for the marijuana sounds.

“La Cucaracha” / Traditional corrido

Most people on the North American continent know the melody of this Spanish-language folk tune, but they may not be familiar with the lyrics’ green tinge. In the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa’s supporters altered the first stanza to trash-talk usurping president Victoriano Huerta, a man of notorious vice. “La cucaracha, la cucaracha,” it goes, “can’t walk anymore / because it doesn’t have / marijuana to smoke.” A staple of Texan songbooks since the revolution, “La Cucaracha” has since been recorded by Piñata Protest, Doug Sahm and the Kumbia Kings.

 

“The Viper’s Moan” / Willie Bryant and his Orchestra feat. Teddy Wilson / 1935

Old school jive update: Viper means a weed smoker, an onomatopoetic for the psst sound of pulling from a joint, a ubiquitous noise among jazz musicians. In 1935, singer Willie Bryant laid down “The Viper’s Moan,” a lively big band tune led by the extraordinary Texan stride pianist Teddy Wilson.

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