Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Vipers and Doobie Ashtrays: a Texan history of marijuana music

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 4:07 PM


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.

“I’ve Got Levitation” / The 13th Floor Elevators / 1967

On the 13th Floor Elevators’ second LP Easter Everywhere, Roky Erickson doesn’t spell out the high, leaving listeners to guess the innuendo of levitation.


“Stoned Faces Don’t Lie” / Sir Douglas Quintet / 1971

Heavy on reverb and marijuana fumes, Doug Sahm sings the straight-up refrain on this joint from the Sir Douglas Quintet: “Stoned faces don’t lie / Baby when you’re high.” By ’71, Sahm and the quintet had returned from their five-year California exile, arriving as country champions to Austin’s cosmic cowboy scene.

“Purple Haze” / The Dicks / 1983

Texas punk legends the Dicks took up Jimi’s “Purple Haze” with fury on their ’83 sophomore release Kill From the Heart. But where the original reads as a marijuana celebration, the Dicks ramp up weed’s anxious effects, giving new meaning to the celebrated psych tune.

“Bring It On” / Geto Boys / 1993

On “Bring It On,” from the badass Till Death Do Us Part, Houston pioneers the Geto Boys tout their hard-knock lifestyle, talking weed and “40s of holy water.”

“Doobie Ashtray” / Devin the Dude / 2002

It isn’t a retrospective of Texas marijuana music without Houston weed rapper Devin the Dude. On “Doobie Ashtray,” the Dude raps a melancholy ode to the after-party, when everyone’s gone and someone took the remaining stash. “Why’d they do me that way?” asks an unfortunately clearheaded Devin.

“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” / Willie Nelson feat. Snoop Dogg / 2012

In 2012, on the counterculture holiday of April 20, Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg left a living will for a very specific form of cremation.

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