Muggles, Vipers And Tea: The Jazz Roots Of Cannabis

Thanks to rock and hip hop, marijuana has been a staple of popular music since the 1960s. But its roots go further back than that. Some of the earliest jazz and blues recordings were dedicated to "reefer," "gage," "tea" and other slang words for marijuana. Here's a sampling of cannabis culture's musical roots - some of which predate American marijuana prohibition, which became law in 1937.

1. Louis Armstrong and 'Muggles' (1928)

Long before J.K. Rowling used "muggles" to mean people who can't use magic in the Harry Potter universe, the term was slang for marijuana. And the legendary jazz trumpeter was a huge fan of the term and the herb, so he paid homage to both with this instrumental ditty.

2. Lucille Bogan, 'Pot Hound Blues' (ca. 1929)

Long before the term "pothead" came around, people who smoked too much were called "pot hounds" by early blues singers like Lucille Bogan (1897-1948), who soulfully laments being stuck with a man who chases marijuana instead of jobs.

3. Stuff Smith, 'You'se a Viper' (1936)

Before there were stoners, people who enjoyed the cannabis lifestyle called themselves "vipers." This ode to the viper lifestyle recorded by jazz violinist Stuff Smith (1909-1967). The lyrics offer some of the earliest references to THC tolerance, cotton mouth and the munchies.

4. The Harlem Hamfats, 'The Weed Smoker's Dream' (1936)

Blues songwriter Kansas Joe McCoy (1905-1950) was way ahead of his time when he penned this tune about making millions by starting a marijuana industry. In 1936, he recorded the song with the rest of his swing band - The Harlem Hamfats. But the song achieved fame in 40s when Peggy Lee covered it (sans the marijuana lyrics).

5. Trixie Smith, "Jack, I'm Mellow" (1938?)

In contrast to the woes of dating a "pot hound," jazz singer and vaudeville performer Trixie Smith (1895-1943) offers a lighthearted invitation for her beau to stop by, "smoke some gage" (another slang term for marijuana) and mellow out with her.

h/t Marijuana

banner image: Flickr / Classic Film


It costs an average of $4,000 for police to bring someone up on cannabis changes - but it could run the defendant as much as $20,000 to fight the case. It's no secret that a lot of taxpayer money is wasted each year on enforcing unjust marijuana laws. By some estimates, as much as $3.6 billion is spent every year arresting some 820,000 Americans on cannabis-related charges.

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