Dope and Glory
Reefer Songs from the Thirties & Forties : Various Artists (Trikont US 0295)

Anyone who still thinks the Sixties were the great dope era should have a listen to this. Fifty tracks which unashamedly celebrate the weed and, in most cases, make no attempt to disguise the subject. Ok maybe 'Spinach Song' could just be about the stuff that Popeye used but Julia Lee & Her Boyfriends' spirited jive leaves you in no doubt which greens are on offer here. Some great trumpet and sax too.

Titles like 'I'm Gonna Get High', 'Weed Smokers Dream' and 'Save The Roach For Me' don't even pretend to be ambiguous and Tampa Red delivers the first in that list like he means it while The Chicago Five kick along behind him. Fats Waller had a prodigious appetite for many things and on 'Vipers Drag' he sleazes his way through a dream about 'a reefer 5 feet long'. He sounds as though he's having a good time anyway. The song appears elsewhere too as 'If You're A Viper', though with out Fats' dopey scat.

The Meltones' crooning makes 'Mary Jane' seem like an innocent song about the girl next door who is 'just the kind you could take home to mother' but they also remind us how 'stunning how cunning this girly can be'. Less innocent, perhaps, is 'Sweet Marihuana Brown' whose dangerous allure is captured in lyrics like 'every time you take her out/she's bound to take you in'. Little devil.

Some songs highlight the reefer lovers struggle with the law. Imagine their chagrin when 'The 'G' Man Got The 'T' Man. The song is still delivered with verve by the unrepentant Cee Pee Johnson & Band. There would be other 'connections' who could step in and supply the 'jive' after all. 'Jive' 'this modern treat makes life complete' is celebrated by the fact that 'Stuff Is Here' and that 'The Man From Harlem' really could cheer up the gloomiest gathering. Other herbally refreshed characters like 'Reefer Man' and 'Dopey Joe' flit in to deliver their goods then vanish.

Most of the songs are celebratory but a few register the need to escape from grim reality. 'Knockin' Myself Out ' is featured three times and each woman's voice is desperate. Take your pick from Yack Taylor, Lil Green or Jean Brady. Larry Adler's lugubrious 'Smoking Reefers' also suggests that dope is only 'to get beyond the misery' while Jazz Gillum warns about his 'Reefer Headed Woman'.

Of course you can just enjoy some of the music. 'All Teeed Up' and 'Golden Leaf Strut' don't need words. Marvel at how the surface noise keep perfect time on the first track. Then listen to the superb New Orleans jazz circa 1925 of the second track. And while you listen there's an informative booklet that tells you something of the lives and times of reefers and those who championed them. Whether it comes to a canablis café near you or is supplied direct, it is a thoroughly life enhancing experience.

© Paul Donnelly 2002