November 5, 2010

Repost :: Cocaine Blues: A Brief History

I'm currently reading journalist Joe Klein's Woody Guthrie biography, an unbelievably in-depth and historically detailed account of the songwriter's life. While taking a break from the book, I looked up a few of Woody's songs and found "Bad Lee Brown (Cocaine Blues)" which I immediately realized was also one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs—"Cocaine Blues"—famously performed live at Folsom Prison in 1968. The song's origins, however, date further back than Guthrie. It was originally written by T. J. "Red" Arnall around 1947 as a reworking of the traditional Western song "Little Sadie." I couldn't find Arnall's version, but Bob Dylan covered it in his 1970 album Self Portrait.

Bob Dylan - "Little Sadie" (from Self Portrait)
Woody Guthrie - "Bad Lee Brown (Cocaine Blues)" (from The Asch Recordings, Vol. 4)
Johnny Cash - "Cocaine Blues" (from At Folsom Prison)

There are several other popularized versions of "Cocaine Blues," including an eight-bar blues song attributed to Reverend Gary Davis. Both Keith Richards and Townes Van Zandt mention it as one of the first songs that they learned how to fingerpick.

Townes Van Zandt- "Cocaine Blues" (from Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas)
Keith Richards - "Cocaine Blues"
Bob Dylan - "Cocaine Blues (live 1997)" (from Tell Tale Signs)

Lastly, here is a version of "Tell It To Me," also sometimes referred to as "Cocaine Blues."

Old Crow Medicine Show - "Tell It To Me" (from O.C.M.S.)

Woody Guthrie


  1. Keith's version reminds me of Jackson Browne's.

  2. Richard Wells11/6/10, 8:40 AM

    Don't forget Dave Van Ronk

  3. man of constant sorrow11/6/10, 1:25 PM

    aye - but you talk as if it's all the same song or variants of the same song, which it is not. Little Sadie is one, Cocaine Blues (Coco blues) by davies is another. OCMS has also recorded one of the other standard cocaine blueses - take a whiff on me

  4. re: Man of Constant Sorrow-- Certainly they're different songs. These are just all under the umbrella of the "Cocaine Blues" title. The Old Crow song you're referring to is "Cocaine Habit"--definitely an excellent song, I believe attributed to early bluesman Lead Belly. There's a Wiki article ( on "Cocaine Blues" which is excellent and much more comprehensive than I am.