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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Ragman Origins: Cocaine Blues (28) RE: Origins: Cocaine blues 14 Jun 04

I know this is not what the originator of this thread was looking for, but since Gary Davis' Cocaine Blues keeps coming up, I hoped I could add my tuppence worth, invite comment, and maybe learn some more about the history of this great song.

I tell this story (or usually a shortened version of it) before performing Cocaine Blues, trying to get somewhere near to re-creating Stefan Grossman performances, who I saw several times around 1968-1970 in Scotland.

"There are many versions of Cocaine, and Candyman, two famous songs attributed to Gary Davis Over the years, the words of these songs have been used in other songs, and the tunes have been played with many different arrangements. This is the earliest version I know of Cocaine Blues. It is played in the form of a slow rag-time piece, very popular for dance music at the turn of the 20th century.

In performances dating from the late sixties, Stefan Grossman introduces Cocaine Blues and Candyman, playing the tune on the guitar and giving a potted history of where he believed the songs originated. He tells how Gary Davis heard the song in 1905 sung by a man called Cole Porter in a travelling show that his mother took him to when he was a young boy. Davis was blind even at that early age. He went home, persuaded his mother to help him build a guitar, and began to develop his skill as a musician and entertainer from there. Cocaine Blues talks of how at that time, medics and legal authorities were beginning to regard cocaine no longer as a recreational drug but as one with addictive properties and potentially lethal effects. The reference to "horses and not for men" alludes to the illegal practice of doping horses to make them perform better in races. If truly dating back to 1905, this version of the song heralded the changes in federal law in the USA to make cocaine an illegal drug, and which forced the Coca-Cola Company to alter the "magic formula" for their popular bottled drink."

(Guitar intro)

Now I'm going up Beale St, walking up Main
Looking for the man so I can bum cocaine
Cocaine, all around my brain

I said cocaine's for horses and not for men
Doctors say it will kill you but they won't say when
Cocaine, all around my brain

I said, hey, baby, won't you come here quick
This cocaine's going to make me sick
Cocaine's all around my brain

(Guitar bridge)

Now, I walked right down to Mr Myer's place
And I looked right into Mr Myer's face
And he said, "Boy, cocaine's all around your brain"

And he said "Look over yonder to that girl dressed in red
I tell you cocaine's going to kill you dead"
Cocaine's all around my brain

I said, hey, baby, won't you come here quick
This cocaine's going to make me sick
Cocaine's all around my brain

(Guitar bridge)

Repeat verse 1

(Guitar to fade out)

Comments on accuracy welcomed...
Cocaine Blues by Gary Davis, circa 1905?

BrianC (Ragman)

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