We’ve come a long way from “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” Just ask Merle Haggard.
When we think about marijuana and music, we think of hippies and 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, or perhaps, blunt-puffing rappers and hip hop artists, or maybe even reggae musicians—not country-and-western artists.
But there is a surprisingly long history of reefer-related C&W songs, and even more surprisingly, there were a lot of favorable ones even back in the days when country music was the stuff of flag-waving, hippie-hating, retro Americanism. Of course, back then, most of these tunes weren’t the stuff of mainstream country—that poppish stuff coming out of Nashville then and now—but of performers on the fringes, whether counterculture-influenced country rockers or more folksy songwriters, but they fit well within the country canon.
The late country giant Merle Haggard bookends this list, and with good reason. His “Okie from Muskogee” was straight America’s angry response to long-haired, dope-smoking hippies and a signal moment in the culture wars we’re still fighting to this day. But times change, and so did Haggard, coming to openly embrace the virtues of weed, just as country music in general has come to terms with it.
All right, fire up the bong, clear the wax out of your ears and take a listen to these country cannabis classics.
1. “Okie From Muskogee,” Merle Haggard (1969)
We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,
We don’t take our trips on LSD,
We don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street,
Because we like living right and being free.
Meet the original culture warrior. Haggard had a monster hit with this hippie- and counterculture-bashing ode to traditional American values. The Hag said he wrote the song after becoming disheartened watching anti-Vietnam War protests, but he also he considered it to be a humorous spoof. That didn’t stop it from becoming an enduring redneck anthem. But oddly enough, “Okie from Muskogee” also became a favorite of some decidedly counterculture musicians, being covered by the Grateful Dead, Phil Ochs, the Flaming Lips, the String Cheese Incident, and Hank Williams III with the Melvins, among others. While Merle claimed he didn’t smoke marijuana, he had run-ins with a few other substances, most notably alcohol and cocaine.
2. “Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues,” Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen (1971)
My dog died just yesterday, left me all alone.
The finance company came by today and repossessed my home,
That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to losing you.
I’m down to seeds and stems again, too.
Arguably the finest and tightest bar band ever, the Commander (George Frayne) and the boys knew how to churn out crying-in-your-beer corn-pone tearjerkers in the finest country tradition even as they subverted their subject matter, and this is the classic example. The Commander’s tinkling piano, the band’s wailing fiddle and pedal steel and high lonesome harmonica provide the perfect musical accompaniment to this sad tale of woe and vocalist (and guitarist) Bill Kirchen’s keening lament: “Everybody tells me there’s other ways to get high, but they don’t seem to understand I’m too far gone to try,” he moans pitifully. The Lost Planet Airmen were not exactly country, growing out of the ferment of late ’60s rock, but they incorporated elements of country, Western swing, rockabilly, and boogie-woogie in their only partly ironic homage to American musical traditions. As the Commander once said introducing the band, “On my left in every way, from Honolulu, Hawaii, the Reefaires, and on my right in every way, from Nashville, Tennessee, the sons of the rednecks.” It was an intoxicating mix.
3. “Wildwood Weed,” Jim Stafford (1974)
Now, smoking them wildwood flowers got to be a habit.
We never seen no harm.
We thought it was kinda handy
Taking a trip and never even leaving the farm.
Composer, comedian, and country and pop performer Stafford hit #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his reeferized reworking of the mid-19th-century folk song “Wildwood Flower,” this time drolly extolling the virtues of a certain weed and getting over on the G-men. The music is more folky than country, but it did make it to #57 on the country charts.
4. “I’ll Fix Your Flat Tire, Merle,” Pure Prairie League (1975)
I heard all those records you did,
Making fun of us long -haired kids
And now you know we don’t care what you think
Merle, if you’re gonna call the world your home,
You know you’re gonna have to go out and get stoned,
And it’s better with a joint than with a drink.
These Ohio-based country rockers were really hitting their stride by the time they released Two Lane Highway, their third album, which features this good-hearted jab at Haggard for his late-’60s anti-hippy tunes. This jaunty stomper features hot fiddling and tasty pedal steel work, as well as the band’s good-humored entreaties to the country icon, so that egregious rhyming of “Merle” and “oil” can maybe be forgiven.
5. “Copperhead Road,” Steve Earle (1988)
I volunteered for the Army on my birthday
They draft the white trash first, ’round here anyway
I done two tours of duty in Vietnam
And I came home with a brand new plan
I take the seed from Colombia and Mexico
I plant it up the holler down Copperhead Road
Well the D.E.A.’s got a chopper in the air
I wake up screaming like I’m back over there
I learned a thing or two from ol’ Charlie don’t you know
You better stay away from Copperhead Road
The Texas-based troubadour and chronicler of gritty Americana hit it big with “Copperhead Road,” his country-rock tale of a Tennessee mountain clan with a history of bootlegging moonshine and a son back from Vietnam who adds a new twist to the family tradition. And he doesn’t like the DEA much, either. The eponymously named album did even better than the single, breaking the Top 10 in both the country and rock charts and earning Earle the first of his three Grammies.
6. “Smoke a Little Smoke,” Eric Church (2009)
Dig down deep, find my stash.
Light it up, memory crash.
Contemporary country troubadour Eric Church’s many hits are all about chasing women, drinking Jack Daniels and smoking fine weed, and he’s crafted a huge following with his good-time tales. He hit it big in 2009 with this one, whose title is pretty self-explanatory.
7. “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson (2012)
Roll me up and smoke me when I die
And if anyone don’t like it, just look ’em in the eye
I didn’t come here, and I ain’t leavin’
So don’t sit around and cry
Just roll me up and smoke me when I die.
If there’s anybody more marijuana and country music than the Red Headed Stranger, we haven’t met him. Willie Nelson has been happily puffing away for decades, with pot busts no more than road bumps in his transcendent career, and now he’s got his own marijuana company, too. This little ditty makes abundantly clear just how he feels about the weed. And he released it on 4/20.
8. “It’s All Going to Pot,” Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard (2015)
All the whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee, don’t hit the spot
I got a hundred dollar bill, you can keep your pills, it’s all going to pot.
And the wheel turns. Nearly a half-century after “Okie from Muskogee,” the Hag teams up with the Red Headed Stranger to sing the virtues of the demon weed. The video shows Merle and Willie hitting the joint as they lay down tracks and signals the attitudinal changes afoot in the land as the original country redneck extols cannabis consumption. Somebody must have fixed his flat tire—and his attitude.