Continuing my research into the connection between recreational drugs and their role in the popular dance scene in Batavia in the 1920s and 30s, I got to wondering about cocaine. After all, if the Ella Fitzgerald could record a song about it in 1938 …
They call it wacky dust
It brings a dancing jag
Joseph Spillane suggested in this book that “the most successful alternative coca growing venture outside Latin America before 1945 was in the Dutch East Indies on the island of Java. Dutch colonial coca production began to dominate the global markets in the 1910s and crowded South American producers from these markets. It is not far fetched to argue that the Dutch were the drug lords of the interbellum.”
Jazz and ragtime were two popular dances in that era, and it is quite possible that some, but not all, of the following records were brought to the Dutch East Indies.
Luke Jordan – Cocaine Blues (1927)
I called my Cora, hey hey
She come on sniffin’ with her nose all sore,
The doctor swore (she’s) gonna smell no more
Sayin’, run doctor, ring the bell – the women in the alley
I’m simply wild about my good cocaine
Victoria Spivey – Dope Head Blues (1927)
The term ‘dope’ was originally applied to the opium that was popular in the 19th century, by the time Victoria Spivey recorded ‘Dope Head Blues’ it could refer to any number of drugs. Examination of the lyrics suggests that she was most likely singing about cocaine – especially the artificial feelings of omnipotence, confidence and strength that coke is known for.
Just give me one more sniff of, another sniff of that dope.
Feel like a fighting rooster, feel better than I ever felt
Got double pneumonia and still I think I got the best health.
Cab Calloway – Minnie The Moocher
Calloway recorded this song about six times, the first was in 1931.)
[Minnie Moocher] messed around with a bloke named Smokie
She loved him though he was cokey
He took her down to Chinatown
and showed her how to kick the gong around.
(‘gong’ refers to opium.)
Betty Boop – Minnie The Moocher (1932)
This cartoon by Max Fleischer opens with a sequence of Cab Calloway ‘dancing’ in front of his miming musicians.
Rev. Gary Davis – Cocaine Blues (1935)
Send for the doctor and send for ‘im quick.
This cocaine has done made me sick.
Cocaine has got all around my brain.
Woke up this mornin’ feelin’ bad.
Worstest feelin’ I ever most had.
(The only anti-cocaine song in this set.)
I’ve put the music tracks in a compilation which you can download from here.