Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon wins the prize for the oldest authenticated American song about marijuana, 1927’s “Willie the Weeper.” He and numerous other jazzmen and women celebrated smoke in songs of the era such as Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man,” Fats Waller’s “A Viper’s Drag,” Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow’s “Sendin’ the Vipers,” Bessie Smith’s “Gimme a Reefer,” and Stuff Smith & the Onyx Club Boys’ “You’re a Viper.”
“Vipers” are what the marijuana enthusiasts of the Twenties called themselves, and they wrote their anthems en masse: “Here Comes the Man With the Jive,” “Viper Blues,” “Jack, I’m Mellow,” “Sweet Marijuana Brown,” “Viper Mad,” “Tea Party,” “The G Man Got the T Man,” “The Stuff Is Here (and It’s Mellow),” “All the Jive Is Gone.”
This exuberant musical activity was in harsh contrast to the official depiction of marijuana by the government, which had taken a dim view of Mexican immigrants. As various anti-hemp interests such as the cotton and petrochemical industries grew influential and anti-marijuana crusaders like Harry J. Anslinger gained authority, the stereotype of lily-white American teens being perverted by hopped-up, hot-blooded Mexicans was more than a mythical smokescreen. It was fantastic fodder for the Hearst press.