Grits, Gravy, and Ganja: 15 Classic Country Western Stoner Songs
How else did all those cowpokes think 'Hee Haw' was so funny?
Country music has a long and colorful affiliation with alcohol. Corn squeezings, beer, wine, gin, and whiskey have all fueled the heartache, the joy, and the day-to-day of the best C&W songs. But scratch the surface, and there's been a steady and abiding love for the weed too.
The 1970s country-rock scene championed the herb through "cosmic cowboys" like Doug Sahm and Gram Parsons. Even bona fide rednecks like Charlie Daniels adopted a "long-haired country boy" ethos, and when Merle Haggard sang that they don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee, that was probably sly misdirection.
Now, a whole generation of millennial artists working in the “hot country” and Americana genres extoll the virtues of good smoke. Country and cannabis go together like grits and gravy ... and here are 15 of the best tunes that illustrate that.
“Roll Another Number,” Neil Young, 1975
Neil Young’s always exhibited strong country leanings. They shine through on this mournful weed ballad. On first listen, it’s a painfully raw elegy for lost hippie innocence, but coming off Young’s harrowing Tonight’s the Night album with its songs about fatal drug overdoses, midnight heroin runs, and cocaine murders, "Roll Another Number" more closely resembles good advice.
“Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, 1971
Longtime smokers who recall the past will remember dusty “brick-pack” Mexican weed and the ritualized processed of winnowing the goods from the chaff on the inside of old shoebox lids or the covers of honest-to-goodness vinyl record albums. You’ll also remember desperately picking through those seeds and stems when the town was dry to recover a hit that may have been missed in flush times. These Western swing/dieselbilly revivalists knew that scene and let guitarist Bill Kirchen tell a maudlin tale of lost love, a dead dog, imminent eviction … and nothing to smoke. Bummer, man.
“Pride of Cucamonga,” Grateful Dead, 1974
Some will argue that “the Dead aren't country,” but don’t you believe it. These counterculture icons had bluegrass and the “Bakersfield sound” as an intrinsic part of their genetic makeup. How else but country could you categorize this Phil Lesh tune about a drifter’s trip through inland Southern California? All he’s looking for is to avoid the cops and find a place “where the weed grows green and fine” where he can “wrap myself around a bush of that bright Oaxaca vine.” So how does a poor boy get to Oaxaca from Cucamonga? He turns right at San Bernardino.
“Long Haired Country Boy,” Charlie Daniels, 1974
While Charlie’s first charting single as a solo act (1973’s “Uneasy Rider”) clearly had a boot in the counterculture, over the years he’s moved from being a vocal supporter of Jimmy Carter to being a staunch conservative. But in the ‘70s, Daniels professed he liked to “get stoned in the mornin’ and get drunk in the afternoon.” What he’s trying to say in the particular song isn’t always exactly clear—other than he’s determined to go his own way—but, like his preferred mix of weed and whiskey, he strikes a balance … and a prime directive of real country music has always been to walk the line.
“Mendocino,” Sir Douglas Quintet, 1968
When these fellas first came on the scene, they fronted as English mop-tops, but even a cursory listen to the band’s precise Tex-Mex two-step—and one peep at “Sir” Doug Sahm’s cowboy hat—pretty much betrayed them as being steeped in country music, and norteño too. A well-publicized drug bust in Corpus Christi, Texas, certified the band’s bona fides as heads and prompted a move to Mendocino in Northern California. Here, Sahm warns his teenage girlfriend about “fast-talkin’ guys with strange, red eyes” … a tribe with which he’s most definitely affiliated.
“Strike A Match and Light Another,” Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys, 1970
Cat Mother & the All Night Newsboys had a far less serious approach to country music than contemporary country-rockers like the Byrds and Poco. Incorporating elements of jug-band music and bluegrass into its sound, Cat and Co. were not prissy traditionalists when it came to their music or in the ways to ingest everyone’s favorite herb: “Well you can smoke it, you can eat it, you can mix it with your beer/ You can hang it on the wall and you can hang it in your ear/ And if you've got the notion, and if he's got the class/ You can shove it in your feedbag and feed it to your ass.”
“Weed Instead of Roses,” Ashley Monroe, 2013
One-third of the Pistol Annies collective, Ashley Monroe is our kind of country gal. Seemingly not content with the old-school “stand by your man” ethos of weepy country queens past, Ashley is down to party … especially if it involves “whips and chains” and “sexy underwear.” Apparently, what really gets her thresher thrashin’ is “weed instead of roses.” Sometimes a girl just wants to see how far things can go. That’s something we should all support.
“Hush Hush,” Pistol Annies, 2013
Ashley Monroe, Miranda Lambert, and Angaleena Presley are country girls who don’t like hypocrisy and sweeping family secrets under the furniture. They list a catalog of complaints here, but it’s Monroe who offers a solution based on personal experience: “So I snuck behind the red barn/ And I took myself a toke/ Since everybody here hates everybody here/ Hell, I might as well be the joke.” Later, she gets up on a table and gives everyone a little flash because, well, why not? Pass that pipe, sister.
“Follow Your Arrow,” Kacey Musgraves, 2013
This song definitely wouldn’t have flown in the old Nashville. A girl in short-shorts singing about same-sex relations and smoking reefer? Heads would have exploded. But in 2014, this song, co-written by Musgraves, won Song of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards. Nashville is becoming ever more progressive, and it’s the women leading the way. Sadly, Musgraves wasn’t allowed to sing the line “roll up a joint” when she performed the song a year earlier at the 2013 CMA Awards. One step at a time, America.
“Panama Red,” New Riders of the Purple Sage, 1973
There’s a long tradition in the English language of personifying mind-altering substances. Robert Burns used the technique in 1782’s “John Barleycorn: A Ballad.” Country rockers New Riders of the Purple Sage did the same to create a rakish Old West character ready to “steal your woman” and “rob your head.” Red even had a horse named Mescalito. This was deep hippie stuff delivered with a solid Bakersfield twang.
“Hippie Boy,” Flying Burrito Brothers, 1969
Ex-Byrds Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons were like a walking encyclopedia of the history of country music. On The Gilded Palace of Sin, they pulled all its various styles together into something uniquely their own. This song, sounding a lot like something off the Louvin Brothers' Satan Is Real album, is, ostensibly, about the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but Hillman’s laconic delivery about the titular hippie boy sounds a lot like he’s describing Parsons: “He might have been on the weed or even LSD, but if he was, I couldn’t tell.” And that, really, was part of the band’s eventual undoing.
“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die,” Willie Nelson, 2012
Willie Nelson is the ultimate country toker. He’s championed the stuff for years and to good effect. If an American icon like Willie Nelson smokes marijuana, maybe it’s not as bad as “the Man” has always wanted us to think. When weed is finally legalized for recreational use, Willie can take a bow. If, sadly, he’s no longer with us, he says right here that we can just roll him up and smoke him. It’s an option, anyway.
“Okie From Muskogee,” Merle Haggard, 1969
Though the lyrics explicitly state, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee,” is it possible Merle is just having fun with us? He’s offered differing answers through years. Interviews and apocryphal tales seem to indicate Haggard smoked as much, if not more, than Willie Nelson. At a 2016 concert in California, the Hag claimed the song was “about cannabis,” and quipped about smoking with Kris Kristofferson. I’m going to make a judgment call and say Merle was mostly being ironic. Besides, how cool would it have been to spark a bomber with this band?
“Copperhead Road,” Steve Earle, 1988
The tale of John Lee Pettimore III, self-described “white trash” and the product of a familial line of moonshiners killed by federal agents. Pettimore takes two tours of duty in Vietnam before he returns home with a plan to grow marijuana back up a holler off Copperhead Road. Vowing not to pay the same price his namesakes did, he declares war on the DEA and boasts of a booby-trapped crop inspired by the Viet Cong. It’s like an unpublished Charles Portis novel condensed into a little over four minutes.
“Don’t Bogart That Joint,” Fraternity of Man, 1968
Smoking is often a communal activity. As such, the etiquette surrounding its rituals is important. The Fraternity of Man has us covered. To “Bogart” a joint is to selfishly hang onto it like Humphrey Bogart smoking a cigarette in an old movie. Definitely a no-no. Your friends “sure would like a hit,” too, you know. No arguments about whether this song is country. That’s pedal steel god Red Rhodes on the track. If he had just showed up and coughed, it would have made it country. Now, hush up, take a puff, and pass that thing this way.