If you were to assign a mind-altering substance to each genre of music, country music would clearly seem to be the stuff of alcohol — its joys, its pitfalls. (“The Bottle Let Me Down,” anyone?) However, this is not the case — according to a Rolling Stone interview with a data scientist at Addictions.com, country music tops the list of total drug references above hip-hop, rock and folk music.
Cocaine, meth, pot, speed… it’s all been represented, often many, many times over. Some of the incidents below have played out like good-fun Cheech and Chong antics; some are a bit more grim. And, of course, some just led to a good song. Here are 10 examples of country and drugs splitting the difference.
Johnny Cash Performs Song About Drugged and Drunk Homicide at Folsom Prison
The western swing classic “Cocaine Blues” has a long and rich history that simply begs for its own article. Originally written by T.J. “Red” Arnall in the mid-’40s as a reworking of the folk song “Little Sadie,” its story of an intoxicated, spurned boyfriend gunning down his unfaithful girlfriend is still a tough pill to swallow — and it ends with an admonishment: “Come all you hypes or, addicts] and listen to me / Drink all you want to, but let that cocaine be.” Famously, Johnny Cash covered this song at Folsom Prison, where he sang this tune to some characters that you can imagine were in for their own cocaine blues. He even took it a step further by adding his own mirthless line — “I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down.” Considering it was sung 50 years ago, one can only imagine how that language would suck the air out of the room.
John Prine Releases Controversial Ode to Opioid Addiction in America’s Vets
John Prine’s self-titled 1971 debut album was revolutionary in the topics it broached, with warm, empathetic songs about blind patriots and lonely senior citizens. However, it may be his unflinching look at a PTSD-afflicted Vietnam veteran who can’t get the monkey off his back, “Sam Stone,” that caused the biggest waves — specifically, the line “There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes / Jesus Christ died for nothin’, I suppose.” In a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Prine mentioned that the song would provoke audience members to walk out back then. “One woman stood up and told me I insulted her intelligence,” said Prine. “I’m thinking, ‘Let me see your diploma.’”
Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy” Is Released, Daniels Has Second Thoughts
In 1975, the Charlie Daniels Band released a single called “Long Haired Country Boy” — and the second line was “I get stoned in the morning and drunk in the afternoon.” This tune, painting the protagonist as a burnt-out hayseed, later led to some inner conflict in Daniels due to his Christian convictions. Now, Daniels edits out all drug references in the song when he performs it, singing things like “I get up in the morning and get down in the afternoon” in lieu of the taboo original lyrics.
Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran Raise Hell in the Bahamas, Get Banned For Life
After wrapping up a tour, Willie Nelson and Hank Cochran boarded a plane to the Bahamas without any luggage, which had to be sent to them later. As they claimed their things, a customs officer found marijuana in Nelson’s jeans, sending the singer to jail. Cochran allegedly brought a six-pack of beer to Nelson’s cell while working out his bail, and when Nelson was freed, he leapt in celebration and fell… further sending him to the ER. A judge dropped the charges but ordered Nelson to never return to the Bahamas — a ban that still may be in effect.
Waylon Jennings Writes a Country Singles No. 5 Hit Song About The DEA Trying to Raid His Studio
Jennings, who had a grotesque cocaine addiction and smoked six packs of cigarettes a day in the late ‘70s, was arrested by federal agents and charged with conspiracy and intent to distribute after a suspicious package sent to his recording studio was intercepted by the DEA. While the feds were poking around the building, the story goes that Jennings' drummer, Richie Albright, excused himself to use the restroom and gingerly disposed of the blow. The singer later released a single inspired by his little run-in with the law, “Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Gone Out of Hand?” which shot up to No. 5 on the Hot Country Singles chart.
Ashley Monroe Files a Request For “Weed Instead of Roses”
Written by the singer when she was only 19, Ashley Monroe released a novelty country song called “Weed Instead of Roses,” in which the bored-housewife narrator prefers her beau to woo with a different kind of bouquet. Beyond the joke, there are references to “whips and chains” and “sexy underwear” — which didn’t seem to stop this wildly unconventional hillbilly anthem from peaking at No. 39 in the Hot Country Songs list. The best part was Monroe’s iron-willed determination in the face of the mild controversy “Roses” stirred up, telling The Boot “People are either going to love me or hate me for it. But I’m going to sing about what I’m going to sing about,” like she was championing a higher calling with the existence of “Weed Instead Of Roses.”
Sturgill Simpson Releases One of the Battiest Country Songs About Hallucinogens Ever
Gram Parsons may be the rightful father of what he deemed “Cosmic American Music,” but the hallucinogenic lengths Sturgill Simpson’s “Turtles All The Way Down” went to would make even the Burrito Brothers squirm. To wit: “There’s a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane / Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain.” Acid-tinged country songs date back at least as far as Buffalo Springfield, but the genre has never swerved this far into interdimensional, conspiratorial territory.
Wary of the Nightly News, Chris Stapleton Tunes in and Drops Out
The lyrical tone of Chris Stapleton’s “Might As Well Get Stoned,” released on his 2015 debut album Traveller, almost couldn’t be more solitary. Kicked out by his lover, the song’s protagonist retires to his one-room apartment where he “sleeps on the floor” to catch a fire and forget his worries. The existence of “Stoned” is partially hilarious because it’s like the apathetic inverse of Prine's Sam Stone, particularly when the lit-up narrator begins to wax poetic on the nature of war: “Every time I watch the TV / Another soldier dies / Another brother’s gone / Another mother cries / Now, I know they’ve got a job to do / But if I had one wish / I wish they’d all come home / So we could all get stoned.” We guess that’s as good a reason as any to broker armistice?
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard Join Together One Last Time to Warn “It’s All Going to Pot”
Django and Jimmie would be the final outing for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard prior to Haggard’s passing in 2016. But judging by its second track, “It’s All Going to Pot,” the old friends aren’t in the mood for dourness or maudlinism as they prepare to say goodbye — it’s one of the silliest, most good-natured songs either man sang. Opening lines: “Well, it’s all going to pot / Whether we like it or not / The best, I can tell, the world’s gone to hell and we’re sure going to miss it a lot.” By the sound of this grinning tune, the impending apocalypse would seem to warrant a hoedown, not a nuclear bunker.
Kacey Musgraves Delivers Sage Wisdom: “Smoke Your Own Smoke”
A songwriter with a now-calcified reputation for writing challenging, nuanced character studies relative to most mainstream country music, Kacey Musgraves hit a quasi-Biblical note with 2015’s “Biscuits.” It’s a tune about minding your own, not throwing stones, and smoking your own smoke. This little winking, suggestive reference was sure to throw her conservative listenership in a tizzy, but it wasn’t just meant as antagonism. Says Musgraves, “The things I’m singing about are not controversial to me. I don’t push buttons to push buttons. I talk about things that have made an impression on me that a lot of people everywhere are going through.” And if that means a reference to toking up, so be it.