Cocaine Blues

Written by T. J. ArnallUnreleased song

Related sessions

This song has been recorded during the following studio sessions

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Song facts

From Wikipedia:

“Cocaine Blues” is a Western swing song written by T. J. “Red” Arnall, a reworking of the traditional song “Little Sadie”.


The song is the tale of a man, Willy Lee, who murders his unfaithful girlfriend while under the influence of whiskey and cocaine. He flees to Mexico and works as a musician to fund his continued drug use. Willy is apprehended by a sheriff from Jericho Hill, tried, and promptly sentenced to “ninety-nine years in the Folsom Pen”. The song ends with Willy imploring the listener:

Come on you gotta hype listen unto me,
lay off that whiskey, and let that cocaine be.

Early recordings

Lyrically based upon the turn of the century, traditional, folk song “Little Sadie,” the popular version of this song was originally recorded by W. A. Nichol’s Western Aces (vocal by “Red” Arnall) on the S & G label, probably in 1947, and by Roy Hogsed and the Rainbow Riders May 25, 1947, at Universal Recorders in Hollywood, California. Hogsed’s recording was released on Coast Records (262) and Capitol (40120), with the Capitol release reaching number 15 on the country music charts in 1948.

Johnny Cash versions

Johnny Cash famously performed the song at his 1968 Folsom Prison concert. He replaced the lyric “San Quentin” with “Folsom”, and changed “C’mon you hypes…” to “C’mon you gotta listen unto me…”, as well as using the then-provocative lyric “I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down.” Cash also altered the last line to “Lay off the whiskey…” instead of “Drink all you want…”. During the performance, which was released uncensored by Columbia Records in 1968 (though other language is censored), Cash can be heard coughing occasionally; later in the concert recording, he can be heard noting that singing the song nearly did his voice in.

The song was also featured on Cash’s 1960 Columbia album Now, There Was a Song! under the title “Transfusion Blues” substituting the line “took a shot of cocaine” with “took a transfusion” along with some other minor lyrical changes (and a tamer version of the climactic lyric “I can’t forget the day I shot my woman down”). Cash later recorded “Cocaine Blues” for his 1979 album Silver. Cash chose not to use the word “bitch” in this version.

Cash also performed the song – with original lyrics and the use of the word “bitch” – for his December 1969 performance at Madison Square Garden, which was recorded but withheld from release until Johnny Cash at Madison Square Garden was released by Columbia Records in 2002.

Cash’s Folsom Prison performance of “Cocaine Blues” was portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the 2005 Cash biographical film Walk the Line. The film version, edited down to make it shorter, fades into the next scene before the line “I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down” is sung. The DVD specials include an extended version of the song with the lyric, and the full, unedited version (apparently a different “take”) is found on the soundtrack CD. […]


A/B Road Complete Get Back Sessions - Jan 14th, 1969 - 1 & 2

Unofficial album • Released in 2004

0:33 • Rehearsal • Jan.14 - D1-19 - Cocaine Blues 14.18

Session Recording:
Jan 14, 1969
Studio :
Twickenham Film Studios, London, UK

Live performances

Paul McCartney has never played this song in concert.


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