Believe it or not, there are more references to drugs in country music than any other genre. So, why is country music so intrinsically linked to drugs?
Drug references in music date right the way back to the 1930s, with almost every genre covering the subject in one form or another. Country music is no exception, with various artists releasing songs and albums which depict the use of drugs in great detail – as well as having a detailed history with drugs in their personal lives.
Prior research has shown that country music tops the list of genres that reference drugs the most, with marijuana being particularly popular among country artists. Addictions.com even conducted a study that provided concrete evidence to support this. They found that, based on evidence from over a million country songs, there are an average of 1.6 drug mentions per song!
While country musicians certainly won’t get in trouble or put on trial for a conspiracy charge for simply referencing drugs in their music, some artists have had real-life struggles with addiction. So, to learn more about the link between country music and drugs, be sure to read on below…
5 Popular Country Songs About Drugs
1. Jamey Johnson – High Cost of Living
At the time of writing his 2009 single High Cost of Living, Jamey Johnson was in the middle of his recovery from addiction. While it wasn’t a chart-topper, High Cost of Living generated a hugely positive response from fans, who agreed that it spoke candidly about the perils of addiction, as well as the emotional ease that comes with living under an intoxicated existence.
Speaking about the single, Johnson acknowledged its importance, stating: “We’ve gotten so many great letters and press about that song, and it is real, and it really hits people right.”
2. Willie Nelson – Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die
Fittingly released on April 20th, 2012, Willie Nelson’s single Roll Me Up and Smoke me When I Die isn’t exactly subtle. Nelson teamed up with rapper and notorious marijuana advocate Snoop Dogg, Kris Kristofferson and Jamey Johnson to produce the single, which presents a cavalier attitude about death and his position on recreational drug use.
3. Ashley Monroe – Weed Instead of Roses
Ashley Monroe’s somewhat controversial single, Weed Instead of Roses, presents a pretty simple premise. It’s a plea to a partner that she’d prefer to be wooed with something of the herbal variety, rather than long-stemmed flowers which will soon wilt and die.
Speaking bluntly about the potential response to the song’s themes, Monroe said: “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. If people can’t laugh at it or take a joke, they can listen to something else.”
4. Johnny Cash – Cocaine Blues
Cocaine Blues reworks the traditional folk song Little Sadie, telling the story of Willie Lee, who attempts to outrun the police after killing a woman while high on cocaine. It’s some heavy subject matter, but it’s paired with an almost jubilant performance from Johnny Cash.
Cash famously performed the song at his 1968 concert at Folsom Prison, though he had to replace a number of lyrics, including the last line from ‘drink all you want’ to ‘lay off the whiskey’ – two very different messages.
5. Zac Brown Band – Toes
In Toes, Zac Brown details a recreational trip down to Mexico, where he plans to spend his time drinking and ‘rolling a big fat one’. The single went straight to the top of the country charts, but only after a clean version was released that censored any mentions of drugs.
Country Musicians Who Have a History with Drugs
Johnny Cash is one of the best-selling artists of all time, with his music spanning several genres. He had a deeply troubled personal life, with plenty of struggles with drugs and addiction.
His divorce from his first wife was put down to his severe drug and alcohol abuse. Though he did go through various clean spells, he often slipped back into the clutches of addiction for his entire life.
Waylon Jennings is best known as being one of the pioneers of the Outlaw Movement in country music. During the 1960s, while living with Johnny Cash, Jennings became addicted to amphetamines and, in 1977, was arrested for conspiracy and possession of cocaine with intent to supply.
During the early 1980s, Jennings’ cocaine addiction was so intense that he claimed to spend $1,500 a day to fuel his habit, though he later quit in 1984.
To keep up with the pressures of the relentless music industry, as well as the loss of his father, country star Joe Nichols was thrust into a destructive downward spiral of drugs and alcohol. The situation was so bad that Nichols had to check into rehab just 30 days after marrying his wife, Heather Singleton.
Soon after signing a lucrative contract with Warner-Chapell Publishing in 1999, Jeff Bates developed a methamphetamine addiction that quickly escalated beyond his control. To fund his drug habit, Bates would resort to stealing and, in 2001, he was arrested for drug possession and grand theft.
Following rehab and a stint behind bars, Bates was given a second chance at a country music career. This part of his life was the inspiration for his 2005 single One Second Chance.
Are There Any Other Country Songs or Musicians That Have Links to Drugs?
So, there you have it. In this post, we’ve discussed the links between country music and drugs, taking a look at some of the songs that reference drugs, as well as the musicians who have dealt with addiction.
Are there any other notable country songs or musicians with links to drugs or addiction? If you can think of any other notable examples, feel free to leave a comment below!