“Cocaine Blues” is a Western Swing song written by T. J. “Red” Arnall, a reworking of the traditional song “Little Sadie”. 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 and Capitol, with the Capitol release reaching number 15 on the country music charts in 1948.
The song is the tale of a man, Willy Lee, who murders a woman while under the influence of whiskey and cocaine. Willy is caught and sentenced to “ninety-nine years in the San Quentin Pen”. The song ends with Willy saying:
“Come all you hypes and listen unto me,
Just lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be.”
Johnny Cash famously performed the song at his Folsom Prison concert, saying “Folsom” instead of “San Quentin”, and changing the “C’mon you hypes…” to “C’mon you gotta listen unto me…”, an event also portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in the 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.
The song is also featured on Johnny Cash’s 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.