Some things are almost too perfect. The stars occasionally align to give us the perfect piece of art that we all want. Sometimes Jack White and Jack Black get together to make a goofy ‘Jack Grey’ video. Sometimes Prince puts out a single that has Dave Chapelle’s impression of him pasted right on the front cover. And sometimes, Keith Richards leans right into his established persona by taking on the ‘Cocaine Blues’.
Now, to be fair, ‘Cocaine Blues’ is less about the titular substance and more about the destruction that comes with the actions that follow, but it’s still a little on the nose (rimshot please, maestro) to hear Richards singing a line like “Cocaine’s for horses, not for men”.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t the ‘Cocaine Blues’ that Johnny Cash made famous during his live performance At Folsom Prison. To further complicate matters, there are about a hundred different songs titled ‘Cocaine Blues’. The video below attributes Richards’ rendition to Luke Jordan, but that’s yet another different song with the same name.
Richards’ rendition is a version arranged by Reverand Gary Davis that later took hold in the New York folk scene, made popular by artists like Dave Van Ronk and Bob Dylan. Van Ronk misattributed his original recording to Jordan, while Dylan mistakenly credits T.J. Arnall, the writer of Cash’s ‘Cocaine Blues’, making ‘Cocaine Blues’ one of the most confusing songs to properly attribute.
In any case, Richards recorded Davis’ version of ‘Cocaine Blues’ in 1994, if the YouTube description is to be believed. It might make more sense if it was recorded two years earlier as an outtake for Richards’ Main Offender album, but it’s hard to say for sure. The Stones were in the studio during 1994 to record Voodoo Lounge, so it could also be a solo outtake from those sessions. Wherever it originated from, it’s a simple and beautifully dark slice of blues from the legendary guitarist.
Check out Richards’ rendition of ‘Cocaine Blues’ down below.