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August 28, 2006

"Champagne & Reefer" at Orton Park

Posted by Gary Storck
Monday, August 28, 2006

Attendees at Madison’s Orton Park Festival were surprised with “Champagne and Reefer” at the near east side Madison park on Saturday, August 26.

"Champagne and Reefer" refers to a song penned by Muddy Waters, the Mississippi sharecropper turned blues hero considered by many to be the father of American blues and one of the world's greatest and most influential musicians. His former guitarist "Steady Rollin" Bob Margolin was performing at the festival along with Hubert Sumlin, longtime guitarist for Muddy's colleague, the late Howlin' Wolf.

While watching the Cash Box Kings open, I spotted Mr. Margolin and asked if they would be playing Champagne and Reefer. He said Madison was definitely a good town to play it in, and later in the set I was delighted to hear him introduce the tune as a request, noting it was Muddy’s version of the song, “My Favorite Things”. The crowd seemed to really enjoy it, although no smoke-in broke out. It was definitely one of many highlights in a night of the real, head shaking, foot-tapping, gutbucket blues performed by two blues masters, with great assistance from Katherine Davis on vocals and the Cash Box Kings. The Kings have the postwar Chicago blues sound down, and they didn’t miss a beat backing Sumlin & Margolin.

Back to the tune:

I first heard Champagne and Reefer in 1998, when James Cotton and George “Mojo” Bruford, two more ex-Muddy sidemen, played it at a gig at San Francisco State.

Not only is the tune a tribute to two of Muddy’s favorite things, he also urges decriminalization while citing some medicinal benefits:

Well you know it shouldn't be no law
That people that wanna smoke a little dope
Well you know it good for your head,
And it relax your body don't ya know.
[Lyrics transcribed from Champagne & Reefer, from Muddy’s album, King Bee, Columbia 5099751516323, released in 1981.]

The King Bee final version, the one performed at Orton by Bob & Hubert also ends with a harm reduction message:

Well you know I'm gonna stick with my reefer,
Ain't gonna be messin' 'round with no cocaine.

The audience seemed to really enjoy those lyrics too.

An early work-in-progress version of the tune from an August 1978 live performance has a different ending, forgoing the cocaine warning for more information on the medicinal benefits:

“You won’t have no high blood pressure, people you know that ain’t no lie”.
[Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live, Muddy Waters, 2003, Legacy Recordings 86559]

With African-Americans more prone to high blood pressure than the general population, Muddy was sharing some valuable information. Cannabis offers a natural and nontoxic means of lowering blood pressure. It is also useful in treating other conditions like glaucoma and diabetes, and protecting the brain from stroke. Marijuana prohibition continues to keep what could be an inexpensive herbal remedy easily cultivated anywhere, out of the hands of numerous populations lacking access to good health care.

Later, at the High Noon Saloon’s “Orton After Dark”, I had a chance to thank Bob for playing Champagne and Reefer, and talk a little more about Muddy. He told me Muddy really loved his cannabis, but kept it private. His decision to share that love through this song apparently came late in his career, with Muddy passing in April 1983, two years after Champagne & Reefer’s release on the King Bee album.

Thanks also, to the organizers of this fine neighborhood festival for a great night and weekend of entertainment. May I suggest Brewer & Shipley for the 2007 festival?

Posted by Gary at 07:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2006

36th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival dates are October 7 & 8, 2006

Posted by Gary Storck
Saturday, August 12, 2006

Harvest Fest weekend is less than 8 weeks off now.

The dates for this year's event are Saturday & Sunday, October 7 & 8. Now well into its 4th decade, Harvest Fest continues to educate, inspire and entertain while bringing freedom loving folk together.

On Friday October 6, from 5-8 pm, the 4th annual Is My Medicine Legal YET?/Madison NORML medical cannabis benefit at the Cardinal Bar in downtown Madison kicks off the weekend.

Saturday on the Library Mall, Harvest Fest begins at noon with over 6 hours of great live music, speakers, informational displays, vendors and more. On Sunday, we parade from the Library Mall to the State Street steps of the Capitol to rally against cannabis prohibition, listen to speakers and dance to the music of Little Marsh Overflow, one of Madison's finest bands.

For more information, visit the Madison NORML home page click here or visit the Madison HempFest page on MySpace click here.

Posted by Gary at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)