Julia Lee: Marijuana (aka Lotus Blossom)
Marijuana (aka Lotus Blossom)
Julia Lee (piano, vocals)
Kansas City Star (Bear Family)
Julia Lee (piano, vocals),
Dave Cavanaugh (clarinet, tenor sax), Jack Marshall (guitar), Charlie Drayton (bass), Sam “Baby” Lovett (drums).
Composed by Sam Coslow.
Recorded: Los Angeles, November 14, 1947
Rating: 85/100 (learn more)
Pianist and singer Julia Lee (1902-1958) recorded a lot of songs about sinful substances, from pie and cake to alcohol, most of which originated with the Kansas City blues tradition that Lee herself grew up in. However, her most overt song about unsavory habits did not, surprisingly, originate as part of the blues tradition, but was in fact a number from a Hollywood musical. In 1934, the lyricist and later producer Sam Coslow wrote "Marihuana" (as it was then spelled) for the film Murder At The Vanities. Cannabis was then still legal in many states, but it was already a taboo and risqué subject for a mainstream pop song. Coslow later changed the title, and some of the lyrics with it, to "Lotus Blossom."
Lee probably made the song a permanent part of her repertoire from the mid-'30s onwards. She recorded it no less than three times, once in 1945 for the independent Premier Records, as "Marihuana," and twice for Capitol Records, under both titles, at the session listed above. Capitol issued the "Lotus" version at the time. (In all three labels, the composing credit was given to Lee.) Under either title, the song is not about getting high and having a good time; it's a far cry from Cab Calloway extolling the joys of viperhood or Bessie Smith joyfully demanding reefer along with her pigfeet and beer. "Marihuana" is a song of addiction and regret. Lee's heroine (no pun intended) wants to give up smoking dope but can't do without the escape that narcotics provide. Addressing the drug directly in the second person, Lee sings, "You alone can bring my lover back to me." She sings with the remorse of a major blues singer doing a sad blues, combining sex and drugs, euphoria and melancholy, into one especially potent cocktail. (Blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, who later recorded it in the "Lotus Blossom" incarnation with Wilbur DeParis, obviously learned it from her.)
Reviewer: Will Friedwald