Jumping On the Wagon: A Drinking Man’s Guide to Prohibition Era Music

“Evidence…proves that prohibition only drives drunkenness behind doors and into dark places, and does not cure it or even diminish it.”

~Mark Twain

As a drinking man, I hereby and therefore and henceforth give my own self the permission I need, no deserve, to stray from my poorly titled blog and write about things other than prohibition era music. For the three of you who find yourselves disappointed please watch Prohibition on PBS. While it comes off seemingly written and produced by the stout and unshaken hand of a teetotaler there were moments when the shaker at the ready was not being shook and the bitters capped when even I learned a thing or two. Too bad I had forgotten it all by morning. Nevertheless, we carry on. Hair of the dog notwithstanding.

While Rum truly embodies the spirit of this Western hemisphere on this particular evening, the anniversary of the 18th amendment repeal, whiskey is on my mind or perhaps my breath so that then is where we wobble.

I’ve chosen not to bore myself with the history of bourbon and rye (yes, NASCAR we all know,) I will mention though that the Scots invented the poison and named it uisge beatha: the water of life in about the 15th century. It’s a shame they went on to destroy it with their scotch and it’s a further shame that much of the world falls under it’s pale moon. Scotch is inferior in every way to a good American bourbon or rye. That much is settled and cannot by argued. So, while we tip our caps to those lusty Scottish monks, we should very well tip our own glasses.

I shall in a moment talk about music. First however, we should mix a drink. The cocktail, like whiskey, wasn’t invented in America, but it was in every conceivable way made better and perfected here. Before the 19th century bartenders of America mixing drinks was at best a sloshing of two liquids, one being alcoholic. Here on the wild shores of the newish world however it was our original folk art to only be lifted to a high science.

The Old Fashioned

2 oz. or 4 oz. Wild Turkey Rye Whiskey (think of this as tees on a golf course).

A cube of sugar.

2 dashes of Angostura bitters. 3 if you’re using 4 oz. of Wild Turkey.

Perhaps a small scoop of maraschino-cherry juice if so inclined and it being December.

Muddle and stir with ice no less then ten seconds. Strain over a single large ice cube in a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with the 2 Maraschino cherries.

We start with the fine bunch of Irish upstarts, The Clancy Brothers, singing their roguish tale of thieving, fighting, betrayal and more fighting. Jerry Garcia and David Grisman do a respectable version of this one too.

Whiskey in the Jar, Clancy Brothers

Continuing down our road of ruin we come to the Tim Spencer classic Cigareetes, Whuskey and Wild, Wild Women. The song is rarely sung straight, however it was written as a serious response to Spencer’s tee-totaling wife after one of her many lectures on his rough and rowdy ways in 1947. Spencer was also an original member of the Sons of the Pioneers and here he is harmonizing with Roy Rogers:

Cigareetes, Whuskey and Wild, Wild Women, Sons of the Pioneers

Rye Whiskey, one of the great trail songs, was born from the old English song The Wagoner’s Lad.

I’ll eat when I’m hungry, I’ll drink when I’m dry;

If the hard times don’t kill me, I’ll live ’til I die.

Alan Lomax gives advice on how to sing the song: “Out West, where the boys ordered sulfuric acid flavored with rusty nails just to warm their boilers up, it grew wild and raucous. The drunken refrain, tacked on as the tail end of the tune, should sound like a combination of an Indian war-whoop, a panther scream, and a drunk just going into the d.t.’s”:

Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey, I cry.

If you don’t give me rye whiskey, I surely will die.

Rye Whiskey, Tex Ritter

A rambling, shaggy murder ballad set to a squeaky fiddle seems to be next on the list. This one from our Upstate New York friends The Felice Brothers.

I put some whiskey into my whiskey
I put some heartbreak into my heart
I put my boots on that ole dance floor
I put three rounds Lord, in my 44

I love the girl, she was my sunshine
Her name was Eleanor Caroline
She got fast, with a friend of mine
At the dance hall Lord, on the county line

It doesn’t go well from there, as you well may imagine.

Whiskey In My Whiskey, The Felice Brothers

We’ll stay in New York for the last number of the evening. Amy Allison, a lovely warbling beauty who might just have the best of the bunch.

The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter, Amy Allison


Never refuse to do a kindness unless the act would work great injury to yourself, and never refuse to take a drink– under any circumstances.

~ Mark Twain


About Iaan Hughes

Iaan Hughes is a deejay on 91.3 KBCS in Seattle. He plays country & western music.
This entry was posted in Acknowledgements, Bluegrass, Country, Film, Folk, Honky Tonk, Music, Oldtime, Politics, Pop, Radio, Rock, Rockabilly, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Jumping On the Wagon: A Drinking Man’s Guide to Prohibition Era Music

  1. Chris says:

    the Scots invented the poison

    Blasphemy! It was the Irish.

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