New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, also helped lead the way in popularizing cannabis. The jazz community embraced the plant early, and many musicians who moved to cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago brought it with them. Jazz artists also wrote the first English-language songs about cannabis, and Louis Armstrong became the first celebrity arrested for smoking it.
Concord Music Group celebrated this cultural connection two years ago with its new Jazz Dispensary series, which launched with the four-vinyl box set Cosmic Stash. As part of the set, the original Soul Diesel album showcased more soulful jazz tunes and alluded to the Sour Diesel cannabis strain. Last month, one day after 420, Concord released a second Soul Diesel volume packed with soul-infused classics and featuring a cover designed by Los Angeles artist Ellierex (born Danielle Garza) in her psychedelic paint-marbling style.
Fans of the Jazz Dispensary series should recognize many of the names on the seven-song Vol. 2 vinyl. James Brown collaborator Billy Butler opens the album with "The Twang Thang," a song that also opened his 1969 debut album. Melvin Sparks followed with 1971's "Who's Gonna Take the Weight" (featuring Kool & the Gang member Ronald Bell), while Rusty Bryant's "Cootie Boogaloo" kicked off side two with a high-energy, sax-driven gem from 1969's Night Train Now! Gene Ammons, who spent multiple stints in prison for non-cannabis drugs charges, added "Jungle Strut," which Miles Davis sampled for his 1992 song "Duke Booty." The other three artists, however, will be of particular interest to cannabis enthusiasts.
First, Merl Saunders is a legendary keys player who collaborated with the Grateful Dead and formed a side band with Jerry Garcia called (...wait for it…) Legion of Mary. Asked in a 2001 interview about the "biggest issue facing our planet," he actually went with cannabis prohibition. Sauders, who appears in the 2003 art image The Last Supper with Ed Rosenthal, closes out side one with the title track from his 1968 debut, Soul Grooving.
Cal Tjader, who mastered the Latin jazz sound despite being a gringo, covered cannabis-referencing songs like "Manteca" and featured a cannabis leaf on his Hip Vibrations album cover. Soul Diesel features the Tjader instrumental "Mamblues," which claims huge cool points for appearing in the 1972 animated film Fritz the Cat (as in Robert Crumb's joint-smoking Fritz).
Finally, jazz drummer Idris Muhammad, whom Chrome Sparks sampled for "Marijuana," rounds out the lineup with "Wander." In a 2012 biography, the drummer born Leo Morris recalls how loud drumming and cannabis aromas prompted a neighbor to call the police on him as a kid, but the officers told his mom not to worry about either. Likewise, just as he wasn't born with the name Idris, his brother wasn't born with the name Weedy, but that's what everyone called him for reasons you can probably guess.
Soul Diesel Vol. 2 is available at select vinyl retailers.