|Photo: Herb Snitzer/Jazz Lives
If we all get as old as Methuselah, our memories will always be of lots of beauty and warmth from gage. Well, that was my life and I don’t feel ashamed at all. Mary Warner, honey, you sure was good and I enjoyed you ‘heap much.’
~ Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
Louis Armstrong first smoked marijuana in the mid-1920s, and stuck up for the herb all his life.
The original manuscript for Armstrong’s autobiography, Satchmo: My Life In New Orleans, published in 1954, contained information about his cannabis use, but those parts of the book were suppressed and censored by his manager, Joe Glaser (an Al Capone acolyte).
Armstrong at one time planned to publish a sequel which he said he would call “Gage” — jazz slang for marijuana. “This whole second book might be about nothing but gage,” Armstrong once said.
Armstrong was arrested in November 1930 while smoking marijuana with drummer Vic Berton outside the Cotton Club in Culver City, California. (While marijuana wasn’t against federal law until 1937, California outlawed weed in 1927.)
“The cops took Vic and Louis downtown, where they spent the night in a cell, laughing it up — they were still high,” said Vic Berton’s brother Ralph.
“They stopped laughing the next morning when the judge gave them six months and a $1,000 fine each.”
Satchmo was convicted on the pot charge in 1931, but his commercial reputation and popular appeal survived.
The jazz musicians’ connections, possibly through graft performed by Prohibition-era club owners, got the sentences suspended and “Armstrong went back to smoking marijuana almost immediately.” The brouhaha soon died down in the press.
“It makes you feel good, man, makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro,” Armstrong told John Hammond. “It makes you feel wanted, and when you’re with another tea smoker, it makes you feel a special kinship.”
Later Armstrong wrote President Eisenhower advocating marijuana legalization. It was, he said, less harmful than alcohol.