With the sad passing of so many genre defining, boundary crossing, groundbreaking musicians in the last two years, in our fly-by-night culture, it’s often difficult to fully appreciate and properly commemorate all these great artists—especially when it comes to their adventures with weed.
Pot touched on the careers of every musician who made this list—and even a couple who didn’t. Music and marijuana is really a multi-generational phenomenon, spanning the father of rock ‘n’ roll to a guru of grunge. Of course, cannabis had greater meaning for some more than others on this list—but isn’t that always the case with anything in life?
In compiling this list, we selected those who possessed a positive weed outlook, which is why the legendary Prince—who died April 21 of 2016 after overdosing on killer opioid fentanyl—did not make the cut, due to his anti-pot protestations. On the song “Purple Freak” Prince sadly sang, “Don’t need no reefer”—but perhaps if he had turned to pot instead of deadly opiates, he’d be alive and toking today!
And then there’s George Michael, who passed away this past Christmas due to heart disease. Michael’s relationship with the weed was so complex and frankly, bizarre, it would take an entire article to delineate. Fortunately, we have one right HERE.
But for those musicians included below, their stories are indicative of the influence of cannabis on their lives, careers, or at least the wide world of weed that surrounded them while they were still with us.
Some of these artists were inspired by pot, others entrapped by its mindless prohibition, but each has a unique THC tale.
So fire up some bud that opens your mind, check out our linked musical suggestions—or put on your own mixtape of some, or all—while reading this countdown of these dearly departed rockers and rollers, as you come to realize the ubiquitous role marijuana has always played in shaping music and the culture that imbues it.
10. CHRIS CORNELL
The shocking, out-of-nowhere, early-morning May 18 suicide of Soundgarden front-man Cornell may have been fueled by use of unpredictable psychoactive prescription drugs, such as Ativan. Personally, Cornell didn’t have a rep as a smoker—though his ganja grunge fans were legion—perhaps seeking to preserve his golden throat. But that’s not to say Cornell didn’t appreciate West Coast weed, as his comments at this 2008 San Francisco show attest.
Smelling a “lot of real strong weed” just outside the venue, Cornell jokingly declared that concertgoers didn’t even have to continue getting stoned, because the “pot is just too damn strong around here!” The crowd squealed their agreement about the “strong” part, but kept right on smoking anyway.
Also, back in the day, Cornell served as a first rate “pot lookout,” as DJ Riz Rollins explained at Cornell’s wake held at KEXP studio at the Seattle Center, during the afternoon of May 18. Rollins recalled that at the now-defunct Seattle club The Off Ramp, he wanted to puff weed in a bathroom, but in those pre-legal years, such activities were not as acceptable. But Cornell came to the reefer rescue, obliging to serve as look-out while Rollins blazed. He offered Cornell a hit, and though Chris passed, he did fulfill his duties as dank sentry while Rollins got ripped.
9. PHIFE DAWG
When Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor died in March 2016 at the too-young age of 45 from complications of diabetes, it had many old school fans recalling his years as a member of introspective hip-hop combo A Tribe Called Quest.
Phife Dawg also appeared on “Weed #2”, from trippy rap group De La Soul’s year 2000 album, Art Official Intelligence. As broken down by Wired, the audio’s skit premise is that magic marijuana called “Ghost Weed” bestows the ability upon anyone who smokes to perfectly impersonate their favorite rapper, and Dawg does a freestyle where he “pretends” to be some guy mimicking Phife’s distinctive voice and flow.
8. CHUCK BERRY
The author of “Johnny B Goode” died this past March of cardiac arrest at age 90.
John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock ‘n’ roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.” That statement was a tribute to Berry’s seminal role in creating the structure and lead guitar dynamics of rock in the mid-1950’s—and the genre of music that seemed to go so well with weed.
Flash forward almost half-a-century, when Berry was busted for possession of pot and hash, with 62 grams of weed confiscated during a July 1990 raid on Berry’s rural residence near St. Louis, Missouri. Per the Associated Press, Berry officially denied the weed was his as part of a plea bargain to get probation on a misdemeanor charge. It’s possible that Berry liked to personally indulge in the chronic—until he got caught.
Regardless if he actually smoked or not, there’s a cannabis strain actually named “Chuck Berry”—a predominantly indica-dominant that combines an Afghani landrace with, you guessed it, BlackBerry.
7. LEONARD COHEN
The enigmatic Cohen departed this material plane last November at age 82, when he died in his sleep at his L.A. residence after suffering a bad fall due to his struggles with cancer.
To help deal with the disease’s constant pain, Cohen indulged in medicinal cannabis for healing energy while recording his swan song album, the critically lauded You Want It Darker, released a mere three weeks before his passing.
Cohen’s son Adam produced the album and shared with CBC how he and his father, “would put on a song and listen to it on repeat just like teenagers with the help of medical marijuana.” The healing weed helped bring “joy and jubilance” to Cohen and the creative process, as is indicative on the finished product.
6. GREGG ALLMAN
Here’s a story where pot—and other drugs—actually contributed to the breakup of the band. The organist and soulful crooner of Southern rock—and jamband—groundbreakers the Allman Brothers Band, is sadly, the most recent casualty on this list, having succumbed to complications of liver cancer on May 27.
Per Ultimate Classic Rock, the ABB bio Midnight Riders tells the story of the Allman’s connection to the “Dixie Mafia,” which dealt all kinds of drugs both deadly (heroin, cocaine and PCP) and benign (weed). But all that changed in March 1971, when ABB and their suppliers rolled into a Jackson, Alabama truck stop and a rightfully suspicious cop busted the dealers—and the band. Gregg, who freaked out over being held in a cell, started crazily climbing the bars until calmed down by his brother and ABB slide guitarist extraordinaire, the late great Duane Alllman.
Gregg and the rest of the band were released after one night, and they made a plea bargain to escape incarceration. Along with that, ABB stopped playing Alabama. Gregg’s testimony against road manager Scooter Herring, who got 75 years in prison for narcotics distribution, was viewed as a betrayal by other ABB members and the band was shattered in 1976, until Gregg reformed ABB with two new members in ’78.
5. DAVID BOWIE
Bowie became the “Thin White Doobie” for a night on March 21, 1976, when he and his crew were busted for 182 grams of weed (6.4 ounces). While that was a sizable stash, keep in mind Bowie and crew were on tour. Though known for dabbling in harder drugs like cocaine, apparently Ziggy “Starbud” and his entourage got stoned with the best of them.
Per the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, after performing on Saturday March 20, Bowie and three others were arrested early the next morning by four raiding vice squad detectives in his three-room suite at the Americana Rochester Hotel. Among those arrested was James Osterberg, Jr.—aka punk pioneer Iggy Pop. Bowie was charged with a Class C felony, and despite the stress of it all, took a very stylish mugshot only Ziggy could pull off. He posted bail of $2,000 each for his entourage and drove off to his next show in Springfield, Massachusetts (the “Starman” ironically feared flying).
Bowie appeared in court on March 25, 1976, using his given name of David Jones, again looking very ’70’s glam-fabulous, and generally ignoring his gathered fans. Though he was said to be “very flattered” by their response, along with the catcalls of six hookers awaiting arraignment. Bowie/Jones pleaded, “Not guilty, sir,” and the charges were ultimately dismissed. Though at the time, Bowie said the incident would not affect his return to the town, he never played Rochester again. And now he never will.
4. MERLE HAGGARD
The co-creator of the country-based “Bakersfield Sound” passed away on April 6, 2016–his 79th birthday. Haggard’s pot story is like George Michael’s—except blissfully in reverse, as Merle went from opposing pot to helping create a strain!
As delineated by Rolling Stone, during the height of the counterculture in 1969, Haggard released “Okie from Muskogee” in which he proudly declared, “We don’t smoke marijuana.” But like much of America, over time, Haggard came to be enlightened on the wonders of weed, and he expressed regret over being associated with the trite values of “Muskogee.”
Haggard was personally partial to sativa strains, for their stimulating effects that helped get him through a grueling tour schedule of over 100 live shows annually.
With the help of his family, he cultivated medicinal marijuana on his 280-acre ranch in Northern California. Haggard also got stoned with another country legend, Willie Nelson, as the two recorded an album together, which included the song, “It’s All Going to Pot,” aptly released on April 20, 2015 as Haggard came musically full circle with cannabis.
Per Westwood, even after his death, Haggard continues making an impression upon the world of weed, as the “Merle’s Girls” sativa strain he personally developed—and named for a girl’s soccer team he once sponsored—was marketed by the Colorado Weed Co. in September 2016.
3. GLENN FREY
Frey’s death was particularly tragic—and underscores the dangers of prescription drugs—as he passed from complications of the medication he was taking for rheumatoid arthritis in January 2016.
Frey and his band The Eagles reflect the mellow 1970’s stoner groove when weed wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as it is today with 30 percent THC strains. And one of the quintessential anthems of that era was “Take It Easy,” composed by Frey and another ambassador of mellow ‘70’s rock—Jackson Browne—while they were jamming and getting baked together, according to Leafly.
Per the Rolling Stone, while the Eagles were recording their 1974 breakthrough album On The Border, the famed producer Glyn Johns prohibited any drug use—even pot—in the studio. This presented a challenge for super-stoner Frey, who had to ditch the confines of the studio with bassist Randy Meisner to get high between takes,
Frey readily admitted: “It really irritated (Johns) that Randy and I would sneak off and smoke weed. He’d tell me, ‘You smoke grass and then you don’t say what’s on your mind when it comes to mind. Now it’s a week later and you’re talking about something that you should have ironed out seven days ago. And that’s juvenile…’”
“What can you say?” Frey asked rhetorically, “You’re busted.”
Yet Frey’s creative juices were certainly enhanced by the clandestine cannabis sessions, which produced strong Border songs like the title track and classic sing-along, “James Dean.”
And never doubt Frey being a life-long stoner. As teenager friend Bob Seger recalled when he and Frey were in a heady band called Mushrooms together in Detroit, they once got busted smoking weed in Frey’s basement—by Glenn’s own mother!
2. PAUL KANTNER
Paul Kantner ranks high on this list for many reasons, including being the co-founder of a band that shared the name of a makeshift roach clip, as a “Jefferson Airplane” is a burnt match split into two to securely hold those tiny ends of joints that would otherwise burn delicate fingers. Even if the band name might have other origins, per Band Naming, everyone on Earth thinks they’re named for homemade paraphernalia.
Kantner passed in January 2016 at age 74 of multiple organ failure.
Cannabis was part and partial to Kantner’s radical “revolutionary artist” persona of the late 60’s and early 70’s—before cocaine took over the scene. For just one example, Kantner was fond of leaving joints in telephone booths (remember those?) located in government buildings, presumably in hopes of “turning on” politicos. When asked about it in a 1970 Rolling Stone interview, Kantner did not back down an inch: “I’ll probably escalate. Leave bales of marijuana strewn across cities.” And being the consummate pothead, Paul did not forget the munchies, as he added, “Also leaving just tons of food on people.”
Kantner was likewise an unabashed believer in the transformative powers of pot. In a late 1970’s interview in HIGH TIMES-ripoff publication Head magazine (reprinted online in 2016 by Potent), he disclosed, “Grass made me a whole man,” as before he became a stoner, Paul was “painfully shy.”
Kantner also originated selective strain usage ,which is commonplace today; he had what he referred to as his “day dope,” Mexican strains that were “brighter, zippier, higher.” While stronger strains like Thai were for when he really wanted to get ripped.
Kantner also recalled getting busted for weed in Hawaii in 1970 in an incident he described as a “Keystone Kops kind of thing.” After a local Hawaiian newspaper reporter wrote that Kantner had been smoking a “log-sized” joint during an interview, this prompted the local narcs to monitor and then bust the house Jefferson Airplane was renting while touring the Islands.
1. DAVID PEEL
Was David Peel into marijuana? Hell, this guy was marijuana—about as close as a person may have ever gotten to personifying pot; at least, the wild, joyous, creative, spontaneous side of weed.
The author of infectious sing-along pot anthem, “I Like Marijuana,” died of a heart attack in New York City this past April. To list all of Peel’s pot adventures would take up an article twice the length of this, but among the highlights was his playing the historic December 10, 1971 “Free John Sinclair” rally for a Michigan pot prisoner, which included a performance by John Lennon.
His first street band was David Peel and the Banana Trippers, a dated reference to the hippie myth that smoking banana peels somehow got you stoned (which is false; bananas don’t contain any combustible psychoactive chemicals). Peel and his next band Lower East Side were heard jamming in on the streets of NYC in 1968 by an Elektra Records executive, Danny Fields, who was captivated by their folk-punk rawness.
Per Celeb Stoner, Peel and band subsequently signed with Elektra and their first album was not only called Have a Marijuana, it proudly displayed a pot leaf on the cover. Before HIGH TIMES, Cheech & Chong and today’s hip-hop pot scene all brought marijuana closer to the mainstream, Peel broke ground with his audacious pot support at a time when the nation was much more divided over weed.