Twenty-five years ago, Hempilation: Freedom Is NORML was released. A benefit album, it featured some of the top bands of the '90s, including Cypress Hill, the Black Crowes, Sublime, Blues Traveler, 311 and Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers.
I came up with the idea for the album when I was music editor at High Times. Bands were friendly to the magazine and many wanted to help the marijuana-legalization cause. I reached out to see if NORML would like to be the beneficiary of such an album. They agreed and dispatched Eric Steenstra to represent them and work with me. Eric and I sought out a label partner and found a very receptive company in Capricorn Records, who were based in Nashville at the time. Our counterpart there was Philip Walden Jr., son of company co-founder Phil Walden.
For the first album, Eric and I did most of the band outreach. Capricorn got contributions from four of its bands: 311, Widespread Panic, Gov't Mule and Ian Moore. The other 13 tracks were up to us.
Inspired by tribute albums like Deadicated, we asked bands to cover a cannabis classic or submit their own new song for Hempilation. Most chose the former.
Track Listing for Hempilation:
1. Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 - The Black Crowes
2, I Want to Take You Higher - Blues Traveler
3. I Wanna Get High - Cypress Hill
4. I Like Marijuana - David Peel & The 360's
5. Don't Step on the Grass, Sam - Gov't Mule
6. Who's Got the Herb? - 311
7. Convicted - Hater
8. Sweet Leaf - Sacred Reich
9. Smokin' Cheeba Cheeba - High Fidelity
10. Champagne & Reefer - Ian Moore
11. Legalize It - Sublime
12. In the Flow - Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers
13. And It Stoned Me - Widespread Panic
14. Homegrown - Gus
15. High Time We Went - Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies
16. Pot Head Pixies - Raging Slab
17. Too Rolling Stoned - Drivin' N' Cryin' with Warren Haynes
Upon its release in November 1995, Hempilation became emboiled in controversies. Then drug czar Lee Brown held up the album at a music industry luncheon in Hollywood and told the executives this was the the problem with their industry. Hassled by the DEA, stores n Boston and Chicago took the album off the shelves. This stirred up media coverage. After Brown's comment, I was interviewed by NBC NIghtly News. It all added up to booming album sales. The final figure was about 150,000 units sold, five times the benefit-album average.
The success led to a sequel, Hempilation: Free the Weed (A Benefit for NORML), in 1998. Eric, Philip and I teamed up again with the help of Harvey Schwartz at Capricorn (the company had moved to Atlanta) to recruit 20 different artists and bands for the album, which was more eclectic than the original. It featured various legends from Willie Nelson and George Clinton to Wayne Kramer and Mike Watt, plus Gov't Mule and several members of Sublime in the form of the Long Beach Dub All Stars returned from the first album.
Track Listing for Hempilation 2
1. Free to Choose - Everything
2. U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog - George Clinton
3. Weed (To The Rescue) - Vic Chestnutt
4. Sidemousin' the Bong - Mike Watt
5. Don't Bogart Me - Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise
6. Long Haired Country Boy - From Good Homes
8. Play the Greed - Dar Williams
9. The Joker - Michael Franti & Spearhead
10. Smoke 'Em - Fun Lovin' Criminals
11. Under Mi Sensi - Long Beach Dub All Stars with Barrington Levy
12. Let Me Roll It - Big Sugar
13. High - Jimmie's Chicken Shack
14. 30 Days in the Hole - Gov't Mule
15. Let's Get High - Letters to Cleo
16. If You're a Viper - Wayne Kramer
17. Light Up or Leave Me Alone - Freddy Jones Band
18. One Toke Over the Line - The Rainmakers with Brewer & Shipley
19. Mary Jane - Blue Mountain
20. The Dope Smokin' Song - Hank Flamingo
Less perturbed by Hempilation 2, the government made no efforts to derail it. We'd hoped for another controversy but alas there wasn't any. Sales tailed off to a respectable 50,000 units.
But it would be the final Hempilation album.
Over the years people have suggested reviving the Hempilation brand. I rebuff all efforts. The music industry isn't what it once was and I doubt we could ever find a partner as supportive and generous as Capricorn Records.
I'd like to thank all my friends and associates at Capricorn who I've kept in touch with and those I haven't. Sadly, Philip passed away in 2011. He was 48.
Others who participated in either or both of the two Hempilation albums and have since died include David Peel, Bradley Nowell (Sublime), Bobby Sheehan (Blues Traveler), Michael Houser and Todd Nance (Widespread Panic), Allen Woody (Gov't Mule), Paul English (Willie Nelson), Vic Chestnutt and Jason Rainey (Sacred Reich).
After 20 years at High Times, I left the company in 2007 and founded CelebStoner. Eric is executive director of Vote Hemp. Capricorn was sold to Volcano in 2000. Phil Walden died in 2006.
NORML - the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws - turned 50 in 2020.
Special #Hemplation25 Celebration
I'll be on 420 Live with Jeff Kravitz on November 20 at 4:20 pm ET. We'll play songs from the Hempilation albums and talk about the project with special guests.