High Jazz Tune: 'If You're a Viper' by Various Artists

Jazz violinist Stuff Smith was the first to record "If You’re a Viper" in 1938.

In the 1930s and 1940s, marijuana was popular among jazz musicians. Many wrote songs were written about it. One of the so-called reefer songs, "If You're a Viper," has an interesting history. 

Originally recorded in 1936 by violinist Stuff Smith, this delightful ode to potheads, then called vipers by jazz cats, was written by Rosetta Howard, Horace Malcolm and Herbert Moren. It was also recorded separately by Rosetta Howard and Bob Howard and then by Fats Waller, who renamed his 1943 version, "The Reefer Song." Alternately called "You're a Viper" and "If You're a Viper," it namechecks Mezz Mezzrow, the notorious pot dealer to the jazz stars back then.


'30s and '40s Versions

Stuff Smith and His Onyx Club Boys in 1936

Rosetta Howard in 1937

Bob Howard in 1938

Fats Waller in 1943


'60s and '70s Versions

The Jim Kweskin Jug Band on Garden of Joy in 1967

The Manhattan Transfer on Jukin' in 1971

Helen Humes live


'90s and 2000s Versions

Kermit Ruffins on The Big Butter and Eggman in 1994

Wayne Kramer on Hempilation 2: Free the Weed in 1998

Wayne Hancock live in 2007

Dick Van Dyke 


The Lyrics

I dreamed about a reefer five feet long
Mighty mezz but not too strong
You'll be high but not for long
If you're a viper

I'm the queen of everything
I've got to be happy before I can sing
Light a tea and let it be
If you're a viper

When your throat gets dry
You know you're high
Everything is dandy
You truck on down to the corner store
Bust your conk on peppermint candy

Then you know your body's spent
You don't care if you don't pay rent
Sky's high and so am I
If you're a viper

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.