Tex Williams – Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)

15th December 2021 · 1940s, 1940s, 1947, Jazz, Music

I’m not normally one for novelty songs but this one is different – perhaps because it’s almost 75 years old. I remember it featuring in the film Thank You For Smoking and I know it’s been covered countless other times.

It’s a novelty song, of course, and it’s performed in the Western swing genre featuring the trademark “talking blues” style of singing (or should that be “singing”?) adopted by Tex Williams, who made his name as the vocalist with Spade Cooley’s band.

He wrote the song with Merle Travis, whose name may not mean much these days but who is one of the most important and influential figures in the history of country music, with a unique guitar playing style (dubbed “Travis picking”) that effectively defined the entire genre.

Having learned a unique fingerpicking method of playing rhythm and melody simultaneously from his Kentucky neighbour Ike Everly (whose sons Phil and Don would also find fame and fortune), Travis went on to design the first solid-body electric guitar – later perfected by Leo Fender – as well as writing standards like Sixteen Tons and Nine Pound Hammer.

Unsurprisingly for such a catchy tune, this song topped the country charts for 16 weeks and reached the top of the pop charts in August 1947.
Strangely, in view of today’s widespread scorn for smoking, the singer’s disdain is not so much for the health dangers of cigarettes as the inconvenience of their addictive effect, meaning he has to interrupt a hot date and (on a different occasion) a tense poker game to go out for a smoke.

And in view of how little those health dangers were appreciated when this was written back in 1947, there’s a grim irony to the chorus:
“Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette / Puff, puff, puff, and if you smoke yourself to death / Tell St Peter at the golden gate / That you hate to make him wait / But you just gotta have another cigarette.”