Louis Armstrong's Marijuana Bust in Culver City: Never Smoke Weed in a Club's Parking Lot
There's a great little anecdote in the new Louis Armstrong biography, Pops, written by Terry Teachout, about the trumpeter and his predilection for marijuana. The story reveals the truth that as long as you've got music clubs and parking lots, the chronic will surely follow. Armstrong, writes Teachout, was a lifetime smoker, preferring weed to booze hands down: "The least hypocritical of men, [Armstrong] saw no reason to conceal the fact, known to all his friends, that he smoked pot nearly every day: 'I felt at no time when ever I ran across some of that good shit, that I was breaking the law, or some foolish thought similar to it.'"
The legendary trumpeter spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, and helped open the west coast arm of the Cotton Club -- which was on Washington Boulevard in Culver City -- as "Louis Armstrong and his New Sebastian Cotton Club Orchestra."
On November 14, 1930, Armstrong and his drummer Vic Berton snuck out to the parking lot of the Cotton Club to smoke a joint between sets. Recalls Armstrong (as quoted in Pops):
While Vic and I were blasting this joint, having lots of laughs and feelin' good, enjoying each others' fine company, we were standing in this great big lot in front of some cars. Just then, two big, healthy dicks (detectives, that is) come from behind a car, man, nonchalantly, and say to us, "We'll take the roach, boys." Mmmm! Vic and I said nothin'. So one dick stayed with me until I went into the club and did my last show. He enjoyed it, too.
Teachout writes that the bust happened because another local bandleader was jealous of Armstrong and tipped off the cops that he was smoking the joint. The trumpeter spent the night in jail. Ultimately Armstrong was sentenced to 30 days, but ended up receiving a modified sentence that wouldn't interfere with his working hours.