This Date in Music History: April 19

Happy birthday to tripping balls and underrated Stax vocalist Ruby Johnson

Apr 19, 2012 at 10:33 am

On this day in 1943, chemist Albert Hofmann embarked on the first LSD "trip." As a Swiss chemist working in the lab of Sandoz pharmaceutical company in Switzerland five years earlier, Hofmann was the first to create the psychedelic drug. But the psychedelic aspect of wasn't discovered until April 19, 1943.

On that day 69 years ago, Hofmann took .25 milligrams of ‪lysergic acid diethylamide‬ and not long after asked a coworker to take him home. He did, on a bike, and Hofmann kind of freaked out before he was able to reel in the anxiety and enjoy the "colors and plays of shapes that persisted … Kaleidoscopic, fantastic images surged in on me," as he later wrote.

Today is known as "Bicycle Day" because of the historic trip. Fans of psychoactive drugs have celebrated today by indulging in the chemical. (I sprinkled eight microdots into my morning coffee today, for example.) Tomorrow, of course, is 4/20, the pot-smokers celebration of … an established excuse to smoke pot all day. Saturday (April 21) is Record Store Day. That's quite a three-day holiday for the counterculture!

LSD has inspired a lot of music. It famously influenced The Beatles' mid-’60s musical expansion; their song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" is widely considered an acid tribute, though John Lennon said it wasn't, the "L," "S" and "D" in the title merely a coincidence. The songs "She Said She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" from Revolver were confirmed to be about the drug, though. The Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" was another huge LSD song, and bands like Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead became forever associated with the drug thanks to their trippy sounds.

There are, of course, as many songs about doing acid as their our Country tunes about lovin' America and drinking beer. More than anyone could ever listen to, in fact — from Syd Barrett's entire solo discography to some of today's top Dance music makers.

WHOA! Does everyone else see that? Please tell me everyone else sees that.

Here's a short film documenting (allegedly) Syd Barrett's first acid experience (NSFW, I suppose, but only for druggy silliness).

Happy birthday, tripping balls!

—-Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing an April 19 birthday include British Blues pioneer Alexis Korner (1928); keyboardist with P Funk, Talking Heads and many other projects, Bernie Worrell (1944); cofounder of The Turtles and later collaborator of Frank Zappa's, Mark "Flo" Volman (1947); producer of everyone from Loverboy to Metallica, Bob Rock (1954); controversial Hip Hop producer and Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight (1965); contemporary Folk singer/songwriter Dar Williams (1967); and Soul singer Ruby Johnson (1936).

Johnson was one of the under-heralded artists to record for the legendary Stax label, but she had an impressive (albeit very small) catalog of great songs (and just one album, a 1993 collection featuring much of the limited material she recorded for Stax). The label only released a handful of singles from Johnson and they never performed well on the charts, despite working with Stax regulars like Isaac Hayes, Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn. Johnson left music in 1974 and passed away in 1999 at the age of 63.