“Dust in a Baggie” is the song that made Billy Strings famous, after a video surfaced online in 2019 of him playing it in a green room circa 2012. The video went viral, and while Billy Strings was already well-known in the bluegrass world, and to a lesser extent the jam scene, this was a launching pad for his massive career trajectory.
Officially released on his 2016 self-titled EP, “Dust in a Baggie” had been in Billy’s repertoire as early as 2012, when he was just 20 years old. The fast-paced track details the life of a methamphetamine addict who has gotten himself into some trouble with the law, and is now facing 20 years behind bars.
To understand why such a young songwriter would write a song like “Dust in a Baggie”, you’ve got to look at the musician’s background.
Billy Strings was born to a family that was ravaged by drug addiction, losing his father to heroin when he was just two years old. His mother remarried, and ten years later both his mother and stepfather became addicted to methamphetamine.
At the time, Billy was just 13 years old, and he left home to chase his own demons in the realm of drug addiction.
Eventually, both Billy and his family were able to climb out of the dark hole and achieve sobriety. Billy started to seriously pursue music, and his exceptional talent made plenty of ears perk up.
Here we are today, with 24 million plus views on that YouTube video, and Billy Strings a GRAMMY winner, selling out arenas.
This is only the beginning, and it all started with a little “Dust in a Baggie”.
Billy Strings on “Dust in a Baggie”
At this point you may be assuming that Billy Strings wrote the tune about his own life, but it turns out that’s not the case. He spoke about the song during a 2020 episode of the podcast Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett.
“It was actually about this fella that I knew,” Billy explains. “He went to prison and got out. Next thing you know, he went right back.”
Of course, he went back to prison for having a little bit of meth on him. Not much, though as the song says.
“I’m talking less than a quarter of a gram,” Strings recalls. “Like, just dust in the bottom of a baggie. Sent him back for like 20 years or something.”
Billy was disappointed to see that his buddy had gotten busted again, because he was hoping that he would be able to get his life on track.
“It sucked because when he got out I was like, ‘Man, you’re out. You’ve been in there for like five years or something. You’re out and I’m proud of you. Let’s get your life back on track,’ ya know? It was like a month or two later and he was gone back.”
This incident inspired Billy to write “Dust in a Baggie”.
“Dust in a Baggie” Lyrics Meaning
The song opens with a short-but-ripping acoustic guitar intro before Billy jumps into the first verse:
I ain’t slept in seven days, haven’t ate in threeFirst verse to “Dust in a Baggie” by Billy Strings.
Methamphetamine has got a damn good hold of me
My tweaker friends have got me to the point of no return
I just took the lighter to the bulb and watched it burn
Billy’s been up for a week straight, and he hasn’t had a bite to eat in three days. Methamphetamine is to blame, and it’s got him in its dirty claws.
He blames his “tweaker friends,” saying that they’re the ones who got him here. He simply took the lighter to the bulb and watched the meth burn up.
Of course, he also inhaled the smoke.
“Tweaker” is a slang term for a meth head. Users often consume the drug by smoking out of a crack pipe, which is a special kind of glass pipe that resembles a light bulb with a tube coming out of it. The drug is placed in the bulb part, and users hold the lighter under it until it begins to smoke, and then they inhale through the tube.
After some intricate bluegrass jams that show up Billy’s ability on the acoustic guitar, we reach the second verse:
Well if I would have listened to what Mom and Papa saidSecond verse to “Dust in a Baggie” by Billy Strings.
I wouldn’t be locked up in prison, troubled in the head
I took that little pop and sucked until my mind was spun
I got twenty years to sit and think of what I’ve done
The second verse has Billy showing regret for what he’s done, suggesting that if he only had listened to the advice of his parents, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into this mess. Both is life and his head are now messed up.
Again he references the pipe he used to smoke the meth, and how it made his mind spin.
He’s been busted, and they stuck him in a cell for twenty years.
In the chorus, we can see that this is not the first time the meth has gotten him into trouble:
This life of sin has got me inChorus to “Dust in a Baggie” by Billy Strings.
Well it’s got me back in prison once again
I used my only phone call to contact my daddy
I got twenty long years for some dust in a baggie
Billy sings that he’s living a life of sin, and he’s back in prison again. He had one phone call, and he used it to call his father to tell him that he’s in for twenty.
The phrase “Dust in a Baggie” offers a visual of a bag of meth that is just about empty, because Billy had already smoked most of it. However, the cops find it, identify it as meth, and stick him with the charge anyway.
In the third verse, Billy continues to reflect and express regret over his actions:
Sometimes I sit and wonder where my little life went wrongThird verse to “Dust in a Baggie” by Billy Strings.
These old jailhouse blues have got me singing this old song
My life is a disaster, Lord and I feel so ashamed
In here where they call by a number, not a name
Billy implies that he wrote the song in prison, inspired by the jailhouse blues. He knows that his life is a mess, and he’s totally ashamed of it.
He’s stuck in a place that doesn’t use his name, but instead just assigns him a number. This line is a possible reference to the Hank Williams song, “(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle”.
Watch the famous green room performance of “Dust in a Baggie” by Billy Strings below, and listen to the studio version of the track below that.