Thursday, January 11, 2007

Stackalee


From THE ST. LOUIS GLOBE DEMOCRAT, 1895: "William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o'clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon's hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away. He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. Lee Sheldon is also known as 'Stag' Lee."

Billy Lyons died from his wounds. ‘Stag’ Lee Sheldon was tried for his murder, his first trial ending in a hung jury. He was found guilty in a second trial and served his time. He was released and lived out his life in obscurity, dying sometime before 1920.

While the story of ‘Stag’ Lee and Billy Lyons may not have been an exceptional storie, the song that it inspired has been performed and recorded by a wide variety of artists, in an equally wide variety of styles for the past 80 years, and will probably be recorded for another 80 years.

The story and song traveled down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans, where it took on a life of its own. The scoundrels name variously became ‘Stag’ Lee, Stagger Lee, Stag-O-Lee, Stagolee, Stackolee, Stack-A-Lee, and even Stack-O-Dollars, and the song traveled around the country. The words to this song were first published in 1910 by John Lomax under the title “Stagolee”. One of the first recordings was by Frank Hutchison in 1927. I’ve posted many times about Frank Hutchison, the white coal miner in Logan, West Virginia. Hutchison was an incredible guitarist who learned a lot of his styling from a crippled black musician and neighbor named Bill Hunt. Hutchison recorded the song he titled “Stackalee” in 1927.
The song was recorded by many blues and Old Time artists over the years. The New Orleans R&B artist known as Archibald (Leon T. Gross) had a hit with the song in 1950 followed by Lloyd Price, who recorded the song on the flip side of his minor hit "You Need Love". DJs discovered "Stagger Lee" on the other side and started playing that. The song took off and in no time was number one on the charts, selling over 200,000 copies a day.

The song has been recorded by a wide variety of artists including; The inmates at Angola Prisoner, the Grateful Dead, Mike Bloomfield, Pat Boone, Roy Bookbinder, James Brown, Beck, Cab Calloway, Lonnie Donegan, Fats Domino, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Doc Watson, ...
Update: I've fixed the link to the list of artists that have recorded this song. It can be found HERE.

Frank Hutchison - Stackalee.mp3

Mississippi John Hurt - Stack O' Lee Blues.mp3

Archibald - Stack A Lee.mp3(parts 1 & 2)

Wilson Pickett - Stagger Lee.mp3

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,

Your "full list" link is broken... it's pointing to a file on your HD, not on the web.

Cheers,
-Rob

January 12, 2007 8:33 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks Rob.
I've removed the link until I can fix it.

January 12, 2007 12:30 PM  
Blogger Jim H said...

The Clash's "Wrong 'em Boyo" was a rework of "Stagger Lee" too.

January 12, 2007 12:43 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Jim H, I thought the list of artists that recorded this song was long, but if you take into account the retooled versions, holy crap, it become unmanagable!

January 12, 2007 9:00 PM  
Anonymous rockin'andRollin' said...

Hi Ed,
can you make an similar post about songs
like "cc rider" and "corrine, corrina"?

Bye

January 14, 2007 3:58 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hey, rockin'androllin', those are two great ideas! Thanks. I'l' try to put something together soon.

January 14, 2007 7:38 PM  
Anonymous Derek McCulloch said...

I was really happy to come acorss this post. This is a subject of great fascination for me, so much so that I wrote a graphic novel about it, which was published last year by Image Comics. You can see reviews of it here, if you're interested:

http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1201847,00.html
and
http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6373003.html

And yes, let's see that Corrina list!

January 15, 2007 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

Ed, I've enjoyed "the story behind the song" posts. You're quite the story-teller.

January 16, 2007 7:53 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Derek- Wow! I wish I had your novel while I was doing my research. I have ordered a copy for myself and I'll post a link on the Bus so other folks can check it out.

January 16, 2007 8:30 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Lucy - Thanks, dear. I enjoy doing them.

January 16, 2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger Joel @ Postmodern Sounds said...

Check out the new version by Samuel L. Jackson of all people from some new movie of his.

January 19, 2007 1:02 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Thanks Joel, I'm not sure what to think about Jackson's version. I sure is a different take on the old standard.

January 19, 2007 8:16 AM  

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