Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Folkies Revive Stagger Lee

By the 1950s “Stagger Lee” had been sung by musicians far and wide for nearly sixty years. Our song was there as new musical genres were forming; jazz, rhythm & blues, rock ‘n’ roll. But the 1950s also brought a retrospective appreciation of the older styles. The Folk Revival started with the academics of the North and a curiosity for the nearly forgotten music of the Delta and Appalachian regions.

Performers such as Mississippi John Hurt were re-discovered by long-hair types in tweed jackets. For many of these artists, the opportunity to come out of retirement and play once again for an appreciative audience was more than they could have hoped for. In fact their new audiences were, in most cases, larger than they had ever played for and surely more profitable.

Interest in the nearly lost traditional music of Southern America spurred younger performers to explore these quaint and uniquely American styles. Groups such as the Journeymen, and the Kingston Trio found an eager audience.

Once again, “Stagger Lee” was adopted by yet another genre. The ballad qualities of “Stagger Lee” fit well within the realm of folk music.

Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terry, and Alek Stewart - Stackolee.mp3

The Journeymen - Stackolee.mp3

Doc and Merle Watson - Stack O' Lee.mp3


Anonymous john said...

Totally Off Topic


Have a good Christmas everybody

December 05, 2007 9:41 AM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Hi Ed:

I'm enjoying your interesting posts on this topic. The only problem (for me) is that the song itself is ordinary beyond words. It lacks an arresting melody, clever 'hook', rythmic variety etc.

I'm surprised at its popularity given its singular lack of musical interest.

In fact, your posts are superior to the song.

Just my view!

Happy Christmas, Ed, to you and your family.

Jack (Melbourne, Oz)

December 05, 2007 10:05 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

John, Off topic for sure, but entertaining. Thanks, and Happy Christmas to you.

December 06, 2007 7:53 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Jack, I believe that the wide variety of styles that this song has attracted speaks to the simple nature of the tune. It is, as you say, a fairly nondescript little melody by itself, allowing each artist to interpret the song as they feel best suit the lyrics. The lyrics, the story of a callous, senseless murder, also allow for embellishment, as we have heard in the evolution and various interpretations.

It may be that the simplicity of the tune and the primeval aspect of the story are precisely the reason that this song has been recorded by over 200 artists representing just about every genre imaginable.

Thanks for the kind words, you’ve made my day (and made me blush.)

Happy Christmas to you and yours, as well.

December 06, 2007 8:15 PM  

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