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That bad man, Stack O' Lee.
December 19, 2006 12:20 PM   Subscribe

One Christmas night in a bar in the Third Ward in St. Louis, Missouri, "Stag" Lee Shelton shot Billy Lyon (cache) in a argument over a hat. This simple crime went on to inspire a song that lives on after more than one hundred years. (more inside)
posted by 1f2frfbf (45 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
The song went to the top of the charts with Lloyd Price in 1958. Prior to that versions were recorded by Mississppi John Hurt, Frank Hutchinson and Furry Lewis. In the modern era, it's been done by the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan. It's been reworked by Hawiian Guitarist Sol Hoopii and in wonderfully raunchy style by Nick Cave. It was sung by marching Black Panthers (cache) and Bobby Seale went so far as to name his son after him.

There's a graphic novel, a scholarly investigation (excerpt, pdf), a comprehensive list of versions and even a blog (with photos of Billy Lyon's unmarked grave). At the end of it all, there's only the song that lives on and grows.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:21 PM on December 19, 2006


My favorite is The Clash's "Wrong 'Em Boyo."
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:25 PM on December 19, 2006


Also, The Clash.

op: oops.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:27 PM on December 19, 2006


I just saw Frank Morey perform this song last night.
posted by notsnot at 12:32 PM on December 19, 2006


Are you perplexed under another nym, by any chance? Because I was prompted to find all of these links several years ago in response to this post.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:33 PM on December 19, 2006


PeterMcDermott: Nope, sorry.

I knew everyone would trot out their favorite versions as soon as I posted it, so no slight meant by forgetting anyone.

(yes, I shoulda remembered the Clash. Oh well, next time...)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:39 PM on December 19, 2006


Wow. I was just reading about this today on Wiki. Weird.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 12:43 PM on December 19, 2006


I have 10 or so versions of this on mp3. Can't remember where I found them, but it was likely via metafilter. Anyone remember?
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:50 PM on December 19, 2006


Nice post. I never knew Stagger Lee as anything but one of the many low points in Houston sports history.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 12:53 PM on December 19, 2006


Yup, much as I love the more classic and straightforward versions of this song, Wrong 'Em Boyo is also my favorite.
posted by OmieWise at 12:53 PM on December 19, 2006


Frank Morey does a great version! I miss that guy. I'm a sucker for the Dead's version, big time. "As Stagger Lee lit a cigarette, she shot him in the balls." You just don't get that kind of detail from other versions. Also, if I'm not mistaken, Lloyd Price had to cut two versions of his song because the original's mention of "gambling" got it banned from many radio stations.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 12:55 PM on December 19, 2006


c'mon--Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beach Boys, Nick Cave, several others--where did I find that? Anyone?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:00 PM on December 19, 2006


Also previously on MetaFilter.

Casey Jones, Stagolee, Frankie and Johnny - Murder and Death Ballad Back Stories
posted by y2karl at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Shamelessplugforafriend-

Friend of mine wrote the graphic novel, and it's very very good. Go get it.
posted by puddinghead at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2006


For those of you who want to make the pilgrimage, it's now 11th and Convention Plaza. Not too far from where the brothers Greene grew up.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:07 PM on December 19, 2006


Sorry, this GeoCities site is currently unavailable.

The GeoCities web site you were trying to view has temporarily exceeded its data transfer limit. Please try again later.

-----------------------

Ahhh Metafilter -- how doth it love thee - let them count the bytes....
posted by RubberHen at 1:09 PM on December 19, 2006


My personal favorite is "Stack O'Lee" by Cliff Edwards (aka 'Ukulele Ike' aka the voice of Jiminy Cricket).
posted by trip and a half at 1:09 PM on December 19, 2006


*ahem*
fixed link for Kid Charlemange's map
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:26 PM on December 19, 2006


Funny that the contemporary newspaper article from the first link in the post doesn't mention any gambling, just an argument about politics. The Dead, Clash, and Price versions, at least, all peg gambling as the cause of the conflict.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:34 PM on December 19, 2006


The Dead, Clash, and Price versions, at least, all peg gambling as the cause of the conflict.

"Lord Palmerston!"

"Pitt the Elder!"

Do admit, gambling has a lot more panache than politics.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:54 PM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


I love Mississippi John Hurt, but I have to say that Nick Cave's rendition beats all. (And violently.)
posted by katillathehun at 2:15 PM on December 19, 2006


"Lord Palmerston!"

"Pitt the Elder!"


Wow, how often do you get to use that reference?
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:17 PM on December 19, 2006


Nice post.
posted by fixedgear at 2:55 PM on December 19, 2006


Here's a pretty extensive listing of all Stagger Lee songs.

Beck's version is pretty mediocre. I'd say MJH's is the best. Then again, I've never heard Neil Sedaka's cover...
posted by inoculatedcities at 3:19 PM on December 19, 2006


This is the best version
posted by strawberryviagra at 3:22 PM on December 19, 2006


Hey, I'm the guy what wrote the graphic novel. Per the rules, I won't pimp my book here beyond that introductory sentence, but I wanted to thank 1f2frfbf for starting this thread - I've been getting hits galore on my book blog. I'd never heard of MetaFilter before today, but will be checking it out thoroughly.
posted by DMcCulloch at 3:29 PM on December 19, 2006


I'd say MJH's is the best.

I would too. And this has the best rendition of it.
posted by oats at 4:03 PM on December 19, 2006


How many of you have even heard of, say, Champion Jack Dupree? Go onto iTunes or somewhere and look up the old versions, why don't you?
posted by raysmj at 4:43 PM on December 19, 2006


Unfortunately, you can't find version by a piano dude named Archibald from this collection online. It's linked here, but the link doesn't work.
posted by raysmj at 4:52 PM on December 19, 2006


Great post and great thread. Kudos all around.

Cecil Brown, the author of Stagolee Shot Billy has a website for the book, which has (aggravatingly brief) samples of some of the many versions of the song, including one from 1895!
posted by LarryC at 5:15 PM on December 19, 2006


I had a girlfriend who was obsessed with this song and spent lots of time tracking down covers - the more obscure the better. She had hundreds of tracks devoted to this thing. I had sort of forgot all about that... thanks!
posted by wfrgms at 5:21 PM on December 19, 2006


Wow, how often do you get to use that reference?

Not often enough, and I sure as hell wasn't going to let the opportunity slideo.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:22 PM on December 19, 2006


Unfortunately, you can't find version by a piano dude named Archibald from this collection online.

I have that one on vinyl, what looks like a British bootleg from the early 1980s. It's a great track - in many ways the ultimate version, because it collects the essential elements so thoroughly all in one piece - but the recording is terrible. Or at least the pressing I have is. It sounds like it was recorded from the next room with the mike pressed against the wall. Terribly muffled.

Dr. John's version on Gumbo is essentially a cover of the Archibald version, and it's great too.
posted by DMcCulloch at 8:13 PM on December 19, 2006


Tony Furtado's is good.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:03 PM on December 19, 2006


MJH version?

Cab Calloway

Long Cleve Reed And Little Harvey Hull

Ike and Tina
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 9:08 PM on December 19, 2006


I briefly believed that by searching for something, I could query a cultural object into existence that had not existed before submit. But, alas, a "Hasselhoff Stagger Lee" search yields nothing but an embarrassing airline incident.

Other hits via Songbird. Sorry for the double MJH.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 9:19 PM on December 19, 2006


DMcCulloch: The one on the CD box set I linked to sounds great--or at least it does on the (highly generous, but now apparently unavailable) sampler version of that I have around. Somebody did a hell of a remastering job with it. It still sounds old and somewhat mufflled, but it is listenable. (And is the low-fi thing still in style, with that rugged and muffled sound? This is really, really low-fi.)
posted by raysmj at 9:28 PM on December 19, 2006


I just now realized I linked to the wrong page in the Mississippi John Hurt interview. Here's the relevant part to our discussion where he tells the Stag O'Lee tale as he heard it (about halfway down the page). It may be the quintessential Southern Story: Jesse James, coal mines, guns, liquor and gambling.

The rest of the interview is a great read too. He really was an interesting person, and all too happy to tell his tale, as y2karl has wonderfully demonstrated before.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:03 AM on December 20, 2006


Also previously: John Smith Hurt: An Interview and the Mississippi John Hurt Blues Foundation
posted by y2karl at 9:55 AM on December 20, 2006


There is another list of versions at The Annotated "Stagger Lee" as well.
posted by y2karl at 10:04 AM on December 20, 2006


Welcome, DMcC!
posted by puddinghead at 12:28 PM on December 20, 2006


Don't leave widout diggin that Boss Talk Dictionary.
posted by Twang at 7:24 PM on December 20, 2006


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds sing about him too.
posted by bleucube at 8:05 PM on December 20, 2006


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds sing about him too.
O R L Y?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:27 AM on December 22, 2006


OK, I didn't find the soruce of all the versions, but I did find my own directory of them. Lemme know if you'd like to download 'em. I have versions by:
Beck
Bert Garvin (with Danielle Fraley)
Dave Van Ronk
Dion and the Belmonts
Doc Watson
Dr. John
Elvis
Fats Domino
Grateful Dead
Huey Lewis and the News
Ike and Tina Turner
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jimmy Barnes
Johnny Rivers
Lloyd Price
Lloyd Price big band version
Lucious Curtis and Willie Ford
Mississippi John Hurt
Nick Cave
Sol Hoopii
Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal live version
The Beach Boys
The Clash
The Down Home Boys
The Journeymen
posted by MrMoonPie at 3:44 PM on December 23, 2006


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