[Dixielandjazz] Stack 'o' Lee or variations on a theme!

Stan Brager sbrager at socal.rr.com
Tue Dec 9 07:38:12 PST 2003


Thanks for the story of Stack 'o' Lee. I found both of your themes - the
story itself and the recorded history - fascinating.

This is what makes the DJML worthwhile.

Stan Brager
----- Original Message ----- 
From: <Jazzjerry at aol.com>
Cc: <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Tuesday, December 09, 2003 7:07 AM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Stack 'o' Lee or variations on a theme!

> Hi Rae Ann and others,
> On the subject of the above I can now post the following rather long
> on the subject which you might fing interesting:-
> Cheers,
> Jerry,
> Norwich,
> U.K.
> "The True Story of Stagolee
> Gordon Robertson
> "Knowing my enthusiasm for 50s black R&B and Lloyd Price, a few months
> Geoff passed me a copy of an article from The Guardian about a book by
> Brown tracing the remarkable tale of Stagolee. It was a fascinating read
> traces the roots of the ballad going under various names of Stagger Lee,
> Lee or Stack O’Lee back to its true story.
> The song has survived for over 100 years with musicians still relishing
> ice-cold murder ballad even up to very recent times and over 200 hundred
> versions have been recorded.
> In the red-light district of St Louis in 1895, a pimp shot a man dead in
> argument over a hat.
> The killer was a black man named Lee Shelton. Most of the ballads say
> Stagolee was a gambler, but it appears that he was also a "maquereau", a
French term
> for pimp - often abbreviated to "mack", which describes men who were kept
> women.
> As a pimp and leader of a group called the Stags, Shelton was a slum hero,
> reigning in an area called Deep Morgan. According to eyewitnesses, on
> night, 1895, around 10 o'clock, Shelton walked into the Curtis saloon, in
> heart of Deep Morgan, and asked the bartender: "Who's treating?" In reply,
> someone pointed out William Lyons. Apparently, the two men drank and
> together for some time until the conversation turned to politics.
> Soon, they began to exchange blows by striking each other's hats. Shelton
> grabbed Lyons's derby and knocked it out of shape. Lyons said he wanted
> of "six bits" from Stagolee for damaging his derby. Then Lyons grabbed
> Shelton's hat. In an attempt to make him give it back, Shelton pulled his
.44 Smith &
> Wesson revolver from his coat, and hit Lyons on the head with it. Still
> would not relinquish the hat. Shelton demanded it again, saying that if
> didn't give him his hat immediately, he was going to kill him.
> Next, Lyons reached into his pocket for a knife and approached Shelton,
> saying: "You cock-eyed son-of-a-bitch, I'm going to make you kill me."
> backed off and took aim. The 25 people in the saloon flew for the door.
> bartenders and a few others drinking at the bar stayed. Witnesses later
> to the coroner that they then saw Shelton shoot Lyons.
> One of the witnesses claimed that after he was shot, Billy "staggered
> the side of the bar, leaned against the railing, holding the hat in his
> fingers…it seemed he was getting weak, and he let the hat drop out of his
> Stagolee says, 'Give me my hat, nigger' . . . and he picks it up and walks
> into the brisk air."
> Lee Shelton however was not part of a marginalised underclass - rather, in
> the context of the times, as a ‘mack’ he was a powerful and respected man
> indeed very wealthy. Wealthy enough to appoint the foremost lawyer of the
> as his defence and to post bail of $2000 on his own account, a fantastic
> for the time.
> In the first trial, Stagolee got off with a hung jury. After two years in
> courts, at the retrial in 1897, with a new judge and in the absence of his
> top-drawer lawyer, he was sentenced to 25 years. After being released by
> Democratic powers that be, he was out for a few years and then returned
> pistol-whipping another man. He died in the state prison in 1912, aged 46.
> After the murder, the ballad telling of Stagolee's exploits began to
> across the American south and west. Early folklorists took an interest in
> ballad as early as 1911, when Guy B Johnson published the first version in
> prestigious ‘Journal of American Folklore’.
> And interestingly, although the story of Stagolee is defiantly a black
> the first recorded versions were by white dance bands. In 1923, it was
> recorded by Waring’s Pennsylvanians and Frank Westphal & His Regal Novelty
> The earliest version I’ve heard is also by a white artist - hillbilly
> Hutchinson who learnt the song from black cripple, Bill Hunt - recorded in
> 1927, it was this version which Bob Dylan adapted in 1993.
> Duke Ellington recorded a version in 1928 and there’s a jazz related
> from the Bechet-Nicholas Blue Five, a bit later from 1946, recorded for
> Note.
> Archivist John Lomax went around the southern states collecting the songs
> the Library of Congress during the 1930s. Many of these versions are much
> more detailed than the popular recordings and there are many examples of
the oral
> tradition from black prison convict recorded in the 1940s.
> In 1959, the song Stagger Lee became a number one for the rock'n'roller
> Price, selling a million copies and topping the charts but there’s some
> controversy over the link between his version and an earlier 1950 version
by New
> Orleans barrelhouse piano player, Archibald Cox,
> Cecil Brown said in a radio interview for Great Portland’s WMPG station,
> “It’s very close to parts of Lloyd Price’s version but Lloyd Price doesn’t
> much into all the stanzas that Cox does.. Lloyd Price was sued by Cox too
and I
> did ask Price if he knew Cox. He said - yes he knew him but he was really
> so much influenced by Cox as by many, many other versions of Stagolee that
> were being performed around that time, the late 1950s in the New Orleans
> You can also hear a strong link between the Archibald version with its
> on the offbeat and the Jamaican ska tradition and it’s no surprise that
> there’s a version recorded by Prince Buster in 1966. And it’s the energy
of this
> amalgam of ska and New Orleans R&B which attracted the punk band The
Clash, as
> utilised in their version from 1979 which forms part of a track called
> ‘Em Boyo”.
> In the 1960s, the civil rights movement took to Stagolee. At the height of
> the Black is Beautiful era, James Brown and Wilson Pickett recorded the
> song. Bobby Seale, the leader of the Black Panthers, used it to recruit
> black men to the party. He said. "Malcolm X at one time was an
> hustler. Later in life Malcolm X grows to have the most profound political
> consciousness... So symbolically, at one time he was Stagolee... "
> The connection between the bad man ballads and hip-hop was the form known
> the ‘toast’ - a recited story in verse. In telling the Stagolee legend as
> toast, the speaker takes on the role of Stagolee and the character of the
> he is singing about. Asserting themselves as bullies and bad men, young
> men ‘perform’ Stagolee. The toast became an instrument that allowed them
> be powerful and charismatic.
> In the development of rap music and hip-hop culture, Stagolee's influence
> very clear. It persists in rap in the use of the first-person narrator,
the per
> former’s adoption of nicknames, the social drama, the humour and the
> participation in commodity culture.
> Stagolee is composed of cliché lines that are easy to remember. In rap
> performers found it necessary to use such clichés to keep the rap going.
> In the 1890s, the Stetson hat became a symbol of black male status; in the
> late 1990s, gangsta rappers used lifestyle commodities - cars, clothes,
girls -
> as signifiers of success and wealth.
> The term and the concept of the modern-day "mack" celebrated in hip-hop
are a
> retrieval of the old cliché of the St Louis mack that Lee Shelton once
> embodied.
> It’s interesting to note that Cecil Brown’s favourite version was
> circulating in 1903 and was never recorded, partly due to the scarcity of
> technology in that era but not least because as he says ‘no-one would dare
put it
> on record - it was a bawdy version but I call it authentic and pretty much
> what it must have been like one night when Tom Turpin was at the piano and
> everybody in the room new the story and they wanted to re-ritualise it, to
> it, to really get into it, to drag it all out and go through all the
> and the triumphs about someone they knew”.
> Australian alternative musician Nick Cave picked up on this version in his
> 1996 recording of Stagger Lee. Says Cave,” I like the way the simple,
> naive traditional murder ballad has gradually become a vehicle that can
> accommodate the most twisted acts of deranged machismo. Just like Stag Lee
> himself, there seems to be no limits to how evil this song can become."
> I think Cave captures the coldness and ruthlessness of the archetype quite
> successfully and it shows that even after more than 100 years, the myth of
> Stagolee is a powerful as it ever was.
> With acknowledgements to:
> Cecil Brown’s article entitled “Godfather of Gangsta” published in The
> Guardian Arts Friday Review, 9 May 2003
> Further information:
> Stagolee Shot Billy: Cecil Brown (Harvard University Press
> www.stagoleeshotbilly.com
> Cecil Brown’s own website with sound clips and additional information
> http://harpers.org/online/stackolee
> Original Stack O’Lee Blues by The Down Home Boys (Black Patti 8030) lyrics
> and sound clips
> http://www.angelindevilsboots.com/trainspotting/origins/staggerlee.html
> A Nick Cave fan website explaining the development of his interest in the
> Stagolee myth
> http://wmpg.org/?archive
> WPMG: Great Portland Community Radio
> Listen to host Tom Flynn as he tracks the history of Stagolee, the song
> legend. Augmented by real audio clips of an exclusive nine part interview
> conducted with Dr Cecil Brown
> Selected recordings
> Title   Performer   Year of Performance
> Stagger Lee Waring's Pennsylvanians 1923
> Stagger Lee Frank Westphal & His Regal Novelty Orchestra    1923
> Stagger Lee Herb Wiedoeft's Cinderella Roof Orchestra   1924
> Stack O'Lee Blues   Ma Rainey & Her Georgia Band    1925
> Stagger Lee Evelyn Thompson 1927
> Stagger Lee Jack Linx & His Society Serenaders  1927
> Stackalee   Frank Hutchison 1927
> Original Stack O'Lee Blues  Long Cleve Reed & The Down Home Boys    1927
> Stack O'Lee Blues   Duke Ellington & The Washingtonians 1928
> Stack O'Lee Cliff Edwards   1928
> Stagger Lee Boyd Senter & His Senterpedes   1928
> Stack O'Lee Blues   Mississippi John Hurt   1929
> Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee Furry Lewis 1929
> Stagger Lee Cab Calloway & His Orchestra    1931
> Stagger Lee Woody Guthrie   1931
> Stack O'Lee Blues 1 and 2   Carson robison & His Pioneers   1932
> Stackerlee  Foy Gant, Austin, Texas 1934*
> Stagolee    Albert Jackson, State Farm, Atmore, Alabama 1934*
> Stagolee    Blind Pete and Partner, Little Rock, Arkansas   1934*
> Stagolee    John (Big Nig) Bray, Amelia, Louisiana  1934*
> Stagolee    Group Of Women Prisoners, State Farm, Raiford, Florida  1936*
> Stagolee    Lonnie Robertson, State pen., Parchman, Mississippi 1936*
> Stagolee    Bert Martin, Manchester, Kentucky   1937*
> Stagolee    Blind Jesse Harris, Livingston, Alabama 1937*
> Stack O'Lee Blues   Johnny Dodds & His Chicago Boys 1938
> Stagolee    Luscious Curtis & Willie Ford, Natchez, Mississippi 1940*
> Staggerlee  Memphis Slim, Big Bill Broonzy & Sonny Boy Williamson   1946
> Staggerlee Bama A Convict   1947*, incl. on Murderer's Home
> Stack-a-Lee Pts 1 and 2 Archibald   1950
> Stack-o-Lee Tennessee Ernie Ford    1951
> Stagger Lee Lloyd Price 1958
> Stack-o-Lee Blues   Ken Colyer  1958
> Staggerlee  Sung by Hogman Maxey, Convict   1959*, incl. on Angola
> Blues
> Stagger Lee Jerry Lee Lewis 1959
> Staggerlee  The Isley Brothers  1963
> Stack O'Lee Tom Rush    1965
> Stagger Lee and Billy   Ike & Tina Turner   1965
> Stack O'Lee Prince Buster & His Trojans 1966
> Stagger Lee James Brown 1967
> Stagger Lee Wilson pickett  1967
> Stagger Lee Tim Hardin  1967
> Staggerlee  Taj Mahal   1969
> Stagger Lee PJ Proby    1969
> Stagger Lee DION    1969
> Stagger Lee Mike Bloomfield 1969
> Staggerlee  Wilbert Harrison    1970
> Stagger Lee Tommy Roe   1971
> Stack-a-Lee Pts 1 and 2 Dr. John    1972
> Stagger Lee Professor Longhair  1975
> Stagolee Was A Bully    Uncle John Patterson    1978
> Stagger Lee The Grateful Dead   1978
> Stagger Lee/ Wrong 'Em Boyo The Clash   1979
> Stagger Lee Neil Diamond    1980
> Staggerlee  Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes 1981
> Staggerlee  Neil Sedaka 1984
> Stagger Lee Doug Sahm   1984
> Stack O'Lee Blues   Dead brain cells    1987
> Stack A Lee Bob Dylan   1993
> Stagger Lee Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds   1996
> (*) Denotes field recording. List compiled by James Maycock.    "

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