On This Day – Stagger Lee (Yet Again)

On this day in 1959 Lloyd Price reached number one in the States with “Stagger Lee”.

“Stagger Lee” has been recorded many times under many names by many people.

The song has been Bowderized, revised, chewed up and spat out by too many people to mention. Some of whom should have known better and some of whom had no idea of the history of the song and what it was about.

The definitive recordedversion was by the wonderful Mississippi John Hurt in 1928 although the song had been sung ever sinc ethe original crime in 1895.

Just why this particular crime became immortalised is not known (at least to me). The facts of the case m’lud, as the say, are quite simple. Stagger Lee Shelton was pimp and taxi driver in St. Louis. Not just any pimp along with a number of other pimps collectively known as “The Macks” they seemed to love the attention they got. Stagger was friends with Billy Lyons. One night they were drinking and began to talk politics, that developed into an arguement. Billy took Stagger’s hat from his head. Stagger demanded it back, Billy refused and Stagger shot him.

Killed over a hat.

Stagger and Billy became subject of a song that has mutated and survived during the following 100 years and shows no sign of being forgotten 115 years after the crime.

Alternative titles have included; “Stagolee”, “Stackerlee”, “Stack O’Lee”, “Stack-a-Lee”, “Stack Shot Billy”, and other variants that owe a lot to the original like The Clash’s “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”.

Among the artists that have sung and recorded the song are; Mississippi John Hurt, Leadbelly, Sidney Bechet, Beck, Pat Boone, James Brown, Cephas & Wiggins, Neil Diamond, Johnny Dodds, Fats Domino, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Woody Guthrie, Bill Haley & His Comets, The Isley Brothers, Taj Mahal, Memphis Slim, Modern Life is War, Wilson Pickett, Professor Longhair, Sam the Sham, Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Ma Rainey, Tom Rush, Ike and Tina Turner, Dave Van Ronk, Doc Watson, George Thorogood, Muddy waters, Billie Holiday, Nick cave

Anyway you get the idea virtually evryone who is someone has recorded a version of the song.

The interesting thing about Lloyd Price’s version? It removed any referrence to the murder and Stagger and Billy just shouted at each other and made up the next day…..

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Two versions from Nick Cave (check out the quote from Nick at the top of this blog, he’s so right).



Mississippi John Hurts definitive recorded version

And Lloyd Price minus murder, but with animation!


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