Sep 242012

The facts in the case follow thus: In 1895, Lee Shelton, a pimp also known as Stack Lee, killed one William Lyons in a fight concerning a hat. Through that wonderful American machinery known as folklore, we went from murder to myth.

Stack Lee, Stagger Lee, Stagolee, Stack O’Lee, The Midnight Rambler, The Crawling King Snake, The Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, Superfly, he goes by many names and he recurs in the oral traditions of song as a metaphor that structures the male ethos, black as well as white. Stagolee has taken shape as ballad, as blues, as jazz, as rap, as epic, as folk song, and as rock and roll.

He’s the “bad man”, the rebel, the counterculture hero, and the perfect figure for us to mine our collective knowledge of song to find his instances. Any variant of his name is acceptable, and let’s see how far his legend stretches (á la the examples set by Mick Jagger, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, and Curtis Mayfield, above).


  24 Responses to “Last Man Standing: Stagolee”

  1. 2000 Man

    Like Stack Shot Billy by TheBlack Keys?

  2. Slim Jade

    An excellent kick-off!

  3. I searched for “Stackolee” on
    Found versions by Miss. John Hurt, Woody Guthrie, Hows this for an oldie? Ma Rainy’s version.

  4. Slim Jade

    Whoaaa! One per customer, ma’am.

  5. Well, I’ll throw The Clash’s “Wrong ’em Boyo” (or should I say the original version by whatever ska band) into the mix for its opening quote of “Stagger Lee.”

  6. The Grateful Dead do a version of “Stagger Lee” on Shakedown Street . I don’t recall whether it is the traditional folk-blues or their own take on the story.

  7. Stack A Lee on Dr John’s Gumbo album

  8. misterioso

    Bob Dylan, “Stack A Lee” on World Gone Wrong.

  9. The epically NSFW “Stagger Lee” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.

  10. BigSteve

    It’s a new song with Robert Hunter lyrics, kind of sequel to the original story. Billy’s wife Delia hunts down and kills Stagger Lee in the Dead’s song.

  11. BigSteve

    There’s a book that researched the history behind the story — Stagolee Shot Billy by Cecil Brown (Harvard University Press, 2003). There’s a lot of fascinating factual detail in the book, but I found it very poorly written, and I’d only recommend it if you were seriously interested in the subject.

  12. bostonhistorian

    The Rulers

  13. bostonhistorian

    Greil Marcus has an essay on Stagger Lee in “Mystery Train”. Also, both Lloyd Price versions.

  14. Mark Olson of The Jayhawks was in a Twin Cities rockabilly band called Stagger Lee before hooking up with Gary Louris (who was in another rockabilly band called Safety Last).

  15. Slim Jade

    One of my favorite renditions. Scares the livin’ bejeeesus outta me!

  16. ladymisskirroyale

    Wait, are you telling us that Sara Lee, that evil purveyor of coffee cakes, is yet another permutation of that character?

  17. Slim Jade

    Yep. They don’t call it “devil’s food cake” for nuthin’.

  18. The British bass player?

  19. Hasn’t been mentioned yet, so, the Lloyd Price #1 hit version, “Stagger Lee”:

  20. Slim Jade

    …which is pretty much the version The Clash reference.

  21. bostonhistorian

    Not mentioned yet, except in #10.

  22. bostonhistorian

    I’m partial to Professor Longhair’s version.

  23. ladymisskirroyale

    Beck did a version of Stagolee which is pretty nice.

  24. Oops! Sorry ’bout that!

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