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Stagger Lee by

February 28th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

At the Blues show at KWUR Week last night, I was so fortunate to witness an amazing performance by Boo Hanks, an 81-year-old from Virginia who is one of the last living performers of authentic Piedmont blues music. He played one of my favorite blues/folk standards, “Stagger Lee” (a.k.a. “Stack-O-Lee” and “Stagolee”). A lot of people are probably familiar with this song as it’s been done over and over again (I’ve embedded several youtube videos for your viewing pleasure), but not that many people know that it was inspired by a murder that occurred here in St. Louis at the end of the 19th century. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat provided the following account, which I found on this great website detailing the history of the song:

“William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o’clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon’s hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away. He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. Lee Sheldon is also known as ‘Stag’ Lee.”

Anyway, with your history lesson done for the day, here are several interations of Stagger Lee for you to enjoy.

Mississippi John Hurt

RL Burnside


RL Burnside – Stack-O-LeeThe best home videos are here



The Isley Brothers

Bob Luman



Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The Black Keys



3 Responses to “Stagger Lee”

  1. ZM says:

    pretty sure that saloon address is a block up from the convention center. one of very few st. louis music landmarks (not sure if it quite qualifies) that isn’t buried beneath the convention center or (most often) the fuggin arch grounds (where the old gaming/saloon district used to be). maybe some day I will elaborate on this (got lots to say on ol’ stack). [about 5 years back the folks at prewarblues.org compiled a great (definitive?) collection of versions, but it's now unfortunately password-protected] I nominate the beach boys version as the worst.

  2. The Intern says:

    Being of the R&B persuasion, I'm particularly partial to the 1959 Lloyd Price version, complete with NO style R&B piano and late fifties doo-whop backup singers. Dr. John also does a great cover.

    OMG, MISS YOU GUYZ.

  3. ZM says:

    and this is maybe only interesting to me– but here is a rendition of that streetcorner from 20 yrs early, courtesy the famous 1875 camille dry aerial st. louis map — kwur.com/blog/uploaded_images/
    map_image.pl-786054.jpg — and as for a less fetishistic comment, I recommend the hogman maxey version, also any anonymous pre-rap spoken “toast” renditions (which definitely influence that nick cave one), anyway…

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