November 01, 2009

Nick Cave And More: "Stagger Lee" MP3s

Nick Cave put his own spin on the oft recorded story about Lee "Stag Lee" Shelton, and called his take "Stagger Lee", on the classic 1996 album Murder Ballads. I say "his take" because other recordings have various versions of the name (and details) likely due to the story spreading across the US orally in the late 1800's (Stagolee, Stack O' Lee, Stackerlee, Stackoo Lee, Stack O' Dollars, etc. are some of the examples used by artists over the years). After listening to quite a few versions of this story in song, recorded since the mid 1920's, it sounds to my ears, and others as well, that Cave was heavily influenced by the 1969 version done by Johnny Otis.

Now below are several versions I tracked down beginning with the two mentioned above by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Johnny Otis. The first classic version was recorded by Mississippi John Hurt in 1928, Lloyd Price recorded another classic version in 1958, a version which has been covered by dozens including James Brown. The actor Samuel L Jackson does a fine live reading of the story helped significantly by the backing of a great blues band in the film Black Snake Moan. Obviously, from the picture I've used above and the inclusion of two versions by him and his band, Nick Cave's version is my favourite.

Here is a newspaper clipping I found online about the murder on Christmas eve 1895 of Billy Lyons by Shelton (of course there is no way to verify it's authenticity).

“William Lyons, 25, colored, a levee hand, living at 1410 Morgan Street, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o'clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Shelton, also colored. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. Lyons and Shelton were friends and were talking together. The discussion drifted to politics and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Shelton's hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Shelton withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. He was removed to the City Hospital. At the time of the shooting the saloon was crowded with negroes. Shelton is a carriage driver and lives at 911 North Twelfth Street. When his victim fell to the floor Shelton 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. Shelton is also known as 'Stag' Lee.” - St Louis Globe-Democrat, December 26, 1895.

Stagger Lee MP3s:
nick cave & the bad seeds stagger lee [mp3] 1996
johnny otis the great stack a lee [mp3] 1969

mississippi john hurt stack o' lee blues [mp3] 1928
lloyd price stagger lee [mp3] 1958
stella johnson trial of stagger lee [mp3] 1961
james brown stagger lee [mp3] 1967
john holt stagger lee [mp3] 1972
gomez stagger lee [mp3]
samuel l jackson stack-o-lee [mp3] 2007

BONUS: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live from The Abattoir Blues Tour
stagger lee [mp3] 2007

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