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Stagger Lee / Stagolee

[ Roud 4183 ; Laws I15 ; Ballad Index LI15 ; trad.]

John Gibbon sang Stakolee in 1957 on his Topic album John Gibbon's Disc.

Trevor Lucas sang Stagger Lee accompanied by guitar and mouth-organ in full early Dylan mode from the 1963 Folk Attick recordings in Sydney—plenty of suck and blow braced harmonica playing between the verses, and very typical of that protest folk singer period. This recording was included in 1994 on the Friends of Fairport cassette Together Again - The Attic Tracks Vol. 4.

Jesse Fuller sang Stackolee in a recording made by Peter Kennedy at Cecil Sharp House on 19 March 1965. This track was included in the same year on Fuller's Topic album Move On Down the Line. Joe Boyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

Of all the hero or villain legends in American folk music, Stackolee ‘that bad man’ appears in both white and Negro ballads, often with references to the supernatural powers of his ‘Five Dollar Stetson Hat’. There was a notorious family named Lee in Memphis during the late nineteenth century, and a longshoreman (stevedore) was often known as a stacker. The song was part of Ma Rainey`s repertoire long before she recorded it in 1925. There are several recorded melodies for the song, of which I think Jesse’s is the most interesting.

Martin Simpson sang Stagolee in 2007 on his Topic album True Stories. He commented in his liner notes:

I first learned Stagolee from Mississippi John Hurt and recorded it when I was 17. The origins of the story were long guessed at, but it was widespread amongst blues singers, songsters, old timey musicians, R&B singers and rock and rollers throughout the 20th century. In 2003, Harvard University Press published Cecil Brown's book, Stagolee Shot Billy, a superbly written account of the facts. Lee Shelton shot Billy Lyons on Christmas Night, in 1859. I've attempted to put some of the facts back into the song without losing the poetry. Facts aren't everything, but these are all true stories in one way or another.

Snakefarm sang Staggerlee in 2011 on their Fledg'ling CD My Halo at Half-Light.


See also the Mudcat Café thread Listen to different versions of Stagger Lee and Paul Slade's essay A Christmas Killing: Stagger Lee.