Stagger Lee Told Billy
Posted in Honey on 03.17.05

I’m going to post a lot of tracks today and tomorrow, because I want to be sure I get everything out there this week, so people take the weekend to download all the files before I move all the songs onto their own page. Today also features some of my favorite versions of the ballad and some of the more interesting versions as well.

First is a wonderful piano track by Archibald that both Chris O’Leary of the wonderful Locust St. and Mike McLaughlin. O’Leary writes:

…”Archibald”, a pretty obscure pianist
who made only a handful of recordings in 1950-52 for
Imperial Records.

His real name was Leon Gross, and in this session he
was joined by many of the great New Orleans players of
the time–Dave Bartholomew, Ernest McLean on guitar,
Fats Domino’s brother-in-law, Harrison Verrett, on

Archibald – Stack-A-Lee Parts 1 and 2

Chris Day sent in a nice modern bluegrass take on the ballad by the Switzerland born Kruger Brothers who recently moved to Wilkes County, North Carolina which makes the more or less local this Guilford County based blog.

Kruger Brothers – Stagolee

Brian Reese from the great blog Big Rock Candy Mountain, which for whatever I don’t have a link to, as well as Eric from Something I Learned Today sent several very different all great versions of the song by the Bassholes, who power through the song pretty well. The second version is my favorite but they are all good and different enough for me to post all three of them.

Bassholes – Stack O’ Lee and Billy Lyons
Bassholes – Stack O’ Lee (secret strength of depression)
Bassholes – Stack O’ Lee

Patrick Bal sent in a fun, blood modern take of the ballad by Dr. John here is what Patrick has to say about the track:

It’s by Dr. John and taken from his latest record “N’Awlinz Dis Dat or D’Udda” (he also
recorded it for his 1972 record “Gumbo”, but I don’t have this one). This version has a funky groove played by Earl Palmer and a nice horn chart by Wardell Querzergue. Here’s what Dr. John says about this version in the liner notes:

“There was a many a pimp named Stak, and many a card hustler named Stakdollar. We mixed the story up. After all this f*lk music. An epic saga of death and char-ack-ters”

Dr. John – Stakalee

Chris O’Leary of Locust St. also sends in Ruler’s reggae take on Stagolee called “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” that the Clash would later cover (and that Grant Olsen) sent in. Here is what Chris has to say about the Rulers track:

Most people (well, me at least) only knew “Wrong ‘Em
Boyo” only as a track on the Clash’s London Calling.
When I finally heard the original, I was struck by how
slavish a recreation the Clash’s version was (The
Clash even replicate the track breakdown bit: “Start
all over again!”).

The Clash likely learned the song from London
Calling’s producer Guy Stevens, who in the 1960s had
worked at Sue Records and was friends with Chris
Blackwell, Island Records’ owner–the man who
basically brought ska/reggae into Britain.

I know very little about the Rulers, other than they
were a Jamaican ska band that recorded in the 1965-68
period and have been called the first modern Jamaican
pop band (i.e., they used keyboards instead of horns).
I think their most successful single was on Trojan,

“Wrong ‘Em Boyo” starts out as a typical take on the
Stagolee story, but when the track changes pace, the
singer starts criticizing both Stagger for killing
Billy for such a foolish reason, and Billy for
cheating. It’s a sort of next-generation version of
the song, from a Jamaican who likely had witnessed all
too many real-life recreations of the Stagger Lee

The Rulers – Wrong ‘Em Boyo
The Clash – Wrong ‘Em Boyo

The last two songs are were requests of mine that Thomas Stich so wonderfully filled. And will they are something. The Elvis one sounds like it was recorded live and when Elvis was pretty drunk as he stumbles through a full 1:40 of the song and the Beach Boys version has to be heard to be believed.

Elvis Presley – Stagger Lee
The Beach Boys – Stagger Lee

Stagolee in Jazz
Posted in Honey on 03.17.05

Its been great to hear all the Stagolee related songs that have been posted. I’ve been planning to make a post myself earlier on in the week, but due to being “overworked” at work I haven’t had the opportunity till now.

Since my specialty area on this forum is jazz, I’d thought I’d contribute some of my favourite instrumental jazz versions of the Stack O’Lee Blues.

The first comes from one of the most influential jazz composers/band leaders in jazz history. None other than Duke Ellington. The band that recorded this version of Stack O’Lee was originally led by Banjo player Elmer Snowden, however only after 3 months Elmer left, leaving Duke Ellington as the leader way back in 1923. This recording with essentially the same band was recorded in early 1928, and by this time the originally name of “the Washingtonians” had been changed to “Duke Ellington and His Kentucky Club Orchestra”. It’s a fine version of Stack O’Lee Blues and the highlight of the piece is a wonderful stride influenced piano solo by Duke Ellington (it’s a complete solo, not even the rhythm section plays).

Duke Ellington and His Kentucky Club Orchestra – Stack O’Lee Blues

My second choice is Sidney Bechet’s recording of “Old Stack O’Lee Blues”. This recording was an early release by Blue Note Records, and while Blue Note records is normally associated with Be-bop and Hard-bop, it’s origins can be found on its earliest releases of traditional/dixieland recordings. Sidney Bechet recorded this version in New York for Blue Note the February of 1946. It is clearly recorded, and features beautiful clarinet playing by both Bechet and Albert Nicholas (the second clarinetist on the date), and a nice little piano solo as well by Art Hodes.

Sidney Bechet – Old Stack O’Lee Blues

Instrumental versions of Stack O’Lee often have a different mood to those recorded with Vocals, since its far more difficult to put a point across without lyrics. However I think these recordings should provide an interesting comparison and it’s good music too of course!

(I have to leave it there, since I have work tomorrow and its past midnight, I have a couple of more jazz covers to post, as well as some other non-jazz related covers too. I’ll hopefully get through them tomorrow.)

Stagolee Went Into To the Bar, Stood Three Feet From The Door
Posted in Honey on 03.16.05

Billy Lyons will be killed a few more times today. To add to my requests I’m now looking for the Beach Boys and Elvis versions of Staggerlee, apparently the Beach Boys version is really awful, but I think Elvis could have done something good with the song. As always I’m looking for any information about the Lucille Bogan track, that doesn’t seem to exist.

Honey’s resident bulldog, Kallie, has increasingly interested in the ballad of Stagolee as a lot of them mention a bulldog growling at Stagolee and Billy fighting. Our bulldog just growls at cars and birds, but tends hide from loud noises and fighting. This first track is by Lucious Curtis and Willie Ford, who I have previous blog and included on the Honey Mix CD for their track “Payday” Curtis and Ford were residents of Natchez and recorded a few songs for Alan Lomax in 1940. Sounding more like Blind Boy Fuller, than Jack Kelly, they rip through this uptempo version of Stagolee in record time and its so very good.

Lucious Curtis and Willie Ford – Stagolee

Randall T. Hayes sends along another wonderful prisoner’s take on the tale. This version is was recorded in the 50s in Louisiana State Penitentiary by Dr. Harry Oster. John Miller writes of up this track very nicely:

“Matthew ‘Hogman’ Maxey follows [the first track] with a version of ‘Stagolee’, likewise played on Dr. Oster’s twelve-string. Hogman’s monicker derived apparently from his mistaken notion as a child that he was a hog doctor. His version of ‘Stagolee’ is terrific. Played in E standard, it shares much of the same vocal phrasing as Lloyd Price’s popular version from the ’50s, but Hogman’s time is so driving, fierce really, that the song is given an entirely different
feel. His powerful monotonic bass and one-chord approach (with a hint of a IV chord) remind me of Mance Lipscomb’s song ‘Freddie’, from his first album.”

Hogman Maxey – Stagolee

Lloyd Price’s verison that’s mention above and then again in the Wilson Pickett write up has been sent to us by Chris O’Leary of the amazing (and with a great new coat of paint) Locust St. Price’s version was a big hit in 59 and features some pretty grim lyrics mixed with a very danceable beat. I think I like this version more than Wilson Pickett’s cover.

Llyod Price – Stagger Lee

The last track is a gift from Dan Bluestein and it’s a really good version of the ballad by Taj Mahal recorded in 1969 on his 12 string guitar. Taj Mahal was always one of those people I had written off before reallly hearing, but I’m definitely going to check him out after this track.

Taj Mahal – Stagger Lee

Stagolee Was A Bully
Posted in Honey on 03.15.05

Looking at the to be uploaded list of tracks, I’m going to have to do more than three a day. Today’s batch is a particurly good one, ranging from the late 20’s to the early 90’s. The Frank Hutchinson tracks are my favorite from this bunch, but the Bob Dylan version is surprisingly good even though I originally dismissed much of his work post-Desire.

Charles and Cindy sent me these wonderful tracks first by Long “Cleve” Reed and Little Harvey Hull which is the same version as the Mississippi John Hurt track posted yesterday. David Miller was a pre-war country singer who recorded as early as 1924, after only starting to play guitar in the early 20s after he was blinded while serving in the Army. His version focuses more the police role in tracking Stagolee down.

Long “Cleve” Reed and Little Harvey Hull – Original Stack O’ Lee Blues
David Miller – That Bad Man Stackolee

Chris Houston sends in the wonderful Bob Dylan track and writes this:

In the early 90s, Dylan had more or less been in a rut for over a decade, and had seemingly lost the inspiration that had first driven him to pick up a guitar. Dylan’s solution? Recording two consecutive albums full of the traditional folk and blues songs he had listened to as a youth, featuring only Dylan’s guitar, harmonica and vocals. “Stack A Lee” is one of the many highlights from the second of these albums, “World Gone Wrong”, and it is easy to see why these songs reinvigorated Dylan and helped him to reconnect with the great musician and songwriter that he still was.

Bob Dylan – Stack A Lee

Daniel Bluestein sends in two wonderful versions of the ballad, one with vocals and one instrumental by Frank Hutchison. He writes this about Frank Hutchison:

He played with the guitar lying on his lap and “…got a lot of his blues knowledge from a disabled black singer-guitarist named Bill Hunt, who had been around Logan County since Hutchison’s boyhood.”

Frank Hutchison – Stackalee
Frank Hutchison – Stackalee (instrumental)

The last version was sent in by Joshua Guthman of Molinillo and its a dirty dirty toast version of the ballad, that rivals the Nick Cave version in blood shed and vulgarity.

Toast – Stackolee

Stagolee Week Begins!
Posted in Honey on 03.14.05

Stagolee is one of the most famous blues ballads, one that represent both the blues and history of violence and masculinity in American society. The purpose of this week is not to discuss the murder of Billy Lyons, the mythology of Lee Shelton or the lasting impact of the song really. I see this week as a way for the blues public to share their favorite version of the song and doing so tell a little bit about themselves and their own history with the song and the blues. I feel that I could have picked my favorite 30 Stagolee tracks, combined that with a slick essay that cities Cecil Brown’s wonderful Stagolee Shot Billy but what would that mean? I wouldn’t have picked a lot of these songs, because they aren’t pre-war blues or because I don’t the singer or as in the case of a bunch of them, because I haven’t heard them. I hope that people continue to send in their favorite versions of the song, also if anyone knows if Lucille Bogan’s version has been found or is on a CD please let me know.

Simon from Spoil Victorian Child sent me this wonderful Wilson Pickett version that I hadn’t heard before, a cover of Lloyd Price’s original soul take on the ballad.

Wilson Pickett – Stagger Lee

Josh Guthman from Molinillo writes about Bama a prisoner that Alan Lomax recorded, version of Stackerlee

“This one is acapella. This verse — a dialogue between Billy
& Stack — is one of my favorites:

“Now one of them is a boy, Stack,
And the other one is girl.”
“But if you love your children, Billy Lyons,
You will have to meet them in the other world.”

Bama – Stackerlee

Grant Olsen writes very succincly about why I love Mississippi John Hurt’s version of the Stack-O-Lee Blues:

Police Officer, How can it be?
You can ‘rest everybody but cruel Stack O’ Lee.

Mississippi John Hurt – Stack – O – Lee Blues

Did My Baby Call?
Posted in Honey on 03.11.05

I’m pretty amazed by the number and quality of all the stagolee tracks we’ve received in the past week. I’m really really excited about next week and pulling all these tracks together (and the fancy new header that’s going up for the week) and hopefully my surprises will work out and make it a really great week here on Honey. Here of course is the updated list, I’m of course still wanting more and more tracks so keep sending them this weekend.

I really like the trend among reissue groups to document smaller soul labels and music scenes. This track is from Thelma’s Detroit Collective the second in a series of reissuses about the Thelma Record company a smaller Detroit record label whose talent and production were almost as good as Motown’s. I mean look at their roster, Martha Reeves, The O’Jay’s, Billie Kennedy and Joey Kingfish. This track is by Kingfish and it’s a cover of the Professional’s big hit “Did My Baby Call?,” and it’s wonderful, I hadn’t heard Kingfish before this album and now I want to hunt down every 45 he released, such a strong voice and wonderful production. I’ll have this on repeat all weekend, without question.

Joey Kingfish – Did My Baby Call?

Late Update.
Posted in Honey on 03.10.05

Here is the updated Stagolee track list. Everything is moving very smoothly so far but I know there are some really great versions still out there !

Whenever I have to make a really quick update, I always fall back on my favorite blues instrument; the piano. Albert Ammons one of the big boogie-woogie blues stylists did this number back in 1938 and it’s a fiercely entertaining and upbeat blues number that shows of his stunning playing ability and that despite most of the songs this week, the blues aren’t always about sadness.

Albert Ammons – Shout For Joy

More More More
Posted in Honey on 03.09.05

No radio show tonight, but I’ll be back next week. Thanks to everyone who has been sending me stagolee tracks, next week is shaping up to be pretty awesome. The list of songs is here. Keep sending more tracks though, I’ll be sure to credit the blogs/people/websites that send the songs in, so it’s easy promotion.

Today’s track is one of my favorite country blues songs. Geeshie Wiley was one of the best(if not the best) female blues guitar players of the prewar era, as well as one of the best guitar players male or female of the era. I know this is one Geoff’s favorite blues songs, and it’s one of mine also – so delicate and sad.

Geeshie Wiley – Last Kind Words

That Low Down Deacon Who Stole My Gal
Posted in Honey on 03.08.05

Me and Geoff have talked it over and we are going to try to organize Stagolee week for next week 3/14 – 3/18. We’ll need your help though! We need people to send in your favorite version of the classic ballad with a line or two, I’ll post a list of the versions that have already been claimed so that we don’t have repeat songs. We are looking for all different versions of the songs from any genre. This could be really great.

Luke Jordan has one of the kindest voices that I’ve heard. In the same vein as Miss. John Hurt or Elizabeth Cotten but with the phrasing and style of Charley Jordan, Luke Jordan recorded a handful of sides in the late 20s. Coming from the Piedmont blues style, Jordan has very country influenced guitar style that’s very clean and precise. A hauntingly sad and beautiful track.

Luke Jordan – Church Bell Blues

He Treats Me Like A Rattlesnake.
Posted in Honey on 03.07.05

It’s pretty wonderful outside today, which isn’t really putting me in the “blues” mood so much. I watched the one part of the PBS documentary series “The Blues” that I had missed last night. “Warming By The Devil’s Fire” tries to tell the story about the difference between “blues” and “gospel” and how that difference really tore at the preformer’s life. Unfortunately like most of the series it’s filled with awful dramatizations and not enough performance or research into the topic itself.

St. Louis Bessie is a pseudonym for Bessie Mae Smith who also recorded under several other names throughout her career. This track is one of the better “daddy treats me so bad” sides around with a wonderful piano track that’s credited to Roosevelt Sykes. Wonderful down-tempo blues track, in case you aren’t having as great weather as I am.

St. Louis Bessie – He Treats Me Like A Dog