Stagger Lee Told Billy
6
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
banjo.

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,
“Copasetic.”

“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
story…

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

++

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