Friday, June 8, 2012

Story Songs: Stagger Lee

One of the most interesting and enduring story songs is "Stagger Lee." The story dates back to a murder in 1895, when "Stag" Lee Shelton shot William "Billy" Lyons in a St. Louis saloon.

The men apparently got into an argument over politics and Lyons removed the Stetson hat off Shelton's head. Shelton retaliated by fatally shooting Lyons in the stomach. The story has changed over the years and the song has been recorded by many artists.

I first became familiar with the song back in the late 1950s when Lloyd Price took it to the top of the charts. It is reportedly the first censored song to reach No. 1.

In Price's version, the tension begins while the men are gambling:

"It was Stagger Lee and Billy
Two who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw seven,
Billy swore he threw eight"

Stagger Lee got angry and left to get his .44 to settle matters. When he returned, Billy pleaded:

"Oh, please don't take my life
I got three little children
And a very sickly wife."

But Stagger Lee was determined and didn't take any pity on poor Billy and pulled the trigger:

"Stagger Lee shot Billy,
Oh, he shot that poor boy so bad
Till the bullet came through Billy
And went right through
The bartender's glass"

Pricer's rendition of the song is spirited, full of energy, and captures the mood of the story. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

No comments:

Post a Comment