The night was clear and the moon was yellow
And the leaves came tumbling down

Many of us remember the hit recording from 1959 about an unfortunate bit of a barroom business between Billy Lyon and his good friend Stagger Lee. “Stagger Lee” topped the popstagger charts for Lloyd Price that year. Fewer of us will remember 1928’s “Stack O’ Lee Blues,” a version of the story by Mississippi John Hurt. And fewer still will remember the incident that inspired the song. It took place on December 27, 1895, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Shooting, fighting and general mayhem have found their way into many songs over the years, and often pop songs are based on true incidents – “Tom Dooley,” the “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” The case of “Stag” Lee was duly reported by the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat under the headline “Shot in Curtis’s Place.”

I was standing on the corner
When I heard my bulldog bark
He was barkin’ at the two men
Who were gamblin’ in the dark

It was Stagger Lee and Billy
Two men who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw seven
Billy swore that he threw eight

 The Globe-Democrat didn’t mention any gambling. According to its account, Stagger Lee and Billy were in “exuberant spirits” thanks to several rounds of John Barleycorn when they got to discussing politics. Well, a couple of “nattering nabobs” and “right-wing Neanderthals” later, the discussion took on heat, and Billy, in a precipitous move, snatched Stagger Lee’s hat from right atop his head. Such a move cannot go unanswered, and it didn’t.

Stagger Lee told Billy
I can’t let you go with that

You have won all my money
And my brand new stetson hat

Stagger Lee went home
And he got his forty-four
Said, I’m goin’ to the barroom
Just to pay that debt I owe

Go Stagger Lee

 Stagger Lee drew his revolver and shot Billy in the stomach.  When that poor boy fell to the floor Stagger Lee just took his hat from the dead man’s head and coolly strutted away into musical immortality. Go Stagger Lee, Go Stagger Lee.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s