Some songs deserve to be heard, and some songs deserve to reinvented and rediscovered over and over again. These songs sound fresh, original and imaginative every time. Platform Music takes a moment to celebrate these truly timeless songs. This week: Stagger Lee
A few weeks ago I txted in a request to Huey Morgan’s incredible Sunday afternoon show. As the frontman of Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Huey was already renowned for his slick approach and outstanding taste in music. For a couple of years now Huey has taken to BBC 6 Music to fill 2 hours with impeccable soul, blues and old school R n’ B. Being a gentleman of such refined taste, he chose my request of Stagolee by Pacific Gas and Electric as this week’s Vinyl Fetish track.
I sound like a whiteboy-musical-anorak at the best of times, but when talking ’bout the blues to the smooth talking Huey Morgan, I came across as slightly wet. I mumbled a short explanation of why I love this song so much, before everything went tits up. Unable to hear Huey, I was asked to introduce the song, and instead of doing so, I mindlessly repeated my dedication until Mr Morgan was compelled to scream ‘What’s the name of THE SONG Andy?’ And so, this column was born. We’ll be discussing those brilliant timeless tracks that beg to be reinvented time and time again. So why do I have a fetish about this song?
In answer to Huey’s question, the song has several names. There are reportedly over 200 recorded versions of the track. It started out as an American folk tale from the 20s, with an early version by Missisipi John Hurt, but since then there have been awesome versions by the likes of Beck, The Grateful Dead, The Black Keys and even James Brown. Samuel L Jackson even played it in the movie Black Snake Moan. Unlike an X-Factor conveyor belt of lame covers, each version takes on a life of it’s own. Each version is brilliant in it’s own unique way. The song has crossed generations and genres, with each cover standing out in its own right as a brilliant chapter in a long running musical legacy.
“Stagger Lee”, also known as “Stagolee”, “Stackerlee”, “Stack O’Lee”, “Stack-a-Lee”, is based on Lee Shelton (March 16, 1865 – March 11, 1912). Shelton was an African American taxi cab driver and pimp convicted of murdering William “Billy” Lyons on Christmas Eve, 1895 in St. Louis, Missouri. Stag gets into a dispute with a man named Billy DeLyon (also known as Billy the Lion or Billy Lyons) after losing his Stetson hat to Billy while gambling. Stagger Lee pulls a gun on Billy who then pleads to be spared for the sake of his wife and children. Showing no compassion at all, Stagger Lee cold-bloodedly shoots and kills Billy. It’s a timeless and colourful tale – with the tunes to match. No two versions are the same, the story is forever altering but is captivating all the same…
Pacific Gas & Electric – Staggolee
Recently given a new lease of life by Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, Pacific Gas & Oil is one of my favourite versions. Pacific Gas & Electric’s warm nostalgaic sound lends itself well to the vinyl recording. This lesser know but beautiful retelling of Stag’s tale stands up as one of the finest recordings. Representing all that is good and holy and American Blues, it is no wonder this track got Tarantino’s coveted soundtrack stamp of approval.
Samuel L. Jackson – Stack-O-Lee (from Black Snake Moan)
He may have had it with those motherfucking snakes on that motherfucking plane, but when black snakes moan, you know that Samuel L Jackson will have no problem with killing that sucka. As the world’s coolest ‘Bad Mutha Fucker’, Jackson could probably take on Stag himself – he’s a Jedi after all. Dripping with soul, this version begs the question of what the universe would be like if Jackson dedicated more of his life to making some Mississipi Blues. It would be really, really awesome.
Stagger Lee – Mississipi John Hurt
From 1928, this is one of the earliest recordings of a Stagger Lee tale, by the Daddy of country and blues, Mississipi John Hurt. Is the orginal always best? I’ll let you decide. Either way, the beauty of this version is in it’s simplicity.
Wilbert Harrison – Stagger Lee
This beautiful moment from one of the godfathers of blues and early R n’ B, carries on the legend in a wonderfully fitting soul-drenched way.
Ike & Tina Tuner – Stagger Lee And Billy
The troubled yet legendary rock n’ roll duo Ike & Tina Turner had a crack at Stag and Billy as well. With all the explosive fuel of the soul-train approach they helped to make famous, this rendition is one of the most infectious. For all you Motown-lovers out there.
The Black Keys – Stack Shot Billy
Bringing you back to the present day, here’s the incredible Black Keys doing what they do best – pissing all over The White Stripes as the finest guitar and drums blues-rock duo on the planet. As mean as Stack himself, this version snaps, crackles and pops with true blues grit.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Stagger Lee
Reigning supreme as The Antipodean King of Weird, Nick Cave recorded the most colourful and tribute to “that bad motherfucker called Stagger Lee.” Lifted from his iconic album ‘Murder Ballads,’ Cave wraps his trademark dark and sick mind around the tale, to create a violent, haunting homo-erotic rollercoaster made from fire and brimstone. This one is strictly NSFW.
Which tale of the Bad Mutha Fucker called Stagg’O Lee do you prefer?
Do you have a timeless track that’s been covered countless times that you’d like us to explore? Comment below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘THE SONG’ as the subject.