Murder and mayhem have already been the main topics several well-liked songs through the years, though more usually than not, the tales about which such songs revolve are generally fictional wholly. Johnny Cash by no means shot a guy in Reno, and the events connected such well-known story songs as “El Paso” and “I Shot The Sheriff” never really took location. The identical can’t be mentioned, however, about “Stagger Lee”-a song which has drifted from the facts somewhat during the period of its many lives in the ultimate 100-plus years, but a song inspired by a genuine murder that occurred with this day in 1895, in a St. Louis, Missouri, barroom argument involving a guy named Billy yet another named “Stag” Lee.
Under the headline “Shot in Curtis’s Place,” the story that ran within the next day’s edition of the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat started, “William Lyons, 25, colored, a levee hand… was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o’clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis… by Lee Sheldon, also colored.” According to the Globe-Democrat’s account, Billy Lyons and “Stag” Lee Sheldon “had been drinking and were in exuberant spirits” when a disagreement a lot more than “politics” boiled over, and Lyons “snatched Sheldon’s hat from his head.” While subsequent musical renditions of the story would depict the dispute as an individual a lot more than gambling, they might preserve the fundamental detail of “Stag” Lee Sheldon’s headwear and of his matter-of-truth reaction to losing it: “Sheldon drew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen… When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away.”
In his 2003 book Stagolee Shot Billy, predicated on his earlier doctoral dissertation about them, scholar Cecil Brown recounts the story of the way the real “Stag” Lee became an iconic figure in African-American folklore and how his story became the main topic of different musical renderings “from the [age of the] steamboat to the electronic age in the American 21st century.” The most well-known of these musical renditions have already been 1928’s “Stack O’ Lee Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt and 1959’s “Stagger Lee,” an unlikely #1 pop hit for Lloyd Price. Versions of the story also have appeared, nevertheless, in songs by artists as wide-ranging as Woody Guthrie, Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, James Brown, The Clash, the Grateful Dead and Nick Cave.