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From American Bandstand - Digital Sheet Music
Product InformationStagger Lee from American Bandstand - Digital Sheet Music
Year: 1959. Chart Position: #1 Label: ABC-Paramount THE ST. LOUIS GLOBE DEMOCRAT, 1895: "William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o'clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, were drinking and feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon's hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the stomach. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away. He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. Lee Sheldon is also known as 'Stag' Lee." FOLLOW UP: Billy Lyons died from his wounds, and Stag Lee was tried for this killing. The first trial ended in a hung jury amidst major political controversy. He was convicted in the second trial, served time, and died in the nineteen-teens. THE SONG: This real-life incident soon became legendary in the South and moved into song -- and down the river to New Orleans, where the killer's name became, variously, Stagolee, Stag-O-Lee, Stackolee or Stack-A-Lee. The latter was the spelling on one of the earliest recorded versions by Frank Hutchison in 1927, and on a Top 10 R&B hit in 1950 performed in two parts by a New Orleans singer in the Professor Longhair style. Born Leon T. Gross, he was known professionally as Archibald (and sometimes as Archie Boy). His musical re-telling of the story might have been the end of the line chart-wise for old Stag, if it weren't for the Korean War. Fellow Crescent City native Lloyd Price had an auspicious start on the R&B charts, just two years after Archibald. He scored six Top 10 hits in one year, from 1952-53, but his success was cut short when he was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Korea. Lloyd wasted no time in forming a military band and toured Korean and Japanese bases until his discharge in 1956. Part of his stage act involved the Lee and Billy story, as Lloyd recalled: "There were hundreds of lyrics for the old song, but no story. While entertaining the troops, I had put together a little play based on it. I'd have soldiers acting out the story while I sang it." When he returned to civilian clothes, Lloyd resettled in Washington, D.C. At this point, Lloyd became an ABC recording artist and returned to his New Orleans roots with a re-write of his old Army skit, this time spelled "Stagger Lee." In Korea, Lloyd never thought the playlet could be a hit record, and in fact only intended it as the B-side of "You Need Love." But it soon became a sensation when deejays discovered "Stagger Lee" on the flip, at one point selling nearly 200,000 copies a day -- and rapidly shot to #1 on the pop charts. But Dick Clark wasn't pleased with it. Although Lloyd had appeared on American Bandstand and even Clark's Saturday night show with the original version, Dick decided to end the violence. The shooting and blood were too much for his teen TV audience. Lloyd had no choice -- he had to go back into the studio, and record a whole new, cleaned-up version of the story with -- believe it or not -- a happy ending! Stagger Lee and Billy actually make up and become friends again; too bad the real-life Billy Lyons wasn't that lucky! More recent sitings of the tune include Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' gloomy but historically interesting "Murder Ballads." It also showed up on many of the Grateful Dead's live setlists and was a staple cover tune for Jerry Garcia and the Dead.
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