At the Blues show at KWUR Week last night, I was so fortunate to witness an amazing performance by Boo Hanks, an 81-year-old from Virginia who is one of the last living performers of authentic Piedmont blues music. He played one of my favorite blues/folk standards, "Stagger Lee" (a.k.a. "Stack-O-Lee" and "Stagolee"). A lot of people are probably familiar with this song as it's been done over and over again (I've embedded several youtube videos for your viewing pleasure), but not that many people know that it was inspired by a murder that occurred here in St. Louis at the end of the 19th century. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat provided the following account, which I found on this great website detailing the history of the song:
"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, had been drinking and were 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 abdomen. 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."
Anyway, with your history lesson done for the day, here are several interations of Stagger Lee for you to enjoy.
Mississippi John Hurt
RL Burnside - Stack-O-Lee - The best home videos are here
The Isley Brothers
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
The Black Keys