Search Results for "Stagger Lee"

My “Stagger Lee,” a resophonic festival and Mississippi John Hurt’s Rediscovery

On January 14, 2012, the Department of Pathology and Immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine hosted An Evening of Music / Winter Concert. It featured some great performances by string quartets, small ensembles and singers. I volunteered to play. With nods to the city of Saint Louis and  favorite Mississippi John Hurt, I chose favorite “Stagger Lee.” I got past the nerves and played it out. H took a video for me that I posted.

“Stagger Lee” (mp3) (video on YouTube)

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This past Sunday, H and I headed to Iron Barley for the 6th Annual Tom Hall Resophonic Extravaganza. I had to return after the blogged last one was so good. The Lulus, another favorite, made fine contributions to the festivities. So did blogged Tom Hall, Geoff Seitz, Brian Curran and many more I have forgotten.

At the benefit, a friend reminded me about the new Mississippi John Hurt album. He later directed me to this post on Black Grooves. It leads to Discovery: The Rebirth of Mississippi John Hurt. Weenie Campbell has this worthwhile thread on it. This new release on Spring Fed Records features recordings that Tom Hoskins made on March 3, 1963 when he journeyed to Avalon, Mississippi in search of the long lost musician. This video from the University Press of Mississippi on Vimeo also appears at the bottom of the album link above. In it starting about 10:20, twice blogged Philip Ratcliffe and author of Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues discusses how these tapes were found in the bottom of an old cardboard box under Tom Hoskins’ sister’s guest bed. I have been streaming tracks, and I gladly anticipate the arrival of my CD.

Update February 8, 2012: Outlook, the Washington University School of Medicine’s magazine, published this gallery of the Winter Concert. The photograph of me is 17th. You also can see it directly.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2012 in General, Live, Mine, Music, Recorded

Stagger Lee Anniversary

A night or two and 114 years ago, “Stag” Lee Shelton mortally wounded William Lyons. This post on the previously blogged blog for Devil at the Confluence revisits the legendary event that led to blogged “Stagger Lee.” The Song and Myth of Stagger Lee and the  Stagger Lee Files have more information on what happened from there.

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Michael M. on December 26th 2009 in General, Music

Stagger Lee RFT

The Riverfront Times Stlog has this post local MasterMinds Awards. The one given to Tim Lane caught my eye. The RFT published the comic “The Story of Stagger Lee” last summer as part of his You Are Here series. I missed it until yesterday even though I am very interested in the story. The comic is brief and definitely worth a look.

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Michael M. on August 29th 2008 in General

Stagger Lee

The Folk School Student Showcase was last night at the Schlafly Tap Room. I love the Folk School, and the showcase is a great night every time.

The Beginning of the End, my Old-Time Ensemble class, closed the show. We opened with the recently bloggedOld Corn Liquor” from the playing of Joe Thompson. As mentioned before, he mentors the blogged Carolina Chocolate Drops. Our “Cotton Eyed Joe” comes from the Volo Bogtrotters. The last number is a favorite topic and a Saint Louis classic. I sang lyrics from personal favorite Mississippi John Hurt over string band music based on Foghorn‘s version, and they felt right.

Old Corn Liquor

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Cotton Eyed Joe

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Stagger Lee

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Michael M. on March 27th 2008 in General, Live, Mine, Movies, Music, Recorded

Stagger Lee, the graphic novel

I did go to the previously blogged event at the Schlafly Branch of the library although I arrived after the main presentation and only got there for the question and answer session. It was fun anyway. I bought a copy through Left Bank Books and spent the next few nights after reading it.

I got my copy signed by the author and the illustrator after the talk. Author Derek McCulloch left me a comment, and I replied on his blog. He made entries about the trip to Saint Louis here, here, here, here and here. The last one has photographs. I also found this article in PLAYBACK:stl.

I enjoyed Stagger Lee. It was the first graphic novel I had ever read. The book weaves in a few other local tales while adding fiction to connect them and to fill in gaps the in scant historical record. It is done well. The book also focuses on the diversity of musical versions. The various songs have been an interest of mine for a while, so I really appreciated the little additions to the main story line. I also learned about what happened to Lee after the trial, something I had never read about before. Overall, it is a good read. I recommend checking it out, and friends are welcome to have a look at my copy.

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Michael M. on November 19th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Stagger Lee at Schlafly Thursday

I saw an eye-catching poster when I walked into Saint Louis Public Library‘s Schlafly Branch earlier this week. It advertised an upcoming visit by the author and the artist behind the recent graphic novel Stagger Lee. This post on their blog covers the upcoming signing. It will happen this Thursday evening at the Schlafly Branch. Star Clipper Comics will host them Saturday. This announcement from Left Bank Books, another sponsor, has more information. I also found the library announcement.

Authors @ Your Library presents Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix

7:00PM – 8:30PM The St. Louis Public Library is pleased to host Image Comics author Derek McCulloch and artist Shepherd Hendrix for a special presentation and book signing of their new graphic novel Stagger Lee. This event is free and open to the public. Left Bank Books will provide books for purchase. Wear a Stetson hat and win a prize! Stagger Lee tells a forgotten story from St. Louis’ history: how a small-time criminal became the hero of a hundred songs by everyone from blues pioneers like Mississippi John Hurt and Furry Lewis to contemporary rock icons like Nick Cave and Beck. Stagger Lee is a character of American folklore whose story evolved through oral transmission, a transformation of the news of the day into larger than life myth. On Christmas night, 1895, “Stag” Lee Shelton shot Billy Lyons dead in the midst of a heated argument over a Stetson hat, and inadvertently created a story that continues to evolve to this day.

The Post-Dispatch reviewed it earlier this year. It was metioned favorably by Greil Marcus, the man who should mention you if you wrote or sang about Stagger Lee. (I still need to read Mystery Train.)

While I am mostly unfamiliar with graphic novels, I like murder ballads, and Stagger Lee is a favorite legend. Thursday is shaping up fairly well, and I am hopeful that I will make it to see yet another metamorphosis of this legend born in Saint Louis.

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Michael M. on November 8th 2006 in General

Stagger Lee shot Billy.

Following up on an established interest in Stagger Lee, I found some new comments at the original post at Trickster! that I linked months ago. One later comment points to the episode John Henry & Stagger Lee of his podcast Down in the Flood. The show includes an enjoyably filthy Stagger Lee toast. Also among the great songs about this pair is “The Day John Henry Died” by Drive-By Truckers, a band I, too, like. The whole show is worth hearing.

A sequence of googling led me to search for Stagger Lee’s lawyer “Nat Dryen”. I found this history that delves into the STL politics of the day. While they might have been gambling, their fight seems rooted in the battle of that time between the Republicans and Democrats for the votes of black Saint Louisans. Stagger Lee belonged to a group of hustlers who were shifting their influence away from the emancipating Republicans. The same search turned up this discussion thread that covers similar issues. This post in it that has the newspaper article “Godfather of Gangsta” from The Guardian by Cecil Brown, author of the previously mentioned and still unread Stagolee Shot Billy, is worth reading. It is actually the same as the history linked above. The great story about the bad man only grows.


Michael M. on February 9th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Staggering back

I keep coming back to Stagger Lee. I revisited this old post, first referenced by me in this post of mine, as I have done before. I found a link to another site, Stagger Lee Files. It looks good.

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Michael M. on June 4th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Spring 2011 gigs

I have found a few holes in my schedule for attention to my musical hobbies. Some have happened through the beloved Folk School. I am a repeated student of the Old-Time Ensemble, and this session is a good one. A new addition has been Jazz Guitar with Dave Black. I have given some attention to my curiosity about jazz arrangements and the closed chord voicings. I only wish I did not have to miss so many of the classes.

The best outing was a trip to Phoenix. My sister married at the Phoenix Zoo, and H accompanied me. She negotiated with the United Airlines crew to get my guitar in the coat compartment on the trip out, but I had to check it on the way back. I played an instrumental “You Are My Sunshine” as the recessional. Otherwise, I just operated the iPod. After the ceremony, we had fun wandering around the zoo. Along with seeing family I have been missing for a while, I got to reunite with my twice blogged canine pal Ralph. H and I also climbed around Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park. Best wishes to Lib!

Last night, H and I visited Ellen the Felon and Lang-a-Tang Langen Wednesday Open Mic at Foam Coffee and Beer. I had heard about it some time ago, and I have been wanting to go. I knew our friends Kate and Joeboy of the Spot Ons had played there, and I thought they might be there. Indeed, they were. They played a great set.

We saw a few more acts and were ready to go home. By that time, we were next on the list, though, so we stayed and played. We have a band name, the twice blogged Bootstrappers, but I forgot to use it when I signed us up. Ellen saw H’s fiddle and my guitar and told us her sound system was breaking up and unable to accommodate us. We played in front of the stage with no amplification. We opened with “Sleepy Desert” and then played blogged “Louis Collins” and favorite “Stagger Lee.” “Sleepy Desert” is one we had played before at the often blogged Atomic Cowboy Open Mic, and it went well. The others were new for us. We managed well enough.

The neighborhood and social scene were a change. The crowd inside was younger and had a different senses of style than what I usually encounter. The surrounding neighborhood has become a vibrant mix of African-Americans, Latino immigrants and young white adults. Many people zipped by on bicycles as we sat. Antique Row is close by on the same street. I was happy to see a store for beloved Popeyes just south on Jefferson.

We were welcomed. After we played, host Ellen invited us to a musical parade set for next Monday. I, unfortunately, will be working. The parade will happen somewhere around the Lemp Brewery as part of the Venice Cafe Open Mic. She also co-hosts that one. I have not been, but I hope to go.

These gigs have not been real gigs, but open mics and my own sister’s wedding. I lack time to pursue music as more than a hobby, but I am going to hitchhike my way to something better. As mentioned recently, blogged Ryan Spearman and I will fill in for some missing Lulus. Come out to see us May 6, 2011 at the Map Room.


Michael M. on April 14th 2011 in General, Live, Music

William Lyons’ death certificate

I have blogged about Stagger Lee many times. Most recently, I made this post on “Stagger Lee” for my previously blogged class on fingerstyle guitar. In doing research for it, I came across William Lyons’ death certificate. This post at the Beatles Belgian Home Page includes a picture of it with Lee Shelton listed as his murderer, and this post at Murder by Gaslight does, too. Murder by Gaslight is an amazing compendium of research on famous 19th century murders that I will have to revisit.

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Michael M. on August 8th 2010 in General, Music

More Cowboy

I revisited the blogged Atomic Cowboy Open Mic Monday night. The blogged Ryan Spearman opened up with several great songs, as usual. Then H played with her new band River Bound. Videos may be forthcoming.

I took the stage for a few songs. H recorded me with her new camera. While I never feel totally happy with these things, I still like to share. I opened with “Stagger Lee” from my favorite Mississippi John Hurt. Then I played Libba Cotten‘s “Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie.” With enough tragedy in place, I switched to partying with bloggedAlabama Jubilee” before closing with “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” another MJH song. Here is a YouTube playlist followed by links to the individual videos and mp3s.

“Stagger Lee” (video page) (mp3)

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“Oh Babe, It Ain’t No Lie” (video page) (mp3)

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“Alabama Jubilee” (video page) (mp3)

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“Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” (video page) (mp3)

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I used FFmpeg to extract the audio from the video files above to make mp3s. I then realized that I could do the same with my recently blogged last videos from Atomic Cowboy Open Mic. Here they are.

“Coffee Blues” audio (mp3)

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“My Creole Belle” audio (mp3)

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Several friends showed up after H and I announced our plans of Facebook. It was great to see them out in the audience.

A band called Chicken Little! from Nashville played later in the night. Evidently, they had played a gig the night before and decided to stick around to check out more of the city. They combined accordian and guitar in a way I had not witnessed before. The singing was the true focus, though, and they have some fine arrangements worked out.

One of my favorites was the performance of Dave Black and Colleen Williamson. He opened with a fine arrangement of “Blackberry Blossom” on nylon-stringed guitar. The real great was “Jerusalem Ridge.” He played mandolin and Colleen played hammered dulcimer. It was inspired.

Thanks to friends who were there.

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Michael M. on April 1st 2010 in General, Live, Mine, Music, Recorded


The Foghorn Trio visited Saint Louis. The band supersedes the Foghorn Duo. I mentioned them once before as a source for a performance of favorite “Stagger Lee” and another time as headliners at the Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering. It was a great performance. They mixed various old songs and tunes with French Canadian and Cajun music brought into the group by Nadine Landry. Then we all talked while some played. I wish work had not precluded my participation in the late night festivities.

After the show, Nadine showed us pictures from Mardi Gras in Eunice, Louisiana. She had received a grant from the Yukon government to visit Acadiana, and her visit extended through that season. Mardi Gras in Rural Acadiana has photographs from celebrations in Eunice and other nearby towns. I hope I get to participate in such festivities someday.

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Michael M. on March 22nd 2010 in General, Live, Music

That Bad Man

Trouble in River City has this good entry about Stagger Lee. I have a standing interest in the legend. In two posts, I, too, tracked down the house at 911 North Tucker Boulevard. It is always good to learn a little more, and the post includes a podcast with several great versions of the song.

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Michael M. on November 27th 2008 in General, Music, Recorded

Murder ballads

Digg has this discussion of this article from the AP in the Seattle Times about murder ballads. Before I read the article, I was thinking about “Banks of the Ohio.” It is on the list. The wonderful “Stagger Lee” is there, too.

Murder ballads have grown on me over time. A folklore class in college was my first big exposure, and I did not enjoy many of them at the time. “Oh the Wind and Rain,” not on the list, has probably risen the most. We learned about it as Child 10. It is also known as “The Twa Sisters.” The bones of a murdered woman are used to make a musical instrument, and the song the instrument plays tells the story of her death. It is a creepy idea, and I cannot understand how someone ever thought of it.

I should have posted this story before Halloween. The article was the day before it. These songs never get too old, though, so a little tardiness should not matter.

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Michael M. on November 7th 2006 in General, Music, Recorded

Stag and Billy

A post at STL Rising has some good links on Stagger Lee. I have posted about the song before. Since posting, I have visited the downtown sites relevant to the song without gaining any insights. I still want to see Billy’s grave.

I finally figured out that Stagger Lee’s old house, still standing, has a different address than it did in his day. Tucker Boulevard is the newer name for 12th Street. Rowhouse Gallery, owned by a photographer named Drew Wojcik, is at 911 North Tucker Boulevard today. “Stag” Lee Sheldon lived at this address when it was 911 North 12th Street. It only occured to me recently to check. The building has recently housed the Downtown Mounted Patrol Stable and Stable-D Gallery.

With this new information in hand, I began more research. Wikipedia has a fairly good entry. Googling the address yielded many links. Searching for “911 N. 12th” and Louis was my first try. I found a travel review, a radio show page, a normal normal explanation, another one and a rather filthy discussion thread. “911 north twelfth” louis turned up a few more. I found an essay, a discussion of John Hurt’s mistaken beliefs about Stag and Billy, a previously linked piece and a page on a short film with a brief clip from it from cartoonist Milo Waterfield and band Marseille Figs.

If any accident of life ever turns me into a recording musician, I have a track in mind.

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Michael M. on September 29th 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

John Hurt’s murder ballads

I checked out everything I could find recorded by John Hurt from the library. I blogged about him a while back. It is all wonderful. The original 1928 recordings, despite their low recording quality, are my favorites. I am happy the folk revival found him and he shared more of his gifts with us.

While listening to his music tonight, I started wondering about “Frankie and Albert,” a murder ballad he recorded. It often is titled “Frankie and Johnny.” I learned a different version here in Saint Louis. It happens that the murder took place in Saint Louis in 1899 when Frankie Baker killed Allen Britt. Coincidentally as I am research and writing, a version is playing right now on KDHX‘s Suffragette City. DJ Rene said it was by Joe Callicott from Not the Same Old Blues Crap 3 released by Fat Possum Records in Oxford, Mississippi.

I lived in Oxford. I saw a raccoon or two there, but no possums that I recall. I did see a possum crossing Maryland Avenue near West End Terrace about 1 AM Saturday. While not especially fat, it was not in any hurry. It went next to the apartments. I turned around and pointed my headlights at it, but I lost it before I could take pictures.

Schlafly head honcho Tom Schlafly reports in this editorial that Frankie Baker shot Allen Britt over his infidelity with Alice Pryor on October 15, 1899 at 22 Targee Street. The movie Frankie and Johnnie was made about the incident. This source reports that Baker sued and settled for $200,000 in 1939, and this one that she died in a Portland mental institution in 1950. Another source has the lawsuit against Republic Pictures being dismissed in 1942. I found a claim and another that the song may have earlier origins in a very similar murder that happened a few decades earlier in the same neighborhood. Allen Britt‘s grave is in Saint Peter’s Cemetery. This summary hits the high points of the story.

A page at the library reports that Targee Street was the name of a section of the current Johnson Street between Clay and Market Streets before 1903 to honor fireman Thomas Targee killed in the Great Saint Louis Fire of 1849. As best I can tell, the Savvis Center, or maybe the Kiel Opera House, sits on the site today.

Searching for information, I came across this post at a fine blog called TRICKSTER! I appreciate his sentiments and just want to share. It got me curious about Mystery Train, a book on images in rock music with a section on Stagger Lee. Lee Sheldon shot Billy Lyons here in Saint Louis at 11th Street and Morgan Street, now Delmar Boulevard, on or around Christmas, 1895 at or near a bar. This story in the Riverfront Times, our local free weekly, got me restarted on Stagger Lee a few years ago. I still have a clipping of it. Versions of the song, Lloyd Price‘s and John Hurt’s, make 8% of my iTunes Top 25. I also really like a different a capella version I have on Prison Blues of the South. Stagolee Shot Billy is a whole book about the incident and the song that I ought to read. The website for the book linked in the previous sentence looks good, too. Here is a good review. I skimmed this page on the song. It reports that Lee Sheldon lived at 911 N 12th Street, now 911 N Tucker Blvd. Here is a story from the December 28, 1895 St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat. Billy Lyons is also buried in Saint Peter’s Cemetery.

William Lyons, 25, colored, a levee hand, living at 1410 Morgan Street, 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, also colored. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. 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 drew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. He was removed to the city hospital. At the time of the shooting, the saloon was crowded with negroes. Sheldon is a carriage driver and lives at North Twelfth Street. 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. Sheldon is also known as “Stag” Lee.

The parcels around the old 11th and Morgan Streets are 1005 Convention Plaza, northeast corner government offices, 1116 Convention Plaza, northwest corner city building, 721 North 11th Street, southwest corner part of a parking lot, and 1018 Convention Plaza, southeast corner part of a parking lot. There is no 1410 Delmar Boulevard that I could find, but there are 1400 and 1422.

I want to go see these places for myself.

I mainly have been wondering about “Louis Collins,” another beautiful murder ballad recorded by Hurt. My wishful thinking was that it occured in Saint Louis, Mississippi or some point between, allowing me to stake out the story sometime. According to the only information I found, Hurt said that he composed the song himself based on stories he had heard.

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Michael M. on February 2nd 2005 in General, Music, Recorded

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.