STAGOLEE

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
  • STAGOLEE
    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 Shelton, a
    carriage driver. Lyons and Shelton 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
    Shelton’s hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused,
    and Shelton withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell
    to the floor Shelton 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 Shelton is
    also known as ‘Stagger’ Lee.
    Lyons eventually died of his injuries. Shelton was tried, convicted, and served prison time
    for this crime. This otherwise unmemorable crime is remembered in a song. In some
    older versions of the song, the name of the other party is given as “Billy Deslile” or “De
    Lion”.
    “Stagolee” has been recorded hundreds of times by a great variety of performers. The
    version recorded by Mississippi John Hurt is considered by some commentators to be
    definitive, containing all of the elements that appear in other versions. A cover with
    different lyrics was a chart hit for Lloyd Price in 1959; Dick Clark felt that the original
    tale of murder was too morbid for his American Bandstand audience, and insisted that
    they be changed (with no murder taking place). Despite the changes, it was the original
    version of the song that made #1 and was ranked #456 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500
    Greatest Songs of All Time.
    Police officer, how can it be
    You arrest everybody but cruel Stagolee
    That bad man
    Cruel Stagolee
    Billy Linus told Stagolee
    “Please don’t take my life
    I’ve got two little children
    And a loving wife”
    That bad man
    Cruel Stagolee
    “Do I care about your two babes
    Or your loving wife?
    You done took my Stetson hat
    I’m bound to take your life”
    That bad man
    Cruel Stagolee
    Stagolee stood on the gallows,
    Head held high
    Twelve o’clock they killed him
    We were all glad to see him die
    That bad man
    Cruel Stagole