Stagger Lee

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1. 1911 — Journal of American Folklore

Another version more common in Georgia. The song is sung to different music.

I got up one mornin‚' jes' 'bout four o'clock;
Stagolee an' big bully done have one finish' fight:
What 'bout? All 'bout dat raw-hide Stetson hat.

Stagolee shot Bully; Bully fell down on de flo',
Bully cry out: "Dat fohty-fo‚' hurts me so."
Stagolee done killed dat Bully now.

Sent for de wagon, wagon didn't come,
Loaded down wid pistols an' all dat gatlin' gun,
Stagolee done kill dat Bully now.

Some giv' a nickel, some giv' a dime,
I didn't give a red copper cent, 'cause he's no friend o' mine,
Stagolee done kill dat Bully now.

Carried po' Bully to cemetary, people standin' 'round,
When preacher say Amen, lay po' body down,
Stagolee done kill dat Bully now.

Fohty dollah coffin, eighty dollah hack,
Carried po' man to cemetary but failed to bring him back,
Ev'y body been dodgin‚' Stagolee.

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♠ Last Updated:
September 11, 2008
2. 1911 — Journal of American Folklore ♥

As sung in Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, though it is known in Alabama and Georgia besides being sung by negro vagrants all over the country.

Stagolee, Stagolee, what's dat in yo' grip?
Nothin' but my Sunday clothes, I'm goin' to take a trip,
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee, Stagolee, where you been so long?
I been out on de battle fiel' shootin' an‚' havin' fun,
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee was a bully man, an' ev'y body knowed,
When dey seed Stagolee comin', to give Stagolee de road,
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee started out, he give his wife his han‚',
"Good-by, darlin', I'm goin‚' to kill a man."
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee killed a man an' laid him on de flo',
What's dat he kill him wid? Dat same ole fohty-fo'.
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee killed a man an' laid him on his side,
What‚'s dat he kill him wid? Dat same ole fohty-five.
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Out of house an' down de street Stagolee did run,
In his hand he held a great big smokin' gun.
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee, Stagolee, I'll tell you what I'll do,
If you'll git me out'n dis trouble I'll do as much for you.
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Ain't it a pity, ain't it a shame?
Stagolee was shot, but he don't want no name.
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee, Stagolee, look what you done done,
Killed de best ole citerzen; now you'll hav' to be hung.
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

Stagolee cried to de jury an' to de judge: Please don't take my life,
I have only three little children an' one little lovin' wife.
O dat man, bad man, Stagolee done come.

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♠ Last Updated:
September 11, 2008
3. 1927 — Furry Lewis — Billy Lyons and Stack O' Lee

I remember one September on one Friday night,
Stack O'Lee an' Billy had a great fight.
Cryin', when you lose your money, learn to lose.

Little Lyon shot six bits, Stack O'Lee bet 'e pass,
Stack O'Lee out with his forty-five, sayin' you done shot your last
When you lose your money, learn to lose.

Lord, a woman come a-runnin', fell down on 'er knees,
Cryin' "Oh Mr. Stack O'Lee don't shoot my brother, please"
When you lose your money, learn to lose.

I ain't talkin' 'bout some gamblers, oughta see Richard Lee,
Shot one thousand dollars, an' come out on a three.
Cryin', when you lose your money, learn to lose.

Lord, the judge told the sheriff, we want 'im dead or 'live,
How in the world can we bring 'im in, when he's totin' a forty-five
When you lose your money, learn to lose.

Lord, the woman told the judge, my husband's name Jack Shepp
Wanna arrest po' Stack O'Lee, better go somewheres else.
When you lose your money, learn to lose.

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♠ Last Updated:
September 11, 2008
4. 1927 — Papa Harvey Hull, Long Cleve Reed — Original Stack O'Lee Blues

Stack 0'Lee was a bully, he bullied all his life,
Well, he bullied to Chicago Town with a ten cent pocket knife.
Well it's old Stack 0'Lee.

Stag says to Billy, "How can it be?
You arrest a man just as bad as me, but you won't 'rest Stack 0'Lee?"
Well it's old Stack 0'Lee.

Oh! Bad man.

Stag said to Billy, "Don't you take my life,
Well I ain't got nuthin' but two lil' children, an' a darlin' lovin' wife."
Well it's old Stack 0'Lee.

One is a boy an' the other is a girl,
Well you may see your children again, but it'll be in another world.
An' it's old Stack 0'Lee.

Standin' on the corner, well I didn't mean no harm,
Well a policeman caught me, well he grabbed me by my arm.
An' it's old Stagolee.

Stack 0'Lee an' Billy had a noble fight,
Well Stagolee killed Billy Lyons one cold, dark stormy night.
Singin', old Stack 0'Lee.

Oh! Play it boy.

Standin' on the hill top, the dogs begin to bark,
Well it was nuthin' but Stack 0' Lee come creepin' in the dark.
It's old Stagolee.

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♠ Last Updated:
September 11, 2008
5. 1928 — Cliff Edwards (Ukelele Ike) — Stack O'Lee Blues

Listen Folks, I'm gonna tell you
A story you've never heard.
It's all about a high-yellow colored man,
There's truth in every word.
I'm talkin' about the man called Stack O'Lee.

It was in St. Louis on Pine Stree,
That's exactly where it was at,
Stack up and shot himself a competin' colored man
On account of a dirty old Stetson hat.
And from then on they called him Hard Luck Stack O'Lee.

The sheriff came up and said, "Hello, Stack,
Let's have a little talk."
Then he throwed the handcuffs on to Stack
And said, "Come on, buddy, let's walk."
Down to the jalhouse the took poor Stack O'Lee.

Stack's gal went out to get some bond money
For someone to go his bail,
She said, "There ain't a trick in this world I wouldn't turn
To get my Stack out of jail."
Oh, how she loved her Stack O'Lee.

Next mornin' down in the courtroom
The judge sat down on the bench,
The first one to occupy the witness stand
Was old Stack O's sewwet-lovin' wench.
She said, "I'm gonna argue with the jury for Stack O'Lee."

The judge got up and called the sentence,
His eyes was filled with tears.
He said, "I'm gonna be good to you this time, Stack,
I'm only gonna give you sixty-nine years.
You got plenty of time now, Stack O'Lee.

They told him, "Don't ever sharpen your razor,
Brother, don't you shave your face,
Don't ever ask anybody the hour of the day
'Cause you ain't goin' no place.
You're in here from now on, Stack O'Lee.

This song is just about half through.
To get it all here I've tried.
You better stop your machine, turn your record over,
And play the other side.
And you'll hear some more of the song called "Stack O'Lee."

Stack O's gal was a good gal,
Most everybody knows,
She said, "I've gotta go and get myself a lot of bucks
To buy Stack some new prison clothes.
In a way I must provide for Stack O'Lee."

But one mornin' she began to moan,
Great God, how she cried.
She got a letter from the jailhouse,
Said, "Lady, your Stack has died.
He just up and kicked the bucket, did Stack O'Lee."

She went out and got a big rubber-tired hearse,
She got a little old lonesome hack,
Took him to the graveyard,
And laid him right down on his back.
And then they kicked a lot of dirt on the face of Stack O'Lee.

A man standin' by said, "Last night while I was sleepin',
I had myself an awful dream.
If you got some tar, I got some Stenman lamps,
I'll show you just how to cook with steam.
I might as well hop right along with Stack O'Lee."

But finally, one might say eventually,
Stack O'Lee's gal died.
The last thing she said was that she wanted to be
Buried right by his side.
She said, "I wants my body to cool with Stack O'Lee."

She had a common, ordinary funeral,
She was planted right down by his side.
On the monument read this inscription:
"These riders rode their last ride."
And that is the story of the man called Stack O'Lee.

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♠ Last Updated:
September 13, 2008
6. 1931 — Cab Calloway and His Orchestra — Stack O'Lee Blues

Stack O'Lee blues,
Know what it means,
Come on, honey, let's be stepping,
'Cause my feet won't keep still,
I've just gotta dance until
I've had my fill.

Stack O'Lee blues,
Play it over for me;
I go crazy when I hear it
Anywhere I may be;
I long to hear them playing
that Stack O'Lee.

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♠ Last Updated:
September 11, 2008
7. 1936 — Lonnie Robertson

last two verses

Stagolee he went down to the devil
And he leaned up on his shelf
He said, "Come out of here, Mr. Devil
I'm gonna rule hell by myself."

Well, the devil called all his little imps around him
"Lord, let's climb up on the wall."
He said, "Here's a bad man, Stagolee,
And he's goin' to kill us all."

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♠ Last Updated:
September 11, 2008
8. 1967 — Big Stick — Stagger Lee

Transcribed in Auburn Prison, New York, 1967

Back in '32 when times were hard,
He had a Colt .45 and a deck of cards,
Rat-drawn shoes, an old Stetson hat,
A '28 Ford and payments on that.
His woman threw him out in the ice and snow,
And told him not to come back there no more.
He hadn't copped for a long, long time,
And he had to play with Jojo 'cause he didn't have a dime.
He walked through rain and he walked through mud,
Till he came to a place called the Bucket of Blood.
He said, "Mr. Motherfucker, you must know who I am."
Barkeep said, "No, and I don't give a good goddamn."
He said, "Well, bartender, it's plain to see,
I'm that bad motherfucker named Stagger Lee."
Barkeep said, "Yeah, I heard your name down the way,
But I kick motherfucking asses like you every day."
Well, those were the last words the barkeep said,
'Cause Stag put four holes in his motherfucking head.
Just then in came a broad named Nellie Brown,
Known to have more coins than any bitch in town.
She came 'cross the bar, pulling up her skirt,
The way the bitch always started to flirt.
She dug the barkeep and said, "He can't be dead."
Stag said, "Well just count them holes in the motherfucker's head."
She said, "You look like you ain't copped in quite a time.
Why not come to my pad. It won't cost you a dime."
"But there's something I'll have to say before you begin.
You'll have to be gone when Billy Dilly comes in."
"I'll stay there till Billy Dilly comes in, till time comes to pass.
And furthermore I'll fuck Billy Dilly in his motherfucking ass."
Well they started to fuck, and she started to fart.
He said, "What's wrong, bitch?" She said, "Coming, sweetheart."
Just then Billy Dilly rolled in and said, "You must be
That bad motherfucker called Stagger Lee."
"Yeah I'm Stagger Lee, and you'd better get down on your knees and slobber my head,
'Cause if you don't you're sure to be dead."
Billy dropped down and slobbered on his head,
But Stag filled him full of lead.

The Life, The Lore, and Folk Poetry of the Black Hustler
by Dennis Wepman, Ronald B. Newman, Murray B. Binderman
Holloway House Publishing Company
ISBN 087067367X

The toasts in this collection were taken down in shorthand from spontaneous recitations during the 1950's and 60's by one of us, at that time an inmate in the prisons of New York - Sing Sing, Clinton, Attica, and Auburn.

The proto-toast "Stagger Lee" has been widely printed and discussed since a version of it appeared in "The Journal Of American Folklore" in 1911. The ballad is apparently based on the killing of one Billy Lyon by an already notorious badman named Lee. The fight or murder is variously explained, but it usually has something to do with Billy's stealing, winning, or spitting on Stag's milk-white Stetson Hat. In the toast which has evolved from this bully-ballad, the cause of the shooting is usually reduced to the victim's opposition to Stag. In this version Stag's motives for killing Billy seems to be sheer meanness. In all versions, Stag is the victor, and sometimes he triumphs even after his execution for the murder - by bullying the devil into relinquishing the rule of Hell to him. The version presented here has no such grand dimension.

This version came from Big Stick, a black hustler from upstate New York, in Auburn [prison] in 1967. Stick was about twenty and said he had known it for years.

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♠ Last Updated:
September 11, 2008

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