The story of the story of Stagger Lee

Issue: 154

Simon Andrewes

This is the story of how a bar-room shooting involving one “Stag” Lee Shelton became one of the most prominent narratives of 20th century popular culture in America:

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.1

With this newspaper report from 28 December 1895, the legend of Stagger Lee was born. Emerging from the African-American oral tradition, the story would continuously renew itself throughout the 20th century, finding expression in various music genres from classical blues, through rhythm and blues, jazz, boogie-woogie, country, folk, soul, punk, rock and roll, ska and reggae. To date, 428 different versions of the Stagger Lee song have been identified.2 Successive reworkings of the story reflect changing African-American consciousness as the social status of black Americans went from subservient second-class ­citizenship—barely freed from slave status—through the civil rights movement to full political freedom and equality before the law (although we know that even today, before that law, black lives matter less).

The earliest versions

Artistic response to news of the shooting was immediate; the Kansas City Leavenworth Herald reported on a performance of “Stack-a-Lee in variations” by “Prof Charlie Lee, the piano thumper” as early as 21 August 1897 at the K C Negro Press association.3 Being part of an oral tradition, Lee’s name, as we shall see, went through a number of changes: Stack O’Lee, Stackolee, Stackalee, Stackerlee, Stagolee, Stagger Lee and more. For the sake of clarity and consistency, we are going to refer to the legendary character always as Stagger Lee.

The earliest traceable print version of the legend dates from February 1910, when a woman in Texas, Ella Fisher, sent musicologist and folklorist John Lomax eight stanzas of “The Ballad of Stagalee”, commenting that the song was sung “by the Negroes on the levee while they are loading and unloading the river freighters”.4 An article in American Blues Scene confirms that the earliest versions of the legend would have been field hollers or other work songs sung by African-American labourers along the lower Mississippi River.5 The following year the first published versions of the lyrics appeared in The Journal of American Folklore.6 And finally, the earliest recording of the song is attributed to Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians in 1923.7

Akin and contemporary to these field hollers and work songs must be the “prison toasts” or street “toast poems”, a subgenre of the African-American oral tradition in which the narrator boasts of the heroic deeds of an admired lawbreaker or “bad man” (see “Interpreting the song” below). It was a version of such a prison toast that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds came across for their foul-mouthed and aggressive rendering of the song on their 1996 album Murder Ballads. Although this version, which Cave found in a book on Negro American toasts, is set in the 1930s, we can assume the genre, “a precursor of gangsta rap”, had existed for several decades but had never been recorded, the white musicologists of the 1920s being less appreciative of its authentic vulgar low-class language and unsubtle violence than they were of classic blues, which they discovered around this time. “The gods gave us this song and they were pissing themselves with laughter when they did it,” boasts Cave.8 It is precisely because of the profanity and vulgarity of this genre that Cave’s version is somewhat incongruous in terms of the general 20th century history of the legend, as this thread of the oral tradition rarely made it into the recording studios or onto the music sheets.

The fact is that although the “Stag” Lee incident received various forms of popular expression during the first two decades of the 20th century, it was not until white people got interested in the blues that the first recordings of songs about Stagger Lee were made. One of these was Furry Lewis’s 1927 recording “Billy Lyons and Stack O’Lee”.

Lewis’s version is in a classic Memphis blues style, where the point of a song is to tell a story and the melody line and musical arrangement are there to enhance this purpose. The simple lyric is backed by hypnotic repetitive riffs and subtle slide guitars. Lewis’s soft voice and quick slide work are particularly eloquent. Telling the story some 30 years after the event, there are significant differences between Lewis’s description of the event and the original newspaper article. Most notably Lewis refers to a gambling dispute between Lyons and Lee rather than a political argument as The Globe reported. Secondly, Lewis makes no reference to Lee taking the Stetson from the wounded man. Then he introduces Lyons’s sister into the story and tells how she pleads in vain for her brother’s life. Lewis does pick up from the original report that Lee “coolly walked away” after the shooting. These two factors build on and consolidate the reputation Lee was acquiring as a merciless, heartless and cold-blooded killer, which makes the sheriff reluctant to risk his life to go after him and bring him to justice. Finally, a key element of this version is the insistent common sense moralising refrain: “When you lose your money, learn to lose”. Some early versions like this one tended to condemn Lee’s actions as a senseless crime and offer the story as a moral warning. This was an example of how a man ought not to conduct himself.

Incidentally, and as if to confirm the stereotype of Americans as being fascinated by guns, the type of weapon Lee used to kill Billy is specified in all the ­interpretations of the legend we shall look at although the original report only mentions “his revolver”. Here it is a .45, although in subsequent renditions it tends to be a .44.

Lewis’s 1927 recorded version was swiftly followed, in 1928, by an interpretation from Mississippi John Hurt: Stack O’Lee Blues. White musicians’ interest in the blues led to Hurt, a black guitarist and singer, taking part in recording sessions in New York and Memphis around this time. But, with the depression of the 1930s, interest in African-American popular culture waned. Hurt returned to sharecropping for 35 years until folk musicologist Tom Hoskins located him in 1963 and he was persuaded to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, where he won the acclaim of the new folk revival audience

Comparing this second version with the original newspaper report and Lewis’s version of the events, we can see some important new elements taken up in the song. First and foremost, Lewis’s head-shaking moralising has given way to an expression of numb stupor at the sheer evilness of Lee’s crime: “That bad man, oh, cruel Stack O’Lee” Hurt repeats with every third line. Indeed, as the title suggests, the focus is now more on the killer than on the bar fight. The reluctance to go after the criminal, introduced by Lewis, is given more prominence by Hurt, but in this version the killer is in the end brought to justice and hanged. The incident with the hat, that Lewis had ignored, is brought back as a key element in the story. For it seems that the theft of the hat, rather than any political or gambling dispute, makes Lee feel compelled to kill his opponent. In this version it is Lyons himself, rather than his sister, who pleads for his life, emphasising Lee’s callous lack of compassion.

In 1931 Woody Guthrie recorded a version, Stackolee, that was closely based on Hurt’s model. Guthrie, we learn, got into popular black music through his friendship with an African-American blues harmonica player who we know only by the name of George. Here are some of the parallels between the two versions:



That bad man, oh, cruel Stack O’Lee

He was a bad man, that mean old Stagolee

Police officer, how can it be? You can ’rest everybody but cruel Stack O’Lee

The high sheriff asked the deputy “How can it be? You can arrest everybody but you scare of Stagolee

On Saturday we hanged him, we were all glad to see him die

At twelve o’clock they killed him, they’s all glad to see him die

In spite of the similarities there is quite an important difference between the two versions. Hurt’s carries an air of gravitas that contrasts with the relative levity of Guthrie’s interpretation. This has a lot to do with the number of syllables in a bar. For example: for Guthrie the words come tripping out quite rapidly in “He was a bad man, that mean old Stagolee” (11 syllables), whereas in “That bad man, oh, cruel Stack O’ Lee” (eight syllables) vowels tend to be lengthened and more emphatic, lending them weight and making the song more downbeat. Note especially the seriousness marked by the drawn-out diphthong of the adjective “cruel” in contrast to the relative triviality of Guthrie’s more commonplace “mean old”. The contrast is even greater if we compare the five syllables of “police officer” with two long drawn-out vowels in “po-lice” and the nine quick-fire ones of “the high sheriff asked the deputy”. A further contrast is that, for Guthrie, from the outset “everybody knows” that Lee was a bad man, whereas Hurst shows a degree of astonishment at the badness of the protagonist. On top of that, there is more distance to the events created by Guthrie’s use of the pronoun “they” (they killed him) than in Hurt’s using “we” (we hanged him). Last but not least, Guthrie puts in 12 stanzas in the same time as it takes Hurt to get through six. Hurt’s slower delivery focuses on the apparently absurd killing, working around the line “You done stole my Stetson hat I’m bound to take your life”. Guthrie’s version contains this same line but it gets rather lost in the long rambling narrative into which the singer works a lot of detail and some of his usual socio-critical themes. The economy of Hurt’s narration is lost in this expansive upbeat tribute to the blues maestro.

Interpreting the song

To analyse the song’s evolution more closely, we are now going to look at what contemporary material can tell us about the social context of the various versions of the song with a particular focus on four aspects of the legend: the mythology of the “bad man”; Lee’s taunting of the white authorities; Lee’s death sentence and hanging; and the symbolism of the Stetson hat.

Whereas Lewis provides an insistent moral warning as a refrain to his song, Hurt and Guthrie dwell on a head shaking repudiation almost beyond words of the evil—the cold-blooded callousness—of Lee’s crime. This change reflects a development in the legend. As James P Hauser points out, in the early decades of the 20th century the Stagger Lee story evolved as part of a tradition where folk tales about a legendary black “bad man” served the purpose of helping African-Americans to bear the trials and torments of everyday oppression. The bad man of this tradition did not lead a fight against oppression; such a fight was doomed to failure. What the bad man did was put himself beyond the morality and law of white society.9

At this time the moral norms of white society in the United States were rooted in the twisted laws and customs of the Jim Crow system. The Jim Crow laws were enacted in the southern states and enforced from 1876, not long after the abolition of slavery, until 1965. They mandated “separate but equal” status for black Americans: segregation, in other words. In the southern states, as we know, public schools, public transportation and public places in general were segregated by law with separate (and inferior) buildings, toilets and restaurants for black people.

It was these laws that the African-American had to abide by and that were defied by the badness of the legendary Stagger Lee and other “mean types” of the tradition. As such, for black Americans the bad man became a symbol of non-recognition of unjust white authority, an authority which as yet went unchallenged politically.

Figures like Stagger Lee became objects of admiration in the African-American community because they stood up to and defied the white man’s system. Their badness put them—for a while at least—beyond the white man’s law. Thus, in Hurt’s and Guthrie’s versions, we find not only a reluctance on the part of the representatives of white authority to risk their lives by going after the cold-blooded killer, as was the case in Lewis’s version, but a mocking of the police officer/deputy sheriff burdened with the dangerous task of bringing in the now legendary bad man. African-Americans, says Hauser, felt a secret pride in the fact that Stagger Lee, who was after all one of them, was too much of a challenge for the enforcers of the white man’s law.

The personal resistance of the bad man could not be a political victory and even in narrative form more politically organised resistance still seemed to be a proposition too far-fetched to be credible; but it did mean refusing to resign oneself to the status quo and surviving with self-respect intact to face and fight another day. As James Baldwin explained to Maya Angelou: survival was a main ingredient that African-Americans put into their folk tales.10

It is as if Guthrie does not feel these elements of African-American folklore as intensely as Hurt, hence the relative light-heartedness of his delivery and his more distanced standpoint. As a white man, seeing badness as a sort of virtue, the taunting of authority, and the struggle for survival were not so integral to Guthrie’s lived experience. In his case the elements of the story were handed down to him as hearsay, something “everybody knows”. Both the Lewis and Hurt interpretations share a gravity and involvement that are not to be found in Guthrie.

Lawrence Levine, in his book Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought From Slavery to Freedom, points out that the bad man of black folklore is in no way to be identified with the noble outlaw or social bandit, such as Robin Hood or Pretty Boy Floyd, in white folklore. According to Levine, these benefactors to and heroes of the poor and oppressed are generated during times of great social change or upheaval and imply a desire for a return to a more legitimate order of the past (the just rule of Richard I or the intact farming family unit of pre-depression Oklahoma in these two cases). Their aims seem not only justifiable but also realisable.11

Such an option of a return to justice was simply not available to the African-American community during the first half of the 20th century. For them, there was no idealised past which they could dream of restoring. Their roots had been severed. The bad man folk tradition among African-Americans is a reflection of the fact that there was simply no possible perspective of a better world and no tangible hope for change in the one in which they were condemned to live. In short, there was no way out of the dilemma for the bad man except via the hangman’s noose. But it was a proudly defiant way out and, as such, the noblest option available. So the death sentence handed out to Lee is significant. Stagger Lee held “his head way up high” as he went to the gallows. Curiously enough, it is only Guthrie who explicitly states this among the versions we look at.

The Stetson was in the original newspaper report. It disappeared from Lewis’s minimalist version of the story but was reintroduced in the Hurt and Guthrie versions and nearly all subsequent versions. The significance of the Stetson requires some explanation. In his book Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who left New Orleans for Chicago in the early 1920s, relates how many black men coveted Stetson hats in those days and would often purchase them on instalment plans.12 Furthermore, Cecil Brown argues that Stagger Lee’s Stetson “represents his manhood”.13 Many of the men who were now wearing Stetsons in the early years of the 20th century were direct descendants of slaves. Wearing a Stetson marked them out as free men, equal in status to the fashionable and well-heeled white men who were also wearing them.

Thus the dispute over the Stetson is not simply a trivial dispute over ownership of property; it represents a fight for manhood. The African-American’s struggle for manhood was an element of the struggle for freedom and equality. In the words of Malcolm X: “the white man wants you to remain a boy”. The $5 Stetson hat for which Stagger Lee shot Billy was ultimately a symbol of the black man’s manhood, his coming of age in white society. He was no longer “a (nigger) boy” but a free adult male. It was his manhood itself that Lee was recovering from Billy Lyons.

James Baldwin goes on to say “an anonymous black woman” (Rosa Parks) was instrumental in helping Stagger Lee achieve his manhood.14

Archibald’s landmark version

Before we make the leap from Stagger Lee to Rosa Parks, we need to look at two further re-tellings of the incident, Archibald’s comprehensive rendering of the legend, Stack-A-Lee recorded in 1950 and Lloyd Price’s 1958 version. By this time the song felt rather remote, not only in years but also in terms of contemporary lived experience, from its original source. But this version was considered outstanding at least partly due to the fact that it is made up of two parts, covering both side A and B of the record release, in order to give the story the ­comprehensive treatment it seemed to warrant. Archibald (born Leon Gross) was a blues pianist from New Orleans and he plays and sings on the recording in a laid-back easy-going style with a very simple arrangement in which his narrative is underscored by his comfortably swinging piano accompaniment. The story’s two parts are linked by a superb “Take it away Archie” boogie-woogie piano solo.

A number of elements of Archibald’s version are familiar to us: it was a gambling dispute; the weapon used (in this case a .44 revolver); Billy pleading for his life in vain and citing his children and his loving wife; Lee’s callous response and the Stetson hat. But there are also a number of new elements: bulldog barks alert us to the dispute between Billy and Lee; Billy is demonstrated to be a cheat; the Stetson is part of a wager Lee places and is gambled away rather than stolen; the bullet that kills Billy breaks the bartender’s glass. A significant element is missing from Archibald’s rendition of the events: there is neither moral condemnation nor numbed stupor at the callousness of the killer’s action; indeed, between the killer and his victim there is now not so much to choose. We find a fascination with detail but less focus on deeper meanings. Even Billy’s pleading for his life seems fairly incidental to this version of the story. And as for the Stetson: the symbolism is weakened, for would you risk gambling away your manhood?

The bulldog barks and the bullet passing through Billy are banal details whose purpose seems to be to add to the verisimilitude of the narration, the latter in particular making a fascinating image, but one of marginal relevance—and of course made-up. They are in themselves quite trivial.

Part two is a development beyond the basic “facts” of the story: skipping the execution it takes us to Lee’s funeral—attended by women dressed specifically “in orange and red”: colours not of mourning, but of energy and passion, even of optimism and extroversion, offering emotional strength and resilience in the face of grief and despair. Both Stack and Billy go to hell for their wickedness, but the bad man myth is taken ad absurdum, for now it is not simply the police officer or the High Sheriff but the Devil himself who fears Lee’s unbridled evil!

This absurd fearful Devil metaphor appears also in country singer Tennessee Ernie Ford’s contemporary version (from 1951), which is even more upbeat than Archibald’s, in a jumpy jitterbug arrangement; more clearly tongue in cheek, too. Like Archibald’s, it contains the essential familiar ingredients but with an over-the-top exaggeration of Lee’s badness. This playful hyperbole indicates that in this post-war period the serious intention behind the bad man mythology had lost its original force and was barely being taken seriously any more, either by black or white performers.

Lloyd Price’s Stagger Lee

When Lloyd Price’s version of Stagger Lee reached Number One in the US charts in February 1959, it was the first rock ’n’ roll record by a black artist to do so. Price had included the song in his repertoire as band leader in the US Army while stationed in Korea in the mid-1950s. The “Lee and Billy story” became a central pillar of his stage act: “While entertaining the troops, I put together a little play based on it. I’d have soldiers acting out the story while I sang it.” After being discharged from the army, Lloyd returned to his recording career and included a version of his Stag Lee army act as the B-side of his 1958 single You Need Love. DJs discovered it and started to air it in preference to the A-side—the rest is rock ’n’ roll history.15

Lloyd Price’s innovatory interpretation of the legend broke in many ways with the familiar elements of the story, which, as we have seen, was evolving anyway. It is with this break with the mainstream Stagger Lee tradition that we return to Rosa Parks and remind ourselves that, in the curious view of James Baldwin, it was she who helped Stagger Lee to achieve his manhood.16

From Stagger Lee to Rosa Parks

The story of Rosa Parks is an essential part of American history. On the way home from work on 1 December 1955 she refused to give up her seat to a white man and move to the back of the bus, which the Jim Crow segregation laws still demanded. On the face of it and in the terms of reference of those times and that place, this was an act of wilful “badness” in line with the “bad man” anti-hero of the folk tradition. It was a refusal to resign to the status quo. Parks’s actions have often been portrayed, not as an attempt to challenge the law, but rather as a simple reaction to weariness, an act of self-preservation in order to survive to face another day. James Baldwin seeing Rosa Parks as “an anonymous black woman” seems to adhere to this interpretation.

In reality, Parks’s individual act of resistance must be seen in the context of a burgeoning civil rights movement in which she played an active role and that gave moral support to her actions. Survival may have been until now the essential ingredient of the African-American oral tradition. But survival was no longer the name of the game; African-Americans had acquired greater aspirations than the desire to survive to face yet another day of oppression.

Parks’s celebrated act of defiance led to the Montgomery bus boycott. It had political repercussions that changed the face of race relations in the US. Barely two years later Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1957, the first major piece of civil rights legislation passed in over 80 years. In September 1957 federal troops guarded black students bringing about the court-ordered integration of a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.17

Against this background, Price’s army stage act of Stagger Lee was evolving in Korea. US troops there had been racially integrated since 1950, one of the very first signs that the walls of segregation were being broken down. Having grown up in the South, Price must have appreciated and been positively affected by this.18 These events and experiences went into the development of his Stagger Lee and would find expression in his final version of the song.

An anticipatory celebration

Archibald had paved the way for Price’s development of the legend. Indeed, Price’s version follows Archibald’s part one faithfully in telling nothing more than the “bare facts”—largely invented, of course—of the killing, ending at the moment when the bullet passed through Billy and broke the bartender’s glass. Gone is the taunting of white authority and gone, too, are Lee’s arrest and death sentence. Certainly there is nothing here of his super-evil exploits in hell; nor is there any longer room for either moralising or numbed stupor.

The solemnity of the earliest versions is long gone. But gone, too, is Archibald’s laid-back, easy-going delivery, to be replaced by a sort of urgency that has been, and can only be, described as “manic”.19 In fact one of the most remarkable features of the 1958 version is the way the backup singers, in the course of the narration, seem to be urging the killer on, with their inciting chant “Go Stagger Lee”, reinforced by the insistent rise of an octave on the fourth and last bar.

In his rock history The Sound of the City, Charlie Gillett points out that Price’s record company ABC-Paramount tended to provide a loud, rhythmic and cheerful musical backing on all his records.20 So it seems questionable whether there is any deliberate ideological intention here. Nonetheless, the dissonance between the cheerful arrangement and the brutal storyline is undeniable and seems to be the accumulation of a trend that started with Guthrie’s trivialisation of the story and certainly developed through Archibald’s and Ford’s upbeat versions at the start of the 1950s.

Hauser draws parallels between the jubilant tone of Price’s Stagger Lee, with the rampant exuberance of its arrangement, and the slave spiritual In That Great Gettin’ Up Morning from the previous century. This spiritual, Hauser suggests, owed its popularity to the anticipation felt in the mid-19th century when the Southern States slaves came to see that their liberation was at last close at hand.21 In the same way that such gospels celebrated the imminent release from slavery, so may Price’s rock ’n’ roll rendition of Stagger Lee be seen as an anticipatory celebration of the imminent success of the struggle for civil rights.

As we have said, Price’s version follows part one of the Archibald version practically word for word. However, there is one notable addition in the dramatic, suspense-creating two-line introduction to the story: “The night was clear and the moon was yellow/and the leaves came tumbling down”. Then “seven quick horn blasts shatter the calm”. This arrangement evokes another old slave spiritual, frequently sung in church by black congregations and which Price would certainly have known, entitled Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho—in that the line “and the leaves came tumbling down” echoes the spiritual’s line “and the walls came tumbling down”. Consolidating the symbolism, the seven horn blasts in the introduction to the song echo the seven trumpets of ram’s horns that were blown by seven priests after circling the city seven times on the seventh day of the siege of Jericho in the bible story. In the song, the backing singers shout as they join in with later sets of horn blasts, also paralleling the bible story in which the multitude, exercising a sort of psychological warfare, shouted out on hearing the trumpet blasts.22

In African-American folklore the Battle of Jericho was closely associated with the fight to end slavery. Joshua, god’s chosen successor to Moses, who was to lead the people of Israel to the promised land, stood for the black man in his righteousness, his faith in god, and his perseverance against overwhelming odds. As god had intervened on behalf of Joshua, as He had intervened on behalf of the slave population, so would He intervene again in the just struggle for equal rights in the South. With the inevitability of the falling leaves, like the walls of Jericho, the walls of segregation would finally come tumbling down.

In Price’s version, then, Stagger Lee is no longer presented as a bad man, boldly but vainly defying white authority. In fact, Lee could be seen as a man who exacted justice by taking the law into his own hands: a form of ghetto or street justice—indeed, the very kind of justice that the earliest blues versions moralised against. Thus over 30 years the story of Stagger Lee was reshaped from Furry Lewis’s cautionary blues ballad of 1927 to an aggressive rock ’n’ roll song in the late 1950s. Its theme had been changed from one of surviving oppression to active self-liberation. With Price’s version of Stagger Lee, we can surely agree with Baldwin that he had in a way helped the African-American finally to achieve his manhood. (With all due respect, sisters!)

We could follow Stagger Lee into the 21st century but we will leave it here. Perhaps Hauser overstates his case when he calls Price’s reinvention of the Stagger Lee legend “the ultimate rock n’ roll record”, for as we have seen the story was evolving all the time, often making use of the popular music genre of the day.23 While the contrast with the gravity of the earliest recorded blues versions is clear, Price’s classic version marks the accumulation of a tendency that had been visible for some time.

There are, anyway, many other outstanding versions of the Stagger Lee legend before as well as after Lloyd Price’s rock ’n’ roll version.

Simon Andrewes is a semi-retired teacher of English to speakers of other languages and nomad socialist, based now in Granada, Spain, but currently volunteer-teaching in Vietnam.


1 “Shot in Curtis’s Place”, from the 28 December 1895 edition of the St Louis Daily Globe-Democrat, quoted in James P Hauser’s website The Stagger Lee Files is an important source and inspiration for this account of the story of the story of Stagger Lee—Hauser, 2009a and 2009b.

2 The definitive List of Stagger Lee Songs can be found at

5 Marshall, 2011.

9 Hauser, 2009a.

10 Related by Maya Angelou in her book A Song Flung Up to Heaven. Quoted in Hauser, 2009b.

11 Levine, 1978.

12 Hauser, 2009b.

13 Prof Cecil Brown, doctoral dissertation: Stagolee: From Shack Bully to Culture Hero, cited in Hauser, 2009b.

14 James Baldwin, in his foreword to Black Panther Bobby Seale’s autobiography, cited in Hauser, 2009b.

15 Hauser, 2009a.

16 Baldwin, cited in Hauser, 2009b.

17 Olende, 2007.

18 Hauser, 2009a.

19 Greil Marcus, Mystery Train, cited in Hauser, 2009a.

20 Cited in Hauser, 2009a.

21 Horace Clarence Boyer, How Sweet The Sound: The Golden Age of Gospel, cited in Hauser, 2009b.

22 For those interested in the magic of numbers, Stagger Lee threw seven, and his name is mentioned seven times in Price’s (and Archibald’s) song—Hauser, 2014.

23 On a personal note, I was 14 when Price’s version hit the UK charts, so it had an enormous mind-and-spirit moulding effect on me. That is why when I came upon Hauser’s project many years ago, it attracted me from the start. The more I looked into the story of the story of Stagger Lee, the more fascinating I found it.


Hauser, James P, 2009a, “Original Stagger Lee Essay”, The Stagger Lee Files,

Hauser, James P, 2009b, “Stagger Lee: From Mythic Blues Ballad to Ultimate Rock ‘n’ Record”, The Stagger Lee Files,

Hauser, James P, 2014, “The Hidden Message in Lloyd Price’s ‘Stagger Lee’”, The Stagger Lee Files,

Levine, Lawrence W, 1978, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought From Slavery to Freedom (Oxford University Press).

Marshall, Matt, 2011, “A Brief History of Stagger Lee and Billy Lyons”, American Blues Scene (9 May),

McCulloch, Derek, 2007, “Book Notes—Derek McCulloch (‘Stagger Lee’)”, Large Hearted Boy (19 January),

Olende, Ken, 2007, “Little Rock and the Fight to End School Segregation”, Socialist Worker (18 September),