African-American History Month - Infinite infamy?
I can imagine them facing off on a rainy night just like this, blood in the gutter. They were gambling and drinking, these two men on the street of 1890’s St. Louis. You really shouldn’t touch or grab a man’s hat it’s said - unless you’re quick and deadly. Well, Lee Shelton was both. He took Billy Lyons hat twice - once during the argument and once after he gut-shot him and left him to die. Shelton was a garish pimp, well dressed and flashy - you’ll be hearing about another from the late 19th century “Gateway to the West” later in the month - who took his name from an infamous Memphis riverboat. Of course the story soon became legend and legend became song. It was first heard just a little later in Kansas City. In various versions, the song has been recorded hundreds of times, under different spellings and changed names and back stories. It was first put on vinyl in 1923, another version by Mississippi John Hurt in 1928. One retitled and reworked version of the story was first done by a Jamaican group, then covered by a little outfit from England - The Rulers/Clash’s “Wrong ‘em Boyo.” One of those 400 found a voice in Kenner, Louisiana native Lloyd Price, who earlier had helped popularize New Orleans R&B with “Lawdy Miss Clawdy.”
Stack-a-Lee, Stagolee, Stack O’Lee (Blues), Stagger Lee - the “rose by any other name” line is probably terribly inappropriate here - but one variation, as recorded by Lloyd Price “stacked” itself on top of the Billboard Hot 100 on this day in 1959.
Lee Shelton was paroled after serving 11 years, but murdered again and died of tuberculosis in prison. His legend continues. Lloyd Price still performs his hits.