Sunday, December 27, 2015

12/27/1895 Staggerlee shot Billy

December 27, 1895.  According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, on this day a pimp named "Stag" Lee Shelton killed William Lyons in a bar in St. Louis.  Apparently Lyon had stolen his Stetson hat.

A barroom killing may not sound like big news.  But the song that came from the event, "Staggerlee," has been recorded more than 400 times.  Apparently the first recording was in 1923  by... Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians????

In the most common version of the song Staggerlee dies in the electric chair and winds up taking over hell.  (He was  a bad man, that Staggerlee.)  In real life there was a hung jury.  On the second trial he was sentenced to twenty-five years in jail.  Later he was pardoned, for some strange reason, and killed another William during a burglary.  And he was pardoned again but died prior to release.

There is a fascinating website about the story/song.  Its creator says: No other song has so transcended its humble beginnings and been re-invented in so many genres, in so many media and by so many artists.

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