Friday, August 30, 2013

Frankie & Johnny & Albert & Stack & Billy, part 1

Here’s another occasional series—or convocation if you will . . . clearly non-definitive, poorly researched, emotionally unbalanced . . . but good fun and good records. So, ahem, we venture into the Stack-O-Lee Symposium, with a panel composed of such illustrious names as Furry Lewis, Dave Van Ronk (special citation for funniest closing stanzas), Mississippi John Hurt (UFO award for most perplexing pre-song narrative, although all the story lines converge somewhere out in Deep Space, exact location unknown. You figure out: [1] who was wearing what and how was it magical, [2] where the whole cold thing went down, [3] what the participants’ real names were, as well as the names of spouses and various friends and family, [4] etc.), and Dion! We also have Archibald’s fine and rockin’ two-part New Orleans version from 1950. And Lloyd Price’s classic will do its own battle with Dion’s fine and dandy 1962 cover.

As a bonus big time Charley Patton checks in with Part I of his “Jim Lee” two-parter. Story: The Lee Line of Mississippi riverboats were named after, if I remember correctly, the sons; there was the Jim Lee, the Bob Lee Junior, and the Stacker Lee. Now guess which infamous murdering Stetson-wearing legend took his nickname from the third-mentioned boat. Somewhere in here you have a badass white guy who has been transmogrified by folk legend into a badass black guy. . . . 

And then there’s the Frankie and Johnny mythology, about which more later.

So here, to get us started off are:

Frank Hutchison • Stackalee • 1927

David Miller • That Bad Man Stacklee • 1927

Mississippi John Hurt • Stagolee • 1964


  1. Have you ever read "Stagolee Shot Billy" by Cecil Brown? It's an in-depth exploration of the roots of the Stagolee ballad. (Harvard University Press, 2003)

    I get a kick out of hearing different versions of these early ballads - hadn't heard "That Bad Man Stacklee."

    1. Thanks, there's more rarities to come, Stack, Billy, Frankie, Johnny, the whole lot.

      I've known about the book since it came out, but still haven't gotten a round tuit!