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Hambone Willie Newbern wasn't as well thought of in the area as maybe he should have been... when Yank's mother heard he'd traded the pig for a mandolin she said 'Well, that's OK son, this winter, when we're all eating meat, you can eat that mandolin' - Yank Rachell, as told by Steve James, Port Townsend 97

Author Topic: "Stackerlee"--'Bama Stuart  (Read 1392 times)

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Online Johnm

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"Stackerlee"--'Bama Stuart
« on: May 24, 2014, 01:29:50 PM »
Hi all,
I found this version of "Stackerlee", recorded by Alan Lomax at Parchman Farms in 1947, and sung by an inmate identified only as 'Bama.  The song is delivered a capella, and 'Bama had the vocal instrument and presence to bring it all off so strongly.  One expects to hear different verses in different versions of a song like this, and 'Bama does not disappoint, singing several verses I've not heard done elsewhere.  I particularly admire the taglines to the third and sixth verses.  After eight verses, 'Bama makes a left turn into "Alberta", but it is all so much of a piece in his rendition that it doesn't make sense to excerpt the verses that deal specifically to Stackerlee.  The rendition is over four minutes long, and 'Bama's concentration doesn't flag one bit.

Now Stackerlee, he was a bad man
He wanted the whole round world to know
He toted a .32-20 and a smokeless .44

Now Stackerlee, Lord, and Billy Lyon
They was gamblin' early one day
Stackerlee losin' money and he th'owed the cards away

Now Stackerlee, he told Billy Lyon,
"Billy, I'm sure gon' take your life.
You have win my money, jack, and I found a foul dice."

Now Billy Lyon, he told Stackerlee,
He said, "Stack, please don't take my life.
I have two little child'en and my poor little weakly wife."

"Now, one of them is a boy, Stack,
And the other one is a girl."
"But if you love your child'en, Billy Lyon, you will have to meet them in the other world."

Now Stackerlee, he told Billy Lyon,
"Billy, I thought you were the gamblin' man.
You know you passed leads in the second, and you know you done fouled your hand."

Now Stackerlee, he shot Billy Lyon
'Way down on that ballroom floor
It was early one mornin', just about fifteen to four

Now Billy Lyon mother, she come runnin'
She said, "Lord have mercy on my son.
Poor Billy Lyon done got murdered, and I know he didn't have his gun."

Alberta, Lord, Alberta
Baby, don't you hear me callin' you?
But you're three times seven, Alberta, and you know what you want to do

I'm gonna call up the undertaker
Lord, I'm gonna ring up Mr. Moss
I'm gonna ask those people, "What will Alberta's funeral cost?"

I wants a two hundred dollar coffin
Lord, I wants a hundred dollar hearse
And that will put Alberta, I know, six feet in the earth

Now give me water, Lord, when I'm thirsty
Honey, give me whiskey when I'm dry
Give me Alberta when I need her and Heaven when I die

Now, when I gets all up in Glory
Lord, I'm gonna sit down on the Golden Stool
And I'm gonna ask St. Gabriel to blow me the worried blues

(SPOKEN: That's enough, boy, ha)

Edited 5/24 to pick up correction from Laura

All best,

« Last Edit: May 24, 2014, 03:30:56 PM by Johnm »

Offline Laura

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Re: "Stackerlee"--'Bama
« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2014, 02:17:20 PM »
Wow..yes, talk about stamina!  Thanks for the transcription, John.  I noticed a small typo as I was listening through at 7:2 you've got "flour" instead of "floor".

Online Johnm

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Re: "Stackerlee"--'Bama
« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2014, 02:49:29 PM »
Thanks for the catch, Laura, I have made the change.  I know people have been talking about singing over on the Licks and Lessons board, and it occurred to me when I was transcribing this that one could do a lot worse than trying to copy this, singing along with 'Bama and attempting to catch every little inflection and nuance of what he was doing.
I should add, too, that I found another video of the same singer over at YouTube and it appears his name was 'Bama Stuart.
All best,

Offline jphauser

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Re: "Stackerlee"--'Bama Stuart
« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2014, 06:47:40 PM »
Thanks for posting this Johnm.  For me, this makes my desert island disc list, even if it gets down to just 5 or 6 songs.

Does everyone hear the distant-sounding voice in the background?  It's very faint, but I have the recording on cassette and it's much more prominent on the tape.  It's the same voice, but it's not like an echo because the timing is way off--it could be an echo if it went half-way around the world before it bounced back to Parchman Farm.  For me, it gives the recording this eerie, other-worldly sound.  I used to listen to it late at night when all was quiet and it could be quite a powerful experience hearing just that acapella voice and that "echo." 

The "Now give me water" verse is quite moving.  In The Land Where the Blues Began, Alan Lomax described it as worthy of Francois Villon (a poet from the Middle Ages who had some scrapes with the law and ended up in prison himself).  Lomax described it and the verse that followed it as "new to me."   I found two verses similar to it in a little song book by Wayne Erbsen titled Front Porch Old-Time Songs Jokes and Stories.   They're both in the song "Jack of Diamonds."   I don't know if these verses are common to that song.

I'll eat when I'm hungry
I'll drink when I'm dry,
And when I get thirsty
I'll lay down and die

It's beefsteak when I'm hungry
Rye whiskey when I'm dry,
The greenbacks when I'm hard up
And heaven when I die

Jim Hauser

Offline uncle bud

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Re: "Stackerlee"--'Bama Stuart
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2014, 10:24:17 AM »
There are more recordings from 'Bama on those great Prison Songs anthologies, Don'tcha Hear Poor Mother Calling and Murderous Home. He is a wonderful natural singer, and was also recorded doing some spoken tall tales and comedy under what are described as very tense conditions. The guard on watch was amused by the material but when Lomax asked 'Bama under his breath whether they could talk more seriously, 'Bama quickly tells him he can't. "'...I can't talk out around here' and gave me such a deep and searching look that I immediately gave over asking."
« Last Edit: May 25, 2014, 10:25:18 AM by uncle bud »

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