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Author Topic: Stagolee Shot Billy  (Read 3269 times)

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Offline lindy

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Stagolee Shot Billy
« on: June 07, 2003, 09:05:42 AM »

I got really excited when I first saw this book review, it seemed to have some good research in it.  For example, according to the author, Stack Lee shot Billy Lyons in 1895 for the simple crime of just touching Stack's Stetson hat, no card game involved.  But the review spirals into a odd comparison of the Stagolee legend and today's gangsta image.  Still, parts of the book look worthwhile for whatever research the author has done into the "real" Stack 'o Lee.

Here's the link: www.nytimes.com/2003/06/07/books/07BILL.html

Lindy

Offline Rivers

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2007, 09:09:41 PM »


Amazon

I picked up "Stagolee Shot Billy" by Cecil Brown on the weekend. I had no idea what to expect. The Stack story has always resonated with me and I was keen to get some perspectives on the different versions of the story. What exactly happened to Stack/Stag/Lee Shelton & Billy Lyons, Xmas night, 1895? This book was written for me, or so I hoped.

My "harrumph" meter hit the stops immediately while reading the introduction. Cecil is not backward on coming forward with some high-fallootin' sociological hypothesizing, not to mention impossible-to-prove psychological theses. For example, on page 3, "Enslaved Africans might have recognized Stagolee as a variant of Shango, the Yoruba deity of thunder". Possibly so, possibly so.  ::)

At the end of the intro I felt I'd been mugged by a rowdy pack of students on a David Evans course "Contemporary Psychology and The Folk Tradition". Actually it just softened me up nicely for the following chapters which were much more down to earth and, I have to assume, based on sound research. Cecil to his credit though doesn't abandon the ideas set out in the introduction and throughout the book there are references back them. I find myself increasingly able to accept them.

The hard facts are leavened by some very creative, almost theatrical scenes. Particularly striking is a third person account of the night of the shooting. This is based on a composite of several accounts strung together by the author's imagination. Cleverly the author tells the story first and only tips you off that it's a composite at the end.

Similarly entertaining is the account of the inquest held two days later on the 27 December. Present at the coronor's office are the coroner, the cops, Stack, the deceased Billy Lyons laying on a table, all the witnesses from the bar giving testimony and an enraged mob of 300 of Billy's extended family and associates rioting outside. I laughed out loud at several points in the book.

So if you make it past the intro you'll encounter a lot of research, political history and downright creative imagination. It illuminated my idea of what St Louis might have been like in the 1890s. Against this rich backdrop is set in-depth character research into Stack, Billy, Judge Murphy, Stack's brilliant but addicted lawyer Nat Dryden, the cops, Billy's family, and Stack's women. Dragged into the limelight are lesser known but equally fascinating characters with names like "Bad Jim" Ray and Fatty Grimes.

There are some nice photos of Billy's "three little kids", Stack's house, Billy's and Stack's death certificates. There are photographs (daguerreotypes?) of various protagonists though sadly none of Stack and Billy.

With respect to the leading characters it has changed my idea of who Stack and Billy were and what went down that night. In fact I realize I had the whole story pretty much backwards. I'm very glad I've persevered with the book; not finished yet but so far well worth my time.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2012, 04:44:18 PM by Rivers »

Offline Blue in VT

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #2 on: January 18, 2007, 06:17:30 AM »
Thanks for the great review...the stagolee series of songs have alsways been some of my favorites as well and this sounds like an intersting read. 

Cheers,

Blue
Blue in VT

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2007, 08:37:21 AM »
Yeah, Mark, thanks for this. I've been meaning to pick it up for awhile. I recall the book getting very good reviews at the time it came out (not long ago).

Quote
Similarly entertaining is the account of the inquest held two days later on the 27 December. Present at the coronor's office are the coroner, the cops, Stack, the deceased Billy Lyons laying on a table, all the witnesses from the bar giving testimony and an enraged mob of 300 of Billy's extended family and associates rioting outside. I laughed out loud at several points in the book.

Sounds like it could almost be an episode of Deadwood...
« Last Edit: January 18, 2007, 08:38:32 AM by uncle bud »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2008, 09:16:37 PM »
Thanks for the explanatory note on "Original Stack O'Lee Blues", Bunker Hill.  It certainly shows things in a different light, with the altercation between Stack and Billy having nothing to do either with gambling or a Stetson hat.  Are there any other recorded versions that take this slant on the story?
The first chapter of Brown's book contains quotes from the transcript of the inquest held into the death of William Lyons. Various bore witness to the fact that Lee Shelton alias Lee Stack alias Stack Lee got into a brawl over Lyons knocking off and damaging Lee's "derby hat". The proceedings are fascinating but out of context to be developed here.

The quote above is actually taken from the thread on the Down Home Boys lyrics but I thought I'd continue over here.

I'm in the middle of reading Stagolee Shot Billy and must second Rivers' review above and BH's comments directly above: it's a fascinating read -- and even the intro was bearable, though had me a little worried. As mentioned, there is some impressive research behind the telling of the Stagolee story. There is also lots of great historical detail about the general black St. Louis scene of the time that for me has really illuminated the context in which St. Louis blues musicians existed.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2008, 09:18:02 PM by andrew »

Offline Rivers

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2012, 05:56:28 PM »
I had a semi-interesting thought, apropos of absolutely nothing.

I wonder if one of the reasons this musical story has had such longevity because the phrase 'Stagolee shot Billy De Lion' fits perfectly into two bars of 4 beats to the bar, with the accent falling conveniently on the first syllable of each first name. Plus the names in themselves sound really good.

I mean if their names had been 'Jim Smith' and 'Horatio McIntosh' would it have been a hit?

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #6 on: May 22, 2012, 07:20:49 PM »
Well, no, but that's also why the names in the song have morphed from the actual names of the people. The real names don't fit either, and had to be modified somewhere along the way.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #7 on: May 22, 2012, 07:28:20 PM »
Well true, Stack got an O', and Billy got a 'De' somewhere along the line.

It's poetry at the end of the day. Accents, syllables, iambic pentameters etc., and so on. I'm no longer an aspiring poet and don't have the theory handy. But there are some solid enduring lines in blues that work very well. For example, hollering 'John Henry...' is also a great way to start a song. The first name, falling on the pickup beat and second name on the first accented beat, propels it along.

'The great Titanic...' (1 bar)
'Jesse James...'

This could be a whole topic in its own right, I might split it off if it gets going.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2012, 07:43:00 PM by Rivers »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2012, 05:47:07 AM »
Although the majority of the versions of Stack O' Lee I know use Billy Lyon(s) (Furry Lewis, Frank Hutchison, Down Home Boys, David Miller, Fruit Jar Guzzlers etc.), not de Lyon, which may possibly come from the John Hurt version?
« Last Edit: May 23, 2012, 05:53:00 AM by uncle bud »

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2012, 06:34:11 AM »
There's something particularly satisfying about a song where the rhythm of the words and the rhythm of the melody are mated, or at least acquaintances. To misquote the duchess in "The Mock Turtle's Story," take care of the sounds and the sense will take care of itself.

This was brought home to me viscerally the other night, when I watched a DVD of "The Last Waltz," the documentary of The Band's last concert. I hadn't seen it since its release in the theaters. It's mostly a fine experience, until Joni Mitchell comes on, singing "Coyote," a song that, to me, has no melody, no sense of phrasing, and no rhythmical relationship between melody and words. Thank goodness for Fast Forward.

Lyle

Offline cih

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2012, 06:46:40 AM »
Though I love it also when the singer messes around with it, but still with that firm knowledge of where the rhythm is - eg Charlie Patton's deceptively slow drawn-out syllables which almost pulsate in time, before landing right on the rhythm below. Or, what Sonny Boy Williamson II did with unexpectedly cut-short lines (or lines that run over), or not saying the rhyme you expect

which all works of course because you know where it should be, as does the singer (obviously)... but he treads between the gaps

Offline Lyle Lofgren

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #11 on: May 23, 2012, 06:52:52 AM »
Thanks, cih -- I agree completely -- the rhythm is there, but the performer is playing around (artistically) with it. Those of us who are in real-life relationships know that that's also part of being "mated."

Lyle

Offline Rivers

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Re: Stagolee Shot Billy
« Reply #12 on: May 23, 2012, 05:23:53 PM »
Although the majority of the versions of Stack O' Lee I know use Billy Lyon(s) (Furry Lewis, Frank Hutchison, Down Home Boys, David Miller, Fruit Jar Guzzlers etc.), not de Lyon, which may possibly come from the John Hurt version?

Very true. The extra syllable results in a more staccato feel, but it's still easy to bridge the gap by lengthening the preceding syllable. I suppose my theory here is the delivery of key lines, set to music, is one of the many keys to a song's success and helps it to attain longevity. Lengthening one syllable is fairly easy to do.

I wonder where and when the 'de' snuck in there? I don't recall a discussion of that in the Cecil Brown book.
« Last Edit: May 23, 2012, 05:25:51 PM by Rivers »

 


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