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February 22, 2007

Stackolee

Nick Dawson at Filmmaker links to a recording of Samuel L. Jackson performing the blues classic Stackolee, a song which has been covered by, among others, Missisippi John Hurt under the title Stagolee and Nick Cave as Stagger Lee (the latter version is the first I ever heard, and seeing Cave and Warren Ellis perform it in concert in New Orleans a few years ago set the bar against which I've judged live performances ever since).

This new recording is from a terrific concert scene in Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan, which I saw a few weeks ago. I had a lot of problems with Brewer's Hustle & Flow (and a lot of problems with the almost uniform praise it received), but I loved the performances by Terrence Howard and Tarji. P. Henson and the sweaty, grimy Southern atmosphere that drenched the script. I'm happy to say that Brewer has taken the best parts of his debut and substantially upped the ante. Despite its incendiary advertising campaign, Black Snake Moan is not nearly as sleazy and exploitational as it pretends to be, nor is it quite so infused with the gritty spirit of the Blues-with-a-capital-B as it wants to be; but it is highly entertaining, and it features two wonderfully crackling perfomances from Jackson and Christina Ricci. There's also an unnecessarily developed subplot with Justin Timberlake that pushes the movie five painful minutes past its natural conclusion; but whenever Jackson and Ricci are on screen together - and especially when they're joined by Jackson's guitar - the film stock is set ablaze.

In any case, I love tracing the roots of folk music (or inventing them, as those who've read my screenplay for Henry Lee might have guessed), and to that end, here's the original newspaper clipping that inspired the song, from the St. Louis Globe Democrat, circa Christmas 1895.

"William Lyons, 25, a levee hand, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o'clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan Streets, by Lee Sheldon, a carriage driver. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. Both parties, it seems, had been drinking and were feeling in exuberant spirits. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon's hat from his head. The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon withdrew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen. When his victim fell to the floor Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away. He was subsequently arrested and locked up at the Chestnut Street Station. Lyons was taken to the Dispensary, where his wounds were pronounced serious. Lee Sheldon is also known as 'Stag' Lee""

A pretty fascinating essay on the song's history can be found here.

Posted by David Lowery at February 22, 2007 6:47 PM

Comments

What a fascinating history to that song! Thanks. Glad to hear about your response to BLACK SNAKE MOAN too and now I regret missing the press screening. Guess I'll have to fork up some money and go see it ... and you know how I hate THAT!! Heh.

Posted by: Maya at February 23, 2007 12:05 AM