Stagolee
By: traditional
Original Performance: Mississippi John Hurt
Written by: traditional

Versions:
  1. Stagolee (2:46)
    Available on Avalon Blues: A Tribute To The Music Of Mississippi John Hurt.
    Credits
    Mark Wilkins: Engineer
    Beck Hansen: Guitar, Producer, Vocals
  2.  
 
Lyrics:
Stagolee [Version (a)]:

Police officer, how can it be?
You can arrest everybody but cruel Stagolee
That bad man, cruel Stagolee

Billy Lyons told Stagolee, "Please don't take my life
I got two baby children and a darling, loving wife"
That bad man, cruel Stagolee

"Would I care about your two babes and darling, loving wife?
You done stole my Stetson hat, I'm bound to take your life."
That bad man, cruel Stagolee

Stagolee stood on the gallows, head way up high
Twelve o'clock, they killed him, we were all glad to see him die
That bad man, cruel Stagolee
 
The Song:

No tribute to Mississippi John Hurt would be complete without Beck on it. Beck owes nearly everything to his love for the blues man, who as a kid was attracted to the realness in Hurt's music. Thus, Beck has used Hurt's songs throughout his career, from "Trouble All My Days" to "Crystal Clear (Beer)" to apparently "Devils Haircut." Beck gave his cover of "Stagolee" to a Hurt tribute album.

His cover of "Stagolee" has a warm, quiet brilliance to it. Beck's guitar playing is fantastic. Beck recorded this in March 1994, when he was about to start his Mellow Gold tour, and had stopped into the most famous studios in America, Sun Studios. Taking a break from the hectic madness surrounding "Loser," and his new album being released, he recorded some blues songs. Interestingly, he kept most of them private for many years. So far, from the session, Beck has only released "Devil Got My Woman" in 1997 and "Stagolee" in 2001. Who knows how many other blues songs he did that day?

"Stagolee" has been covered by so many artists, in many different forms, as it is one of the most famous blues tales. It tells the story of Stagolee (or Stackolee, Stag O'Lee, Stagger Lee, Jackie Lee, etc., etc.), who killed a family man, Billy Lyons. The reason for the murder is just plain cruel, usually revolving around Billy stealing, winning, or spitting on Lee's hat. Over the years, the story has been sung with many different verses and stories, but all have a similar plot. Beck sticks to Hurt's version, of course.

Beck has even said that he approached "Devils Haircut" with the idea of using the Stagolee myth in modern times.
 
Live:

Played live 5 times:
Earliest known live version: June 27, 1994
Latest known live version: October 26, 2002

The earliest live "Stagolee" I know of is from June 27 1994. Beck played it quickly at the end of his acoustic set. It was very nice, though kind of short. It was a nice lead-in to "Loser," actually.

The show on June 29 1994 also had a neat "Stagolee," though it is a little disjointed. It was part of a brief blues medley Beck was doing, as folk/blues legends Ray & Glover were accompanying him on stage. The two of them and Beck are a little out of sync on this song. For more on that, see "John Hardy."

The performance of the song on January 10 1999, in New York City, was a blues duet with Smokey Hormel, coming right after a "He's A Mighty Good Leader." Beck and Smokey over the years have done a number of these, usually on special occasions. They're always amazing. After "Stagolee" on that night, Beck explained how it was a song by Mississippi John Hurt, and then started reminiscing about the year he spent in New York (circa 1988). He rememebed one night when there was a Mississippi John Hurt finger-picking class somewhere, but he skipped it to go play at open-mike night at a club. Open-mike nights taught him how to start writing songs, but he still regretted not learning more about finger-picking. (I must add, Beck's great at it now!)

Reportedly, the "Stagolee" on February 24 2002, was just a shortened version, used more as an intro to "Nobody's Fault" than it's own full cover.
 
Notes: