Stagger Lee

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1960 - 1970

1960. Pat Boone covers Lloyd Price’s version but changes the chorus from "Go, Stagger Lee! Go!" to "Oh, Stagger Lee! Oh!" Pat, apparently, is not comfortable cheering on the badass black man.

1963. The Isley Brothers record it with a young Jimi Hendrix on guitar. They sing the song on live TV in the UK and create a scandal when Ron pulls a gun from his coat and mimes the shooting.

Tina Turner

Tina Turner


James Brown
James Brown

1963. A folk musicologist, Tom Hoskins, rediscovers John Hurt near Avalon, Mississippi. Hurt now begins introducing the song with a story about Stack O’Lee and Jesse James robbing a card game in a coal mine. Hoskins interviewed Hurt extensively. Hurt speaks at length about Stack O’Lee and insists he was a white man. Hurt dies in ’66.

1963. The Ventures record their instrumental Surf guitar version.

1965. Ike and Tina Turner rewrite the story as a brawl in a modern-day Go-Go bar.

1966. The Rulers record a ska version and significantly rewrite the story as "Wrong Embryo." It’s still Stagger Lee and Billy. This is the version The Clash will cover.

1967. James Brown.

Late 60s. Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panthers, identifies himself and other black leaders as Stagger Lee characters. Seale names a son after Stagger Lee.

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