1. - press clip from the St. Louis Globe newspaper from 1895;
THE ST. LOUIS GLOBE DEMOCRAT, 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"
Billy Lyons died from his wounds, and Stag Lee was tried for this killing. The first trial ended in a hung jury amidst major political controversy. He was convicted in the second trial, served time, and died in the nineteen-teens.
This real-life incident soon became legendary in the South, and moved into song -- and down the river to New Orleans, where the killer's name became, variously, Stagolee, Stag-O-Lee, Stackolee or Stack-A-Lee. The latter was the spelling on a Top 10 R&B hit in 1950 performed in two parts by a New Orleans singer in the Professor Longhair style. Born Leon T. Gross, he was known professionally as Archibald (and sometimes as Archie Boy). His musical re-telling of the story might have been the end of the line chart-wise for old Stag, if it weren't for the Korean War. Fellow Crescent City native Lloyd Price had an auspicious start on the R&B charts, just two years after Archibald. He scored six Top 10 hits in one year, from 1952-53, but his success was cut short when he was drafted by the U.S. Army and sent to Korea. Lloyd wasted no time in forming a military band, and toured Korean and Japanese bases until his discharge in 1956. Part of his stage act involved the Lee and Billy story, as Lloyd recalled: "There were hundreds of lyrics for the old song, but no story. While entertaining the troops, I had put together a little play based on it. I'd have soldiers acting out the story while I sang it.". When he returned to civilian clothes, Lloyd resettled in Washington, D.C. There he joined with an old buddy named Harold Logan to form KRC Records, as a vehicle to re-launch Lloyd's recording career. His song "Just Because" immediately put him back in the Top 10 R&B, and crossed over to pop when the record was released on ABC-Paramount (as part of their buy-out of KRC). At this point, Lloyd became an ABC recording artist, and returned to his New Orleans roots with a re-write of his old Army skit, this time spelled "Stagger Lee". In Korea, Lloyd never thought the playlet could be a hit record, but it soon became a sensation, at one point selling nearly 200,000 copies a day -- and rapidly shot to #1 on the pop charts. But Dick Clark wasn't happy about it. Although Lloyd had appeared on "American Bandstand" and even Clark's Saturday night show with the original version, Dick decided to end the violence. The shooting and blood were too much for his teen TV audience. Lloyd had no choice -- he had to go back into the studio, and record a whole new, cleaned-up version of the story with -- believe it or not -- a happy ending! Stagger Lee and Billy actually make up and become friends again; too bad Billy Lyons wasn't really that lucky.
911 N. 12th Street, which was "Stag" Lee Sheldon's house, is still standing, although it was recently boarded up and for sale; it's the only house remaining on the block (directly across from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch building). About 15 years ago, an alderman named Bruce Sommer ran a restaurant there called the Sommer House -- with live music, including old-time performers Cousin Curtis & the Cash Rebates, and blues singer Tom Hall. Tom wasn't aware that he was singing in Stagger Lee's old house.