A Stack o’ “Stack O’Lee”

Well, it seems there really was a Stetson hat.  And one cold night in 1895, William “Billy” Lyons and Lee Shelton (otherwise known as “Stack Lee”) fought over that hat in what would become one of the most infamous altercations in folk history.  You know which one of them walked away, because Mississippi John Hurt, Ma Rainey, Champion Jack Dupree, Woody Guthrie, The Fruit Jar Guzzlers, Furry Lewis, and countless others immortalized the story in song.

The Southern Folklife Collection has recordings of the grim tale by at least 30 different musicians; there’s a version for every taste.  In the mood for a little Hawaiian guitar? Sol Hoopii recorded an instrumental version in 1926:

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(Clip from SFC FC-4006, Master of the Hawaiian Guitar)

Want something with a little more blues flavor? Try Ma Rainey’s iconic 1925 telling of the tale:

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(clip from SFC CD-3845, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom)

Mississippi John Hurt got in on the act in 1928, and brought the song to live audiences throughout the country in the 1960s:

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(clip from SFC CD-4025, Before The Blues: The Early American Black Music Scene)

Maybe that’s where Doc Watson heard it – he recorded his own old-timey version in 1967:

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(clip from SFC FC-14460, Ballads From Deep Gap)

Many more versions can be found in the Southern Folklife Collection’s online catalog, and you can read more about the true story in Cecil Brown’s Stagolee Shot Billy.