What's the motherfucking source of these motherfucking lyrics?
March 18, 2007 8:18 PM   Subscribe

In Black Snake Moan, Samuel L Jackson sings an unusual version of Stackerlee. Were those particular lyrics written for the movie, were they cobbled together out of other versions, or was he copying an earlier performance outright?

The movie version is from Stackerlee's point of view, but the lyrics don't actually mention his name — the only hint is that someone named Billy Lyons gets shot. His girlfriend throws him out, he goes to the bar, shoots the bartender for refusing to acknowledge him, turns the lights off, shoots Billy Lyons, end of song. There's no gambling argument and nobody messes with anyone's hat.

Some of the details reminded me of the Nick Cave version — the "hard" tone, the lack of an excuse for the shooting, the exchange between Stackerlee and the bartender, the 'motherfucker's — but it's definitely not Nick Cave's lyrics, and it's not any of the traditional versions I've heard either.

I'm curious to know if anyone's aware of the source — for the whole thing or any part of it.
posted by nebulawindphone to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Does this help?
posted by routergirl at 8:46 PM on March 18, 2007

I always thought it was "Stagger Lee"...
posted by cenoxo at 8:49 PM on March 18, 2007

It's most definitely inspired in part by Cave's version.
posted by The Giant Squid at 8:55 PM on March 18, 2007

More here. I always thought so too. First one I heard was by Taj Mahal, though I think the Dead did a version too. I think what you heard was just Samuel Jackson's rendition. It may not match up to any current version - that style of music is all about improv, interpretation and variation.

According to what I found the name even changes depending on who you hear it from. Stackolee, Stagger Lee, Stackerlee, Stag-O-Lee, etc.
posted by routergirl at 8:57 PM on March 18, 2007

Massive metafilter post. The Dead did indeed do a version of Stagger Lee, based on Robert Hunter's re-interpretation of Mississippi John Hurt's version.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 9:18 PM on March 18, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I know that there are lots and lots of earlier versions out there. I know that the name's been spelled a lot of different ways. I've read about the "real events" it's supposed to be based on.

I really do just want to know about the version in the movie.

(Thanks for pointing out the earlier thread, though. No answers there, but lots of fun links.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:05 AM on March 19, 2007

The things you randomly learn on MeFi....The song seemed familiar but I couldn't quite figure it out while I was watching. Anyway, on Amazon.com, the song samples for the soundtrack list the title as "Stack-O-Lee" which just seems odd to me. I've always considered it to be "Stagger Lee".
posted by fuse theorem at 6:00 AM on March 19, 2007

I was responsible for the earlier post, and a huge fan of the song, so I gave SLJ's rendition a listen, and I think the earlier posts are right about this being a new version. It does share some parts with older songs, notably the "Bucket o' Blood" as the bar name from Mississippi John Hurt's version, and the dark tone of Nick Cave's. However, I've never heard a totally first-person version of the song before (and I just rechecked the 50-odd versions in my iTunes library just to be sure) but the Clash went back and forth between first and third on "Wrong 'Em Boyo", and the closest version I've heard to this one musically was done by the Black Keys, "Stag Shot Billy." It's got a more rocking, Mississippi Hill Culture blues groove. I think it's just another example of American Music recreating itself through retelling.

As for the title, I've seen it spelled dozens of ways, and as far as I know there is non canonical version.

Of course, tomorrow I'll find a new obscure version that tells the whole thing in first person and dates from the 30's, but as of what I know right now, this is my best guess...
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:56 AM on March 19, 2007

non no canonical
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:57 AM on March 19, 2007

Did you see this?

Best of luck weeding through the almost innumerable variants of this very old, oft-interpreted song. I haven't heard the rendition in the movie, but you may very well need to look beyond versions created by commercial recording artists and go into some of the 20s and 30s field recordings in order to find something similar to what you heard in the film.
posted by Miko at 10:33 AM on March 19, 2007

I just sent an inquiry on a folklore ListServ I belong to. I'll post any response I get to that.
posted by Miko at 10:50 AM on March 19, 2007

Best answer: So I think we may have an answer for you. A colleague at the Nat'l Council of Traditional Arts suggested that it may have been based on this version recorded by R. L. Burnside. His hunch was that because the North Mississippi AllStars were also involved in the musical aspects of the movie, their connection with Burnside may have resulted in the use of this version.. This site certainly seems to support the connection, calling the versions 'similar.' What do you think? I still can't find an mp3 of the movie version, so I'm unable to make a direct comparison.
posted by Miko at 11:52 AM on March 19, 2007

Wow. Great find Miko! I can't believe I've never heard RL's version before. It's got very similar lyrics, but it's still in third person. With obvious connections between Burnside and NMAS, I'm willing to gamble that they altered the song. So there it is, music evolution played out in front of you.

(also, the link in the main post is Jackson's version)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:03 PM on March 19, 2007

Huh -- I couldn't get the mp3 when I tried that link; I got an error message.

One other note - another person mentioned that a Jim Dickinson acted as musical director for the film. He's easy to find via Google. He must've played a role in arranging this song, though I haven't traced the trail too far.
posted by Miko at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2007

Wow! Just tried again and gave it a listen. Excellent. And yes, really close to the Burnside version. A fun quest, thanks!
posted by Miko at 2:31 PM on March 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, Miko — and thank your colleague for me. I think the two of you just nailed it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:23 AM on March 20, 2007

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