If you haven’t been paying attention (and, based on the download statistics, you haven’t), I’m part of a second podcast, where I take on more of a support role than as the lead voice. The show is called Words and Movies, in which my partner Sean Gallagher and I choose a pair of films and find the links between them.
In an upcoming episode, we discuss a film from 2007 called Honeydripper, starring Danny Glover. There’s a scene involving Glover’s character and a blind musician played by Keb’ Mo’, who sings a couple of bars of “Stagger Lee,” causing Glover to mutter, “I hate that song.” We don’t find out why until later in the film, but (spoiler alert) it’s because when he was younger, he’d been in an incident similar to the one outlined in the song.
The interesting thing here, though, is that the song “Stagger Lee” was always about one man killing another. But when Lloyd Price recorded the song, he recorded two versions: one in which one man kills another over a dice game, and another where they merely get into a fight over a pretty girl. (The second version was for American Bandstand and for radio consumption in more conservative areas of the country.) The experience that Glover’s character went through as a younger man appears to be a mashup of both versions of the song.
At any rate, “Stagger Lee” as a song has a very rich history, and it turns out to be rooted in a true story. Many times, when doing the research for an episode I reach a point where the more I dig, the more I find myself going in circles. This time, I tapped a rich mine of information, to the point where I found myself having to decide what to keep and what to toss to keep the episode to a reasonable length.