A posting a few days ago at Old Blue Bus pointed me to a piece of sheer genius by Derek McCulloch & Shepherd Hendrix, Stagger Lee –a graphic novel, which was delivered last night by good old amazon.com (well, good old UPS brought it up the drive last night) and inhaled by me in a couple of hours. Friends, this one is really worth your time on the folklore account (and probably other accounts as well). The basic story is pretty well known, and has been recorded in who-knows-how-many variants by …well, just about everybody you can think of. The authors have a blog to trace the unfolding saga of the book, and various other bloggers have weighed in with praise and commentary. Today there’s an interesting extension providing details on the list of versions of the song that the authors listened to as they wrote and drew the book:
When setting out to write this story, the logical thing for me to do was to collect as many different versions of the song as I could lay hands on. I’m still collecting versions today, but by the time I was ready to write my book, I had 36 versions, filling up two full hours on a pair of CDs. I listened to these two discs continuously as I wrote. When I was finished, I passed the script and the discs on to my collaborator, Shepherd Hendrix, who listened to them as he drew. These are the songs from Disc One of the literal soundtrack for our work on this book…
The one I really wish I’d found in time to put on the disc is an improvised performance by Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Memphis Slim off a disc called Blues in the Mississippi Night. That’s one that should be tracked down by any serious aficionado of Stagger Lee.
There’s lots more on the legend at James P. Hauser’s site, including his essay Stagger Lee: From Mythic Blues Ballad to Ultimate Rock ‘n’ Roll Record. He points to the forthcoming film Black Snake Moan, in which Samuel Jackson performs a [NSFW] version of the song.