Stagger Lee

Lyrics: Robert Hunter
Music: Jerry Garcia

Based on the traditional song "Stagger Lee", "Stagolee" or "Stack O'Lee." Robert Hunter wrote a version that he performed solo, and Jerry Garcia subsequently re-ordered the lyrics and rewrote the music for the Grateful Dead's version. More recently Bob Weir has also been performing some of the older traditional versions with Ratdog.

This is the version as performed by the Grateful Dead:
:

Nineteen forty, Xmas eve, with the full moon over town (note 1)
Stagger Lee shot Billy DeLyon and he blew that poor boy down
Do you know what he shot him for, what do you make of that
'Cause Billy DeLyon threw lucky dice, won Stagger Lee's stetson hat

Baio, Baio, tell me how can this be
You go arrest the girls for turning tricks but you're scared of Stagger Lee
Stagger Lee is a mad man, and he shot my Billy dead
Baio go get him, or give the job to me

Delia, Delia, dear sweet Delia D
How the hell can I arrest him, when he's twice as big as me
Well don't ask me to go downtown, I wouldn't come back alive
Not only is that mother big, he packs a forty five

Baio, Delia said, just give me a gun
He shot my Billy dead and now I'm gonna see him hung
She waded to DeLyon's club through Billy DeLyon's blood
Stepped up to Stagger Lee at the bar, said buy me a gin fizz love

As Stagger Lee lit a cigarette, she shot him in the balls (note 2)
Blew the smoke off her revolver, had him dragged to City Hall
Baio, Baio, see you hang him high
He shot my Billy dead and now he's got to die

Delia went a-walking down on Singapore Street
Three piece band on the corner played 'nearer my God to thee'
But Delia whistled a different tune, what tune could it be
The song that woman sang was look out Stagger Lee
The song that Delia sang was look out Stagger Lee
Notes
(1) on at least some occasions (eg the version from 1 Nov 1985 on Dick's Picks 21), Jerry sang "Christmas Eve" rather than "Xmas eve". (thanks to Brian Schnapp for pointing this out)
(2) on 16 Sep 1990, Jerry sang "As Delia lit a cigarette ..." (thanks to Dan Franzen for pointing this out)



Hunter's version, titled "Delia DeLyon and Stagger Lee" on "Jack O' Roses," follows the original tune and verse structure more closely:
Nineteen forty, Xmas eve, with the full moon over town
When Stagger Lee shot Billy DeLyon just blew that poor boy down
He's a mad man

Do you know what he shot him for, what do you make of that?
Billy DeLyon threw lucky dice, and won Stagger Lee's stetson hat
He's a mad man

Baio, Baio, tell me how can this be
You arrest the girls for turning tricks but you're scared of Stagger Lee
He's a mad man

Delia DeLyon, dear sweet Delia D
How the hell can I arrest him, sugar, when he's twice as big as me
And he's a mad man

Don't ask me to go downtown, when I couldn't come back alive (note 3)
Not only is that mother big, but he packs a forty five
He's a mad man

Delia said "Baio, just give me a gun
You know he shot my sweet Billy dead and I'm gonna see him hung"
He's a mad man

Delia went walking down on Singapore Street
A two piece band on the corner played 'nearer my God to thee' (note 4)
Hey a mad man
Here comes Delia D

She waded to DeLyon's club through Billy DeLyon's blood
Walked up to Stagger Lee at the bar, said buy me a gin fizz love
Mad man

Delia, diddle-de-dee
Billy DeLyon and Stagger Lee
Delia, diddle-de-dee
Billy DeLyon and Stagger Lee

As Stagger Lee lit a cigarette, she shot him in the balls
Blew the smoke of her revolver, had him dragged to City Hall
Mad man

She said bye-bye Baio, see you hang him high
You know he shot my Billy DeDylon dead and I want to see him die
He's a mad man

Delia, diddle-de-dee
Billy DeLyon and Stagger Lee

Nineteen twenty, Xmas eve, with a full moon over town (note 5)
When Stagger Lee shot Billy DeLyon just blew that poor boy down
He was a mad man
That old Stagger Lee
Notes
(3) On at least some occasions on his 1997 tour, Hunter sang:
Don't ask me to go downtown, when I couldn't come back no more
Not only is that mother big, but he packs a forty four
(4) Hunter definitely sings "a two-piece band" but it became a "three-piece band" in the Dead's version
(5) for some reason, Hunter sings "1920" not "1940" in the repeat of this verse

Grateful Dead Recordings
     Date Album
     studio 1978 Shakedown Street
     15 Sep 1978 Rocking The Cradle: Egypt 1978 (note 6)
     21 Oct 1978 Road Trips Volume 1, Number 4 ("From Egypt With Love")
     18 Nov 1978 30 Days Of The Dead (2013)
     31 Dec 1978 The Closing Of Winterland (DVD & CD)
      5 Nov 1979 Road Trips Full Show: Spectrum 11/5/79
      1 Nov 1985 Dick's Picks Vol 21
     27 Mar 1988 Download Series Vol 5
      4 Jul 1989 Truckin' Up To Buffalo (DVD & CD soundtrack)
      8 Oct 1989 Warlocks Box
     18 Mar 1990 Spring 1990 (The Other One)
     16 Sep 1990 Dick's Picks 9

Recordings from dead.net Tapers Section

"The Dead" Concert Recordings

Phil Lesh and Friends Digital Download Series
 
Robert Hunter Recordings
     1980 Jack O'Roses Robert Hunter

Robert Hunter Concert Recordings

Ratdoglive CDs and downloads

Notes
(6) also included as a bonus track on the reissued version of Shakedown Street (first issued as part of the box set Beyond Description (1973-1990))

Roots
There is a mass of material available online on the origins of this song. One good source is Harry's Blues Lyrics Online (or try here if that is unavailable). Another site packed with information about this song is The AKA Blues Connection's Stagger Lee Files. David Dodd's site also has extensive background.

In 2007, Bob Weir began to sing some of the older versions with Ratdog. First was one based on Mississippi John Hurt's "Stack O Lee Blues":
Police officer
How can it be?
You can arrest everybody
But cruel Stagger Lee
That bad man
Oh cruel Stagger Lee

Billy DeLyon told Stagger Lee
Please don't take my life
I got two little babes
And a darling, loving wife
That bad man
Oh cruel Stagger Lee

What do I care about your two little babes
And a darling loving wife?
You done stole my Stetson hat
I'm bound to take your life
That bad man
Oh cruel Stagger Lee

Boom boom, boom boom
Went a fourty-four
Well when I spied Billy DeLyon
He's lying down on the floor
That bad man
Oh cruel Stagger Lee

Gentlemens of the jury
What you think of that?
Stagger Lee killed Billy DeLyon
'Bout a five dollar Stetson hat.
That bad man
Oh cruel Stagger Lee

Standing on the gallows
Head way up high,
At twelve o'clock, they killed him
We was all glad to see him die
That bad man
Oh cruel Stagger Lee
Bob Weir's second version was, I believe, based on the 1959 hit for Lloyd Price, which gave writing credits to Harold Logan and Lloyd Price:
The night was clear
And the moon was yellow
And the leaves came tumbling down

I was standing on the corner
When I heard my bulldog bark
It was barking at the two men who wer gambling
In the dark

It was Stagger Lee and Billy
Two men who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw seven, Billy swore that
He threw eight

Stagger Lee told Billy
I can't let you go with that
You have won all my money and my brand new
Stetson hat

Stagger Lee went home
And he got his forty four
Said, I'm going to the bar-room just pay that
Debt I owe

Stagger Lee went to the bar-room
Billy stood across the bar-room door
Said, now nobody move, and he pulled his
Forty four

Stagger Lee shot Billy
Oh please don't take my life
I got three little children and a very
Sickly wife

Stagger Lee shot Billy
Oh he shot that poor boy so bad
Till the bullet came through Billy and it broke the
Bar-tender's glass


Futher Information
For an online discussion of the lyrics to this song see the deadsongs.vue conference on The Well.
For more information on recordings see Matt Schofield's Grateful Dead Family Discography
For information on references in the lyrics see David Dodd's Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics
For online chords and TAB see www.rukind.com
For sheet music, see:
          Grateful Dead Anthology Volume 2 (piano arrangement)
          Garcia/Hunter Songbook (vocal line and chords/TAB)

 


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