The Skiffle Players (Cass McCombs, etc) take on “Stagolee” for new EP (listen)
In addition to leading a prolific and consistently great solo career, Cass McCombs also plays in The Skiffle Players with Neal Casal (Ryan Adams, Phil Lesh, etc) and members of Beachwood Sparks. As evidenced on their very good 2016 album Skifflin’, The Skiffle Players do a lot of justice to psychedelic blues, folk, and country rock, and they also often re-interpret traditionals. They’re releasing a new EP, The ‘Piffle Sayers EP, on July 20 via Spiritual Pajamas, and we’re premiering their take on the traditional “Stagolee” (also known as “Stagger Lee”) from that EP. Cass says The Skiffle Players based their version on both Mississippi John Hurt’s and Woody Guthrie’s versions. Here’s what he tells us:
“Stagolee” was assembled from two main sources—Mississippi John Hurt and Woodie Guthrie. The Guthrie version I learned from ‘Rise Up Singing’ when I was a kid. Pete Seeger says this in the book: ‘Learned fr Woodie Guthrie in 1940. I think he got from a phonograph record. Stagolee was supposed to have been an actual person around the turn of the century.’
The Hurt version ‘Ballad of Stagger Lee’ is earlier—1928. I could be wrong, but I think he’s the one who made it a ‘magic hat.’
I made a few additions. I added weight to Guthrie, ballooning Stag from five to nine hundred pounds. Goliath size. I kept a discrepancy between the number of Billy Lyons’ babies, for if Stagolee was cruel enough to orphan two, why not three? I might have also added ‘sawdust and blood’ to Billy’s murder.
To the recognition of police hypocrisy in the line ‘you can arrest every honest person, but murderous Stagolee,’ a sad truth that remains today in the killing of unarmed men. I added the word ‘murderous’ to illustrate this.
I also always appreciated the first example of Stagolee’s evil is his vanity—he spent a hundred dollars on clothes. Everybody knows, that is wrong.
The Skiffle Players offer up a breezy folk rock take on the song, with just a light hint of psychedelia, and their version is very worth hearing. Check it out for yourself below.
The Skiffle Players have one live date coming up: a free LA show on August 2.