Re: RARA-AVIS: Goines/Born in a Mighty Bad Land

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 21 Jul 2003


I haven't read Bryant's book yet, but I am almost done with Stagolee Shot Billy (nice accompanying website,, thanks for telling me about it, Jordan), an in-depth case study of the legend surrounding one Bad Black Man. As you note, miker, many of these legends/ballads are based on real life occurences, which is the case here. "Stack" Lee Shelton (maybe his descendants should sue filmmaker Shelton Lee for appropriating his name, as "Spike" did TNN) really did shoot Bill Lyons during an argument/fight involving Stack Lee's hat. Cecil Brown looks at all sorts of factors to try to understand why this one murder became legendary when the other four murders that same night, December 25, 1895, in same the black ghetto of East St Louis were forgotten.

Although Brown stays very tightly focused on Stagolee, he does address more general issues of pimps, gamblers, Bad Black Men and folklore. At least this one folktale had no roots in Africa, was far more a reaction to social conditions in the US of A.

Stagger Lee figures show up in all sorts of hardboiled novels, particular those Jordan mentioned by Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim.
(By the way, miker, you might want to try one of Slim's novels. Although I found it very interesting, I also found Pimp pretty oppressive. However, I really liked his novels Trick Baby and the Long White Con and intend to read his others at some point.) And Stagger Lee himself has shown up in at least two hardboiled novels I know of. I own but haven't read the first, Stagger Lee, a "soon to be a major motion picture" (but never was as far as I can tell) paperback original published during the golden age of the blaxploitaiton film. The second is Leavin' Trunk Blues by Ace Atkins, which involves a person who may have been falsely convicted of killing Billy Lyons. Of course, if you know the song (as many reading a mystery about a folklore tracker probably would) you already know the solution to the mystery.


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