MUSIC: Murder in the Worst Degree

Thanks again to Austinella for providing me with the clip that follows this blurb. A couple of weeks ago, Jon Dee Graham and I brought our Murder Ballad Show (with Kory I. Cook on drums) to Evangeline Cafe. Charlotte Shafer did a great short review and photo essay. For this show, we pull from our joint repertoires of dark songs of murder, madness and despair. Some are traditional covers, like “St. James Infirmary,” “Back Door Man,” and so forth. We don’t do “Stagger Lee” or “Frankie & Johnny,” at least not yet. The tradition behind songs like these goes back at least 400 years or so. Ballads about crimes of passion, killers and outlaws were printed on broadsheets and posted in public. A very good book about the tradition, “The Rose & the Briar,” edited by Greil Marcus and Sean Willenz, collects a bunch of essays on the subject, each essay devoted to a single song. I have not read the graphic novel, Stagger Lee, by Derek McCulloch, but I’ve just ordered it. I have, however, read “Stagolee Shot Billy,” by Cecil Brown and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Most people don’t realize this but the person known as Stagger Lee (also Stagolee, Stack Lee, etc.) was a real person, and although a Stetson hat was involved, the killing was largely over political passions. It’s a great story. Read some details on Wiki.

The song captured on video at the Evangeline show was “Murder in the Worst Degree.” The clip runs out during the last verse, which is about the Houston woman who ran over her philandering husband with a Ford Navigator and then, as the song says, “backed over him again and again… her lawyer was Dick DeGuerin / the jury was on her side / called it justifiable homicide.” I know Dick and I sent him a copy of the lyrics but did not get a thumbs up or down from him on it. But that’s OK; he’s a country singer anyway.

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