Yesterday the monthly rent was due on our site at Top of Georgia Airstream Park. After writing the check I lugged it up the hill to pay, and the lyrics from a song famous over 60 years ago came to mind … “I’m gonna pay a debt I owe”.
Near the end of first grade my mother, a school teacher with her own time management issues, had given me a clock radio and told me to figure out how to use it, then find a radio station to wake me up. She recommended KWKH, the home of The Louisiana Hayride. Country? Yick-peww! I found an early rock station, set my alarm to 6:50 with the music medium loud. That was my routine until college when I learned the beauty of scheduling no classes before 10:15.
In second grade I came to love La Bamba (Richie Valens), Chantilly Lace (The Big Bopper), and Buddy Holly’s Rave On and Peggy Sue. One cold February morning the radio played them all back to back without commercial interruption. What fine music to start a day! The deejay then informed us that all three had been killed in a plane crash last night in Iowa. Kinda early for an introduction to mortality? But hey, it’s a thang we all live with. Grow up already.
1958 was a better year. LSU won its first football national championship and I listened to every game that wasn’t on TV. Then Lloyd Price came out with Stagger Lee, an upbeat dance number based on a murder sparked by the ancient sin of gambling. Stag was #1 for what seemed like months.
It goes like this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFxsx1_ldXM
What do you think? The opening 8 bars are slow, poetic, melodically and visually beautiful. Then he goes up-tempo and tells a story of greed, anger, and violence. Google wasn’t around, and when I asked the librarian what it meant to “roll 7 and have somebody call it an 8?” “Ask your father”. But he frowned on gambling and I feared this line of inquiry might cost me my radio. I have never played casino craps, and to survive street craps you better be good with a roscoe or a razor. This morning I learned from the all-knowing Google that in either craps, a 7 is an instant win of the bet, but roll 8 and your path to the money is quite difficult. So StaggoLee figured Billy been cheatin’ him all night sayin’ “I can’t let you go with that.”
I took Music Appreciation at LSU from an old violinist who hammered us with opera. The music must have a melody, harmony, and rhythm. The libretto must have a plot (thin is okay if the music is good) which involves conflict, struggle or conniving, and in time, resolution. Tell me Stagger Lee don’t have all of that!
Lloyd Price grew up around the post-war New Orleans music scene and had other hits I remember that are never heard in groceries. Lawdy Miss Clawdy and Personality are his other golden records. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll HOF in 1998 along with some elite company: The Eagles, Mamas and Papas, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, and Jelly Roll Morton.
Lloyd Price passed away this spring. He had enough money to enjoy his years and apparently lived a full life. He brought a bit of joy to so many of us. I’ll treat you to another version of Stagger Lee, this time a bit later in life, with dancers, orchestra and an audience.