“Junker’s Blues” & “Stagger Lee”

Joe Strummer and Dr. John

After simultaneously going through a Joe Strummer rarities kick and a Dr. John binge, I couldn’t help but notice some areas of overlap. Perhaps most prominently, both Dr. John and Joe Strummer’s pre-Clash pub-rock band the 101’ers play covers of the tune “Junco Partner,” or on Dr. John’s Gumbo (1972), “Junko Partner.” A further two versions of the song are included on the Clash’s 1980 album Sandinista!, as “Junco Partner” and “Version Pardner,” performed in reggae and dub styles respectively.

Dr. John, “Junko Partner” (from Gumbo, 1972)

The 101’ers, “Junco Partner” (Live, 1975)

The Clash, “Junco Partner” (from Sandinista!, 1980)

The Clash, “Version Pardner” (from Sandinista!, 1980)

All four of the above versions use the lyrics first recorded in 1951 by James Wayne, written by Bob Shad and Robert Ellen; however, the song’s roots run even further back. The song was originally written by New Orleans pianist Willie “Drive ‘Em Down” Hall, and first recorded by Champion Jack Dupree in 1940. The Shad/Ellen penned “Junco Partner” is a re-write of Willie Hall’s original tune.

James Wayne, “Junco Partner” (1951)

Champion Jack Dupree, “Junker’s Blues” (1940)

The other, less apparent, area of overlap between Joe Strummer and Dr. John is the song “Stack-O-Lee,” also from Dr. John’s Gumbo. “Stack-O-Lee” (also commonly, “Stagger Lee”) was originally recorded and 1924 by Herb Wiedoeft, covered by countless blues musicians and popularized by Lloyd Price’s 1959 cover. The song tells the story of the 1895 murder of William Lyons by Stagger Lee Shelton, a pimp and carriage driver. On their 1979 classic London Calling, the Clash cover the Ruler’s reggae version of the tale. Both begin with a fairly standard jazz interpretaion of the song before the beat drops and the tale begins anew in reggae beat. Check out all the aforementioned versions below.

Dr. John, “Stack-O-Lee” (from Gumbo, 1972)

Herb Wiedoeft, “Stagger Lee Blues” (1924)

Lloyd Price, “Stagger Lee” (1959)

The Rulers, “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” (1966)

The Clash, “Wrong ‘Em Boyo” (from London Calling, 1979)


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Filed under Blues, Jazz, Music, New Orleans, Post-War Blues, Pre-War Blues, Punk Rock, Reggae, Rock

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