By Reverend Billy C. Wirtz
Editor’s Note: This week’s column contains some very explicit historic lyrics. For us to censor them would greatly affect the historical perspective and research of the writer, so we have let them stand. Please be warned, if you are easily offended, you might want skip this one. Otherwise the story and history is fascinating. Enjoy!
“By the time I was nine I could recite ‘Shine,’ ‘Titanic,’ and ‘Piss Pot Pete’ for two straight hours” – H. Rap Brown, circa 1966
I’ve lost several jobs in my lifetime. One of the first was a record/stereo shop in the D.C. area.We had a Koss kiosk. Customers were encouraged to experience their favorite tunes rerouted through headphones. We had designated demo music that we were instructed, under penalty of immediate dismissal, to never change. “25 or 6 to 4” with that “bah-dee-dah-dah, duh-duh-duh-dutt” horn line (sing it to yourself) was a favorite of the audio department’s manager. One evening, to lighten the drudgery of spring inventory, we removed the Chicago album and replaced it with an XXX-rated “Party” record called “Dolemite.” “Dolemite” was a ten-minute street poem recited over a bad Jimmy Smith track. This epic told the story of “Bad little M—-f-cker named Dolemite.” It was recorded by Rudy Ray Moore, former blues singer and driver for Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns. Moore’s favorite expression resulted in the song “Don’t You Just Know It?” (Ha-ha-ha, hey-eh-o, gooba, gooba, gooba, etc.) being written in between gigs at The Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., and The Royal Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland.
Anyway, somewhere around midnight Friday night we played our little joke on the audio manager. After his initial shock, he laughed and forgave us, no biggie. Unfortunately, we forgot to put the Chicago record back.
Early the next morning, the owner’s born-again (“I get high on Jesus”) mother-in-law decided to try out some headphones.
She looked confused, but was doing okay, until the line that went something like:
“…and the crabs around her ass hollered ‘Burn, Baby, Burn.’”
“Dolemite,” in all its obscene glory was nothing more than an updated version of a classic “Toast” called “Stagger Lee.”
“Hold Your Ears Folks, It’s Showtime”
“Toasts” are a little known and never discussed part of black street culture. They have been passed down through at least four generations of black men. They are heard in barber shops, pool halls, street corners, drunk tanks, and taverns. They’re told in the language of the hustler and the pimp.
To legitimize and validate them, some sociologists describe toasts as “narrative poems from the black oral tradition.”
That’s a little like describing David Koresh as having a few control issues.
Although sometimes accompanied by drinking, they are not the traditional “Here’s to the…” variety of Toasts. Rather, they are epic in length and substance and told with an attitude.
Toasts, along with sermons, folk tales, spirituals, and the blues, began in the black community following the Civil War. The few social scientists that have studied and researched them have a field day with the Freudian symbolism. Toasts are graphic, misogynistic, and violent like you’ve never heard. For you English majors, the recurring central figure is The Trickster, The Disrupter, the uppity one. Unlike the blues, with the exception of the aforementioned “Dolemite” and the album Snatch And The Poontangs by Johnny Otis (I don’t write ‘em, I just report ‘em), there have been few attempts to record or document Toasts, and no attempt to make them more palatable to White America.
The most famous Toasts are:
2) “Piss Pot Pet”
And the granddaddy of them all:
There are dozens of versions, you’ll note that two of them recount similar actions and the other one, in parts, closely resembles the song.
It was back in the time of nineteen hundred and two,
Had a fucked-up deck of cards and I didn’t know what to do.
My woman was leavin’, puttin’ me out in the cold.
I said, “Why you leavin’ me, baby?”
She said, “Our love has grown cold.”
So she kept packin’ the bags,
And I said, “Fuck it,” You know
I waded through water and I waded through mud
And I came to this town called the Bucket of Blood.
I asked the bartender for something to eat,
He give me a dirty glass a water and a tough-assed piece a meat.
I said, “Bartender, bartender, don’t you know who I am?”
He said, “Frankly, my man, I don’t give a goddam.”
I said, “My name is Stackolee.”
He said, “Oh, yes, I heard about you up this way,
But I feed you hungry motherfuckers each and every day.”
’Bout this time the poor bartender had gone to rest—
I pumped six of my rockets [bullets] in his motherfuckin’ chest.
A woman run out the back,
Screamin’ real loud and said,
“Oh Lord, I know,
That my son ain’t dead!”
I said, “Just check that hole in the motherfucker’s head.”
She say, “You may be bad, your name may be Stack,
But you better not be here when Billy Lyons get back.”
So I walked around the room and I seen this trick,
And we went upstairs and we started real soon.
Now me and this broad we started to tussle
And I drove twelve inches a dick through her ass,
Before she moved a muscle.
We went downstairs where we were before,
We fucked on the table and all over the floor.
’Bout that time you could hear the drop of a pin—
That bad motherfucker Billy Lions had walked in.
He walked behind the counter, he seen the bartender dead,
He say, “Who put this hole in this ugly motherfucker’s head.”
Say, “Who can this man’ s murderer be? ”
One motherfucker say, “You better speak soft, his name is Stackolee.”
He say, “Stack, I’m gonna give you a chance to run before I draw my gun.”
Bitch jumped up and said, “Billy, please.”
He shot that whore through both her knees.
A pimp eased up and turned out the lights
And I had him dead in both my sights.
When the lights came back on poor Billy had gone to rest,
I had pumped nine of my rockets in his motherfuckin’ chest.
The very next day, about half-past ten,
I was standin’ before the judge and twelve other good men.
They say, “What can this man’s charges be?”
One sonofabitch say, “Murder in the first degree.”
Another say, “What can this man’s penalty be?”
One say, “Hang him,” another say, “Give him gas.”
A snaggle-tooth bitch jumped up and say, “Run that twister through his jivin’ ass!”
My woman jumped up and said, “Let him go free,
’Cause there ain’t nobody in the world can fuck like Stackolee.”
Version Two aka “Stack O Lee In Hell”
A second version, describes a contemporary Hades, and actually sticks closer to the facts and the song:
The other night I thought I heard a dog bark,
But that was Stackolee and Billy Lyon gamblin’ in the dark.
Stackolee says, “Now, Billy Lyon, you stay here in this shack,
And I don’t want to see you move your motherf-ckIn’ ass till I get back.”
Stackolee went home and got two smokin’ forty-fives,
He came back and placed ’em between Billy Lyon’s eyes.
Billy Lyon said, “Oh, Stackolee, don’t take my life.
I got four cross-eyed kids and a cripple-assed wife.”
He said, “I don’t want your four cross-eyed kids or your cripple-assed wife,”
said, “All I want’s your cocksuckin’ life.”
Shot him five times right through the head,
Left him on the floor quivering till he’s dead.
Then he went and told Sister Lou just what he’d done,
Said, “Say, Sister Lou, I just killed your no-’count cocksuckin’ son.”
She said, “Well, Stackolee, you know that’s not true.
Hell, you and Billy been friends for a year or two.”
He said, “Look, bitch, if you don’t think he’s dead,
go down and count those five fuckin’ holes I just put in his head.”
Stackolee went walkin’ down the track
And Sister Lou snuck up behind him and shot him in the back.
He shit, farted, stumbled, fell on his face
Right down in front of Joe’s place.
Stackolee’s wife come runnin’ out the door hollerin’
“Stackolee, Stackolee! Somebody killed my Stackolee.”
He rolled over and said, “Look, bitch, when I die don’t dress me in black,
‘Cause if Hell don’t suit me, I’m comin’ back.”
There was a rumble in the earth and a roar in the ground,
That was Stackolee changin’ hell around.
He said, “I want tables over here and the chairs over there,
And don’t a motherfucker move while I comb my hair.”
The devil said, “Look, Stackolee,
I heard you’s a pretty bad man
But I’m numero uno in this part of the land, “
Said, “Okay, Devil, you get your pitchfork and let me get two smokin’ forty-ones,
And us two bad motherfuckers’ will have us some fun.”
The Devil got his pitchfork and Stackolee got two smokin’ forty-ones,
And those two bad sonofabitches did have some fun.
The devil drew back but before he could start,
Stackolee shot the devil right through the heart
Caught the old lady bent over shovelin’ coal,
Put twelve long inches right up her hole.
Four little devils runnin’ around,
Hollerin’, “Mother, mother, stop him ’fore he fucks us all.”
Well he fucked St. Peter and he fucked St. Paul,
He’ll be a fuckin’ motherfucker when his roll is called.
Version Three, The Best-Known Toast Version
Was back in thirty-two when times were hard,
I had a sawed-off shotgun and a cold deck of cards.
Wore a brown Squire suit and a big beaver hat,
And if you motherfuckers ever saw me I was dressed like that.
Wore brown suede shoes and a diamond-studded cane,
Had a twelve-inch peg with a be-bop chain.
Now times turned hard and the weather grew cold,
My old lady kicked my ass out, said her love had grown old.
So I took me a walk down to Rampart Street
Where all the bad motherfuckers are supposed to meet.
I walked through six inches a shit and ten inches a mud
To a place they call the Bucket of Blood.
Called to the bartender to give me a bite to eat,
he give me a muddy glass a water and a tough piece of meat.
I say, “Say, son-of-a-bitch, don’t you know who I am?”
He said, “Frankly, mister, I don’t give a damn.”
He said, “I’ve heard of you down the way,
I meet you raggedy-ass bastards damn near every day.”
Well, the motherfucker never said much more,
For one of my bullets laid the bastard dead on the floor.
A lady walked in, said, “Oh, God, please.”
I said, “Speak softly, mam, his mind is at ease.”
She said, “Please don’t tell me my son is dead.”
I said, “If you don’t believe it, Bitch, look at the hole in his head.”
She said, “I’ve heard of you, you bastard, your name is Stack,
But you better not be here when Billy Lion gets back.”
“I’ll be here when the time comes and pass,
And fuck your Billy Lion right dead in his ass.”
So there sat a broad all sexy and sweet,
so I walked right over and I pulled up a seat.
I said, “Say, Bitch, don’t think me silly,
But who is this stud, that they call Billy?”
She said, “He’s tall, dark, and handsome like he’s supposed to be.’
She reached in her purse and pulled out. a square [cigarette].
She said, “Don’t worry, daddy, he’s nowhere.”
Well I could see right away the bitch went for this clown,
I said, “Move along Bitch, I’m puttin’ you down.”
Over the next table the whore give me a smile,
Said it looked like I hadn’t had any in quite a while.
I said, “My wife kicked my ass out and locked the door
And I been lookin’ around for a good-lookin’ whore.”
She looked at her watch; it was half-past eight.
She said, “Come on up my place, daddy, we’ll get things straight.”
So I went right up and I locked the door,
I just had to get a look at that frantic whore.
Looked at her pussy, said it was good enough to eat,
she said, “You better do it, daddy, or you’ll never see the streets.”
Woke up in an alley and went back to the bar,
And there at the end stood Billy Lyons,
A bad motherfucker, there’s no denyin’.
He said, “Who can the murderer of this good man be?”
I said, “Me, motherfucker, my name’s Stackolee.”
He said, “Yeah, I heard of you down at the shitty ditch,
but you tore your ass when you fucked my bitch.”
Lady jumped up and hollered, “Oh, Billy, please!”
And he shot that bitch clean to her knees.
A man jumped up and hollered, “Someone call the law!”
And he shot that bastard clear through the jaw.
He landed on the floor with his hands on his face
and pieces of his jaw scattered all over the place.
I fucked all the whores and drank the place dry
And fell on the floor with blood in my eyes.
A cop walked in and said, “Who can this drunken bastard be?”
Lady said, “Speak softly, officer, his name is Stackolee.”
Woke up next mornin’ it was a half-past ten,
In front of a judge and twelve good men.
The judge said, “Well, now, what can the charges against this good man be?’
It was drunk and rape and murder in the first degree.
Said, “Well now, Stackolee, you’ve led a simple life,
Fucked your sister and killed your wife.
There’s only one thing left for me to do, that’s give you twenty years’ time.”
I hear your mammy’s doin’ life, and her mammy ninety- nine.”
Balancing on the elbow patches of my corduroy sports coat, I could give you all kinds of academic reasons that you shouldn’t be cancelling your subscription to Blues Revue, and calling for my resignation, but why bother? When we look at “Stack-O’Lee” next week, you’ll see snatches (sorry) of some of the Toasts woven into song.
I wonder if Pat Boone’s version contains the “If you don’t believe it, then… ” line.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
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