She'll Grow Back: Stagger Lee Saturdays - Hogman Maxey

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Stagger Lee Saturdays - Hogman Maxey

I've mentioned field and prison recordings before in our discussions of Stag, and here's a take on the song from 1952, in Louisiana State Penitentiary. That same year saw a protest by 31 inmates, who intentionally cut their own Achilles' tendons to protest the inhumane work program.

Matthew "Hogman" Maxey (AMG see also) was recorded by Harry Oster in Angola, and as you'll see at that AMG link, never recorded anything outside of a prison environment.

This version isn't particularly dynamic; from the enthusiastic strumming of the same few chords over and over to Maxey's almost monotone delivery of the verses, it's almost hypnotic. I feel like I have to point out again that I can't imagine the cruelty and misery these prisoners underwent on a continuing basis, the mind-numbing evil banality of wake-work-eat-sleep day after day. The fact that these people managed to find an outlet for creative expression cheers me up, but in a hollow sort of way (much like the too-little-too-late instrumental flourish at the end of this song).

Hopefully tomorrow's Silly Sunday post will find me in a better mood.

1 comment:

Jim said...

According to Cecil Brown's book Stagolee Shot Billy, John and Alan Lomax found worksongs about Stagger Lee in every southern prison that they visited.
Alan Lomax wrote about the incredible cruelties that African Americans suffered in the prisons of the Deep South in his book Land Where the Blues Began. Also, an ex-convict from a Texas prison farm named Retrieve--known among inmates as "the burnin' hell"--wrote about his 17 years of imprisonment in the book Racehoss. His name was Albert Sample, and his incredible story is also told in a DVD which is also titled Racehoss.

Jim Hauser