This is an old song about a notorious St. Louis pimp named Lee Shelton who murdered a man by the name of Billy Lyons on Christmas day in 1895.
Lyons had committed the grave offense of taking Shelton's stetson hat after a night of drinking.
“SHOT IN CURTIS'S PLACE“William Lyons, 25, coloured, a levee hand, living at 1410 Morgan Street, was shot in the abdomen yesterday evening at 10 o'clock in the saloon of Bill Curtis, at Eleventh and Morgan streets, by Lee Sheldon, also coloured.“Both parties, it seems, had been drinking, and were feeling in exuberant spirits. Lyons and Sheldon were friends and were talking together. The discussion drifted to politics, and an argument was started, the conclusion of which was that Lyons snatched Sheldon's hat from his head.“The latter indignantly demanded its return. Lyons refused, and Sheldon drew his revolver and shot Lyons in the abdomen [...] When his victim fell to the floor, Sheldon took his hat from the hand of the wounded man and coolly walked away.”- St Louis Globe-Democrat, December 26, 1895.
The first known mention of a song about the incident was a newspaper citation in 1897 as being performed by Prof. Charlie Lee, the piano thumper.
Many people have performed the song over the years, from Pat Boone to the Black Keys, but the Hurt recording in 1928 is thought of as being definitive.
The Grateful Dead's version is perhaps the weakest and most feeble attempt in their entire library and would have been better off left alone, at least in my opinion. It has no noticeable redeeming qualities or virtue.
Hurt's recording is sung and played beautifully in his lovely, understated and laconic style.