John Henry is an American folk hero, who has been the subject of numerous songs,stories, plays, and novels. Like other “Big Men” such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, andIron John, John Henry also served as a mythical representation of a group within themelting pot of the 19th-century working class. In the most popular version of the story,Henry is not born into the world big and strong. He grows to become the greatest “steel-driver” in the mid-century push to erect the railroads across the mountains to the West.When the owner of the railroad buys a steam-powered hammer to do the work of hismostly black driving crew, to save his job and the jobs of his men, John Henry challengesthe owner to a contest: himself alone versus the steam hammer. John Henry bests themachine, but exhausted collapses, and dies.Well, John Henry was a little babySittin’ on his dady’s kneeHe pick up a hammer and a little piece of steel,And cried, “Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, Lord, LordHammer’s gonna be the death of me”Now the captain he said to John Henry,“I’m gonna bring that steam drill ’roundI’m gonna bring that steam drill out on these tracksI’m gonna knock that steel on down, God, GodGonna knock that steel on down”John Henry told his captain,“Lord, man ain’t nothin’ but a manBefore I let that steam drill beat me downI’m gonna die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, LordDie with a hammer in my hand”Violin Soozie!John Henry driving on the right sideThat steam drill driving on the leftSays, “Before I’ll let your steam drill beat me downI’m gonna hammer myself to death, Lord, LordI’ll hammer my fool self to death”Well, captain said to John Henry,“What is that storm I hear?”John Henry said, “That ain’t no stormCaptain, that’s just my hammer in the air, Lord, LordThat’s just my hammer in the air”John Henry said to his shaker
“Shaker, why don’t you sing?
‘Cause I’m swigin’ thirty pounds from my hips on downYeah, listen to my cold steel ring, Lord, LordListen to my cold steel ring”Come on accordion now!I wanna hear that banjo too!???Now John Henry, he hammered in the mountainsHis hammer was striking fireBut he worked so hard, he broke his heartJohn Henry laid his hammer and died, Lord, LordJohn Henry laid down his hammer and diedWell, now John Henry, he had him a womanBy the name of Polly AnnShe walked down to those tracks, picked up John Henry’s hammerPolly drove steel like a man, Lord, LordPolly drove that steel like a manHey!Well every, every Monday morningWhen the bluebird he begin to singYou can hear John Henry from a mile or moreYou can hear John Henry’s hammer ring, Lord, LordYou can hear John Henry’s hammer ringsay it again!So you can hear John Henry’s hammer ring, Lord, LordYou can hear John Henry’s hammer ringCome on! Woah!