JOHN HENRY

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
  • 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, and
    Iron John, John Henry also served as a mythical representation of a group within the
    melting 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 his
    mostly black driving crew, to save his job and the jobs of his men, John Henry challenges
    the owner to a contest: himself alone versus the steam hammer. John Henry bests the
    machine, but exhausted collapses, and dies.
    Well, John Henry was a little baby
    Sittin’ on his dady’s knee
    He pick up a hammer and a little piece of steel,
    And cried, “Hammer’s gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
    Hammer’s gonna be the death of me”
    Now the captain he said to John Henry,
    “I’m gonna bring that steam drill ’round
    I’m gonna bring that steam drill out on these tracks
    I’m gonna knock that steel on down, God, God
    Gonna knock that steel on down”
    John Henry told his captain,
    “Lord, man ain’t nothin’ but a man
    Before I let that steam drill beat me down
    I’m gonna die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord
    Die with a hammer in my hand”
    Violin Soozie!
    John Henry driving on the right side
    That steam drill driving on the left
    Says, “Before I’ll let your steam drill beat me down
    I’m gonna hammer myself to death, Lord, Lord
    I’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 storm
    Captain, that’s just my hammer in the air, Lord, Lord
    That’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 down
    Yeah, listen to my cold steel ring, Lord, Lord
    Listen to my cold steel ring”
    Come on accordion now!
    I wanna hear that banjo too!
    ???
    Now John Henry, he hammered in the mountains
    His hammer was striking fire
    But he worked so hard, he broke his heart
    John Henry laid his hammer and died, Lord, Lord
    John Henry laid down his hammer and died
    Well, now John Henry, he had him a woman
    By the name of Polly Ann
    She walked down to those tracks, picked up John Henry’s hammer
    Polly drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
    Polly drove that steel like a man
    Hey!
    Well every, every Monday morning
    When the bluebird he begin to sing
    You can hear John Henry from a mile or more
    You can hear John Henry’s hammer ring, Lord, Lord
    You can hear John Henry’s hammer ring
    say it again!
    So you can hear John Henry’s hammer ring, Lord, Lord
    You can hear John Henry’s hammer ring
    Come on! Woah!