Sunday, September 20, 2009

John Henry

A traditional American song
Rise Up Singing chapter: Mountain Voices, p.146
Facts on the John Henry legend:
Tons of different versions of the lyrics here:

A - / - E / A D7 / A D7 / AE A
John Henry was a little baby
Sitting on his papa's knee
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel
Said "This hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
This hammer's gonna be the death of me"

The captain said to John Henry
"Gonna bring that steam drill 'round
Gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
Gonna whop that steel on down, Lord, Lord
Gonna whop that steel on down

John Henry told his captain
"A man ain't nothing but a man
But before I let your steam drill beat me down
I'd die with a hammer in my hand...

John Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker, why don't you sing?
I'm throwing thirty pounds from my hips on down
Just listen to that cold steel ring..."

John Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker why don't you pray?
'Cause if I miss that little piece of steel
Tomorrow's gonna be your burying day..."

The shaker said to John Henry
"I believe this mountain's caving in"
John Henry said to his shaker, "Man
That ain't nothing but my hammer sucking wind..."

The man that invented the steam drill
Thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry made fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine...

(I forgot this verse):
John Henry hammered in the mountain
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, he broke his poor heart
He laid down his hammer and he died...

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Ann
John Henry took sick and went to his bed
Polly Ann drove steel like a man...
"Now John Henry was a mighty man, yes sir. He was born a slave in the 1840's but was freed after the war. He went to work as a steel-driver for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, don't ya know. And John Henry was the strongest, the most powerful man working the rails.
John Henry, he would spend his day's drilling holes by hitting thick steel spikes into rocks with his faithful shaker crouching close to the hole, turning the drill after each mighty blow. There was no one who could match him, though many tried."
Read the rest here:

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