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Country Blues => Weenie Campbell Main Forum => Topic started by: Johnm on September 26, 2007, 05:04:01 PM

Title: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 26, 2007, 05:04:01 PM
Hi all,
I thought it might be interesting to start a thread on different versions of John Henry.  John Henry looms large in pre-Blues, Blues and Folk Music, and is arguably the foremost figure in Black American folklore.  In the larger sense, he's a great master's thesis  or doctoral dissertation topic, but I thought it might be interesting just to list different versions of the song "John Henry", with lyrics or not, as individual posters prefer.  One request or suggestion:  This kind of activity is more fun if you work from your memory of versions of "John Henry" and mention only one or two versions of the song at a time as opposed to googling John Henry and carpet-bombing the thread. 

It's interesting when you realize that John Henry spawned a host of songs that reference him but are not actually "John Henry", like John Hurt's "Spike Driver's Blues", "Nine Pound Hammer" and "This Old Hammer", from West Virginia.  The general point of these songs is "This old hammer killed John Henry, but it won't kill me.", either because the singer is tougher than John Henry or has more sense than to work that hard.

One of my favorite versions of John Henry is from the Delaware songster Frank Hovington, and was recorded on July 5 in 1975.  Like many versions of "John Henry", Frank Hovington's is played with a slide in Vestapol tuning.  It is epic, clocking in at 6:47, and includes an interior refrain that I have never heard elsewhere.  In the refrain, Frank Hovington does an ascending chromatic line into the IV chord for each of the three lines, followed by an instrumental version of the tag ine of the verses.  I wish the Juke was still running so that you could hear it if you don't have it, because it is spectacular.  Here goes.  The opening solo is almost a minute long before the singing enters.

   SOLO

   "Hello there, John Henry, how do you feel today?"
   "Very sorry to say, Lord, Lord, feel my left side givin' away, hey gal,
   Feel my left side givin' a-(guitar finishes line)
   Feel my left side givin' away"

   REFRAIN:  Well, who been here since I been gone?
   Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks?
   Well, who gonna shoe your cozy feet?

   John Henry's woman, Lord, she talked so fair,
   "Get my shoes from a steel-drivin' man,
   Kisses from a millionaire, hey gal,
   Kisses from a million-(guitar finishes line)
   Kisses from a millionaire"

   Well who's been here since I been gone?
   Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks?
   Well, who gonna shoe your cozy feet?
   Who's gonna be your man?  Who's gonna be your man?

   John Henry's woman, name was Polly Ann
   Day she heared John Henry died, she drove steel like some man, hey gal,
   She drove steel like some (guitar finishes line)

   John Henry went up on the mountain, where he looked all around
   "If I had a twenty pound hammer, beat a little steel back on down,
   Beat a little steel back on (guitar finishes line)
   Well, I beat a little steel back on down"
   
   Well, who been here since I been gone?
   Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks?
   Who's gonna be your man?
   Who's gonna shoe your cozy feet?

   John Henry asked his captain, "When are you goin' to town?
   If you bring me a 20 pound hammer, beat a little steel back on down
   Beat a little steel back on down"

   Who been here since I been gone?
   Well, who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks?
   Well, who gonna shoe your cozy feet?
   Who's gonna be your man?  Who's gonna be your man?

   Early in the morning, 'bout the break of day
   Heared a voice in the wilderness, cryin' "Well, my side, givin' away,
   Well, my left side givin' away"

All best,
Johnm
   
 
     
 
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Kokomo O on September 26, 2007, 05:59:17 PM
John, have you read Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry: the Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson (http://www.amazon.com/Steel-Drivin-Man-Untold-American/dp/0195300106/ref=pd_bbs_2/104-6147335-6958316?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1190854087&sr=8-2)? Fabulous book. Nelson's a history professor at William & Mary, whose main interest is the growth of railroads after the Civil War, and who found evidence of the death of the real John Henry. He's less interested in the music than the history, but there's discussion of the development of the song in the book too. And he's an excellent story teller and writer.

His thesis, if I'm stating it correctly, is that the real John Henry and the mythical one both died due to competition between man and machine, all in the service of another machine. Shortly after reading the book, I heard a radio show about Bix Beiderbecke in which the speaker (Phil Schaap) claimed that Bix was the first Jazz player who successfully played ballads in Jazz--all prior ballads, he said, were plodding and did not swing, but Bix neither plodded or swung. (When Schaap makes a claim like that, I usually buy it; I've been listening to him almost daily for ten years and have heard him be right many times.) He then played some Bix ballads, but with the caveat that the playing on the records was speeded up to get the requisite number of choruses on a 78. I e-mailed Prof. Nelson, thinking that perhaps all the old versions of John Henry were also speeded up; he was quite interested that perhaps the legend, as we've heard it all these years, was altered in the service of another technological development, the 78 rpm record.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Stuart on September 26, 2007, 07:51:24 PM
John Garst, who posts to the Pre-War Blues Group, has an alternate theory about John Henry. Here's the reference:

"Chasing John Henry in Alabama and Mississippi: A Personal Memoir of Work in Progress" Tributaries: Journal of the Alabama Folklife Association (2002) 5: 92?129.

He also takes on Scott Nelson. He has posted a couple of things to the PWBG that I saved. If anyone would like to read them, send me PM with your e-mail address and I'll do a mass mailing with the posts as attachments after I get a critical mass.

Johnm: I agree that John Henry would make a great thesis or diss topic, but remember: "Friends don't let friends go to grad school!"
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: waxwing on September 26, 2007, 09:48:36 PM
Great thread, John, and I'm cracking up from several posts so far:

Like, yeah, let's see who reads your first line only and then does exactly what you mention at the end of your first paragraph.-G-

Then to be reminded of the John Garst thread on the PWB list.-G- BTW, I think these is also a rebuttal by John Garst posted as a review on Amazon.

And finally Stuart's tag re: Grad school.-G-G- I almost dropped my El Metate carnitas burrito. Almost. BTW, I think these is also a rebuttal by John Garst posted as a review on Amazon.

The two songs that come to my mind were songs you played recordings of for us in your class on arranging at PT. Unfortunately I seem to have misrecorded the Monday late afternoon class so I don't have the first one, which I think was titled Ten Pound Hammer, but that's all I can remember without the recording. Perhaps someone else in the class, Like FP, could post the lyrics and name of the singer.

I do have the recording of the Tuesday class, so here goes.

THIS OLD HAMMER
Dr. P. R. Higgenbotham

I got a letter early one mornin' (3X)
Said son come home, son come home

I didn't have no ready made money (3X)
So I couldn't go home, couldn't go home

This old hammer killed John Henry (3X)
Won't kill me, won't kill me

If I live to see December(3X)
I'm goin' home, I'm goin' home

FYI for folks not in the class, these songs were peformed a capella and were recorded by Dr. Cortez Reese in southern West Virginia from 1949 to 1953 and released on a CD called Work and Pray.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 26, 2007, 10:22:39 PM
Thanks for the suggested readings, Kokomo O and Stuart.  I am way behind on my knowledge of the historical John Henry, and could definitely afford to do some reading in that area.  The song you cite, John C., is one of the reasons I thought to start this thread.  Since before Port Townsend, and even more since, I have become seriously addicted to Dr. Higginbotham's "This Old Hammer".  I've been working on a way of playing it that brings out the major tonality, and  I am really stuck on the sound of it.
For those of you have not heard the performance that John C. posted the lyrics to, the melody is pentatonic, employing the following notes, A, C, D, E, and G, with a melodic span from A to A.  The opening melodic phrase outlines an ascending minor seventh chord off of A:  A-C-E-G, resolves up to the A, and then descends, employing the same notes in reverse order.  It is a strikingly beautiful line, and is made all the more interesting by the fact that Dr. Higginbotham's rendition of the song is a capella, so the potential for chordal accompaniment is left open to whomever wants to set the tune up with an accompaniment.  If you hear A as the key the song is in, then you will hear the melody as being minor, or at least "bluesy".  If you hear C as the key the song is in, the melody will sound major but with a strong emphasis on the sixth note of the scale, A.  It's interesting to work with material like this that doesn't already have an accompaniment to use as a guideline; it's good to be forced to rely more on ear and instincts.
The recording that John C. cites, "Work and Pray", is really terrific.  I can't praise it highly enough.  It is full of great songs and great singers.
All best,
Johnm 
   
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: dj on September 27, 2007, 05:36:50 PM
My favorite version of John Henry is by Henry Johnson, recorded by Pete Lowry for Trix Records in 1972.  It starts out with one instrumental verse and then a sung verse about John Henry sitting on his mama's knee and saying "women'll be the death of me".  It then goes into a long spoken story where the words come rushing out in absolute torrents in the rhythms of a country preacher, with recurring phrases "and so", "you know", "said", holding everything together and giving a rhythmic cadence.  The story is about John Henry taking sick and his wife going to work for him, but taking just a five pound hammer, so John Henry has to go after her with the nine pound hammer.  The whole thing is punctuated by sparkling little guitar solos where Johnson imitates Henry's wife "swishing" up the tracks to work and Henry limping after her, and her lightly hitting the spikes with a five pound hammer and then John Henry using his nine pound hammer on them.  Johnson doesn't come right out and say that John Henry dies doing this, but he implies it by having John Henry sing "Who's going to shoe your pretty little foot..." at the end.

I started to transcribe this, but it's a BIG job - Johnson crams a lot of words in the spoken part.  One day I hope to get around to it.

The song is on the Juke, but unfortunately the Juke is on hiatus.  That's too bad because it's a great song, well worth listening to.
       
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 28, 2007, 12:42:59 AM
Hi all,
Thanks, dj, for the post on the Henry Johnson version of "John Henry".  I have never heard it, and in fact, have never heard the Henry Johnson album on Trix.  It sounds like he was really outstanding.  I've come to realize over time that I'm particularly drawn to post-War Country Blues, and especially stuff from the '60s and '70s.  There is something especially appealing about blues once it was no longer Pop Music.
Another one of my favorite versions of "John Henry" was performed by Furry Lewis on the Arcola CD, "Furry Lewis, Bukka White & Friends:  Party At Home".  It was recorded by Bob West in Furry's apartment on July 5, 1968, and Furry played it after Booker White had played a long and very impressive set of tunes.  Prefatory to playing the song, Furry announces that he is playing it just for Booker White, and that anyone else there who doesn't care to hear it can just put his fingers in his ears.  Like Frank Hovington, Furry plays "John Henry" here in Vestapol with a slide, and it occurred to me listening to this track again that I think his slide playing is horribly under-rated (when he was not clowning).  He does a lot of very nuanced, feathery sorts of moves with the slide here that are quite unusual and show a great deal of finesse.  Furry flows seamlessly from his singing to the spoken portions of this performance.

   John Henry was a little baby boy, settin' at home on his mother's knee
   Cryin', "That Big Bend tunnel on that YMV, it's gon' be the death of me, 'fore I die,
   Lord, it's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord, says it's gon'" (guitar finishes line)

   When John Henry hammered in the mountain 'til the head of his hammer caught fire,
   He cried, Y'all just pick 'em up and let 'em down again,
   Just give me one cool drink of water 'fore I die, Lord, Lord,
   Just give me one cool drink of water"

   SPOKEN:  You know, one time John Henry had a job to do, one time, Red,
   he's the best at, people say that awful day will surely come, that's funny how it
   would make it

   SUNG:   Said I'm goin' where John Henry fell dead

   When the women in the West heard of John Henry's death, they couldn't sleep at home in their beds
   Some was dressed in white, some was dressed in red, said,
   "Take me where John Henry fell dead, baby, please take me (guitar finishes line)
   I'm goin' where John Henry fell dead, baby", he said, "Lord knows, I'm goin' where
   John Henry fell dead, dead, I'm goin' where John Henry" (guitar finishes line)

   John Henry told his captain one day, "You can give me my time.
   I can make more money on that C & O than I can on that IC line, Lord knows, then I can"

   SPOKEN:  You know, one time John Henry had a piker, he had to hold little piece of
   steel, just 'bout that tall, he told his piker to hold that steel, he [the piker] said,
   "What's gonna happen?", he [John Henry] says, I'm gonna drive some steel this
   mornin,", Booker, he says, "I'm goin' down, I'm gonna drive some steel today",
   I'm goin' where John Henry sat all dead.

   SUNG:  John Henry told his piker, "I 'clare you better pray.
   If I miss this steel with this 10 pound mawl, tomorrow gon' be your
   buryin' day, goddamn, haha.

Furry ends the piece abruptly with the laughter.  As the rendition went along, he worked himself into a very excited state, and the last spoken interlude is really intense, with him almost chanting the lines, "I'm gonna drive some steel this mornin'" in time with his accompaniment.  At the conclusion of the performance, it becomes apparent that Furry's involvement in what he was singing was so strong that he made himself cry.  He defends himself, saying he's as good a man as any, but sometimes a song just moves you.  You can hear him sniffling for some time afterwards.  I think it's wonderful that someone who at the time had been a professional for more than fifty years retained the capacity to be so moved by what he was doing.  I'll echo dj's comment re the Henry Johnson performance--this one is on the Juke, too.  If you find this CD you should get it--it's a great one from beginning to end.
all best,
Johnm

     


   

     
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: outfidel on September 28, 2007, 08:23:27 PM
On her Homespun video, Etta Baker talks about going in the tunnel in West Virginia where John Henry laid down his hammer. She picked up some railroad spikes in that tunnel and brought them home. Then, on the video, she plays her bottleneck version of "John Henry".

You're right, this is a powerful myth/legend in the black community, and it's spawned a bunch of great songs.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: zoner on October 03, 2007, 10:15:37 AM
There's a really interesting version by Gabriel Brown on the "Shake That Thing" East Coast Blues 4 cd set.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on October 03, 2007, 10:59:19 AM
One of my favourite versions of John Henry is by Lead Belly, particularly the version found on the Last Sessions. This is one of Lead Belly's driving-est songs ever, I think, and is a great example of twelve-string playing. The guitar just churns through bass lines, rock solid boom-chuck, crazed sixteeth-note picking of chords. It's fabulous. Lead Belly has a lengthy spoken intro on the Last Sessions version in which he talks about visiting the area John Henry was supposedly from with Lomax, and he says about three times "it's a dance tune". Boy, is it ever, and I don't even dance...

I'll transcribe the lyrics and intro a bit later.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: waxwing on October 03, 2007, 11:17:35 AM
Speaking of dance tunes, perhaps we should mention Bill Wilson, by the Birmingham Jugband, which bears no lyric relationship to John Henry, but uses the popular John Henry melody to the note. They play it as a one chorder in F (prob'ly an E on the guitar, 'cause the melody lick fits so nice) and when the Hohoppas played it at the Portland Waterfront Blues Fest an elderly gent (but one young at heart) came clogging down the dirt aisle and danced back and forth in front of the stage. It's a pretty infectious tempo.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 03, 2007, 10:56:24 PM
Hi all,
Thanks, zoner, for the mention of the Gabriel Brown version of "John Henry".  When I dug out the "Shake That Thing" JSP set on which it appears, i found that I had forgotten that he does two consecutive versions of John Henry, one played with a slide in Vestapol as is usually the case, and the other played out of C position in standard tuning, which is very seldom encountered.  The C version is particularly interesting for he plays virtually the entire tune working out of a C position and moving it up and down the neck intact to get the melody notes he wants on the first string, a la Robert Wilkins's solo in "Police Sergeant Blues".

I've never heard the Birmingham Jug Band's recording of "Bill Wilson", John C.  Is it an instrumental or does it have lyrics?

A different version of "John Henry" entitled "The Death Of John Henry" was recorded by Uncle Dave Macon, around 1946 with Sam and Kirk McGee backing him on guitars.  Uncle Dave's version has a pentatonic melody in A, spanning the octave from V to V, E-F#-A-B-C#-E.  It's really a nice tune, and the McGees' back-up behind Uncle Dave's driving banjo is very trancey, holding the A chord throughout except for a very brief E chord at the end of the form before it resolves.  I like the lyrics, too, especially the fourth verse.  This song would work equally well as a solo piece or in a string/jug band setting.

   People out West heard of John Henry's death,
   Couldn't hardly stay in bed
   Monday morning on the East-bound train
   Goin' where John Henry sits dead, oh Lord, goin' where John Henry sits dead

   Carried John Henry to the graveyard
   They looked at him good and long
   Very last words his wife said to him,
   "My husband he is dead and gone, oh Lord, my husband he is dead and gone."

   John Henry's wife wore a brand new dress,
   It was all trimmed in blue
   Very last words he said to her,
   "Honey, I've been good to you, good Lord, Honey, I've been good to you."

   You talk about John Henry as much as you please
   Say and do all you can
   There never was born in this United States
   Another such a steel-driving man, good Lord, another such a steel-driving man

   John Henry hammered in the mountains
   'Til the hammer caught on fire
   Very last words I heard him say,
   "Cool drink of water 'fore I die, oh Lord, cool drink of water 'fore I die."

All best,
Johnm
   
     
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: banjochris on October 04, 2007, 08:44:29 PM
Uncle Dave recorded "Death of John Henry" originally in 1926, again with Sam McGee on guitar, and it has two more verses that come after verse three of the 1946 version -- he doesn't sing the "talk about John Henry" verse in '26. He also fingerpicks the banjo in the '26 version instead of the picking/frailing combo; it has a much gentler feel.

John Henry told a shaker,
Lord I shake while I sing,
Pullin' a hammer from my shoulder,
I'm bound to hear her when she ring, bound to hear her when she ring

John Henry told his captain,
I am a Tennessee man
Before I'll see that steam drill beat me down,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand, die with my hammer in my hand


Chris
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: banjochris on October 04, 2007, 08:45:22 PM
And I've not heard the Gabriel Brown version, but Merle Travis also plays "John Henry" in C.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: waxwing on October 05, 2007, 12:22:41 AM
Hey John M. I'll do one better and post an mp3. I only have time for a quick transcription.

Bill Wilson
Birmingham Jug Band

Bill Wilson had a baby
You could hold 'm in the pad(fat?) of your hand
Says the last word I heard the baby cry
Wanna be your wagon drivin' man, Lord

Bill Wilson had a woman
Say the dress she wore was red
Say the last word I heard that poor gal say
I'm gowine where poor Billy fell dead, Lord

Bill Wilson went to the mountain
It was so tall and high
If I can't climb this mountain, Lord
I'm gonna lay at the feet and I'll die, hey

Bill Wilson had a woman
Wouldn't treat her right
Bill Wilson paid ol' (?)(?)
(?) about the night, hey

The last two lines are pretty tough and I'm not really sure of much of it.

All for now.
John C.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 10, 2007, 04:38:17 PM
Hi all,
Thanks very much, John C., for posting the mp3 of the Birmingham Jug Band doing "Bill Wilson".  I was wondering if the intent of the performance was to be a parody of "John Henry", but it doesn't seem like that was the case; a pretty straight version by it's sound, with a few changes to accommodate the different title character.  I had heard that some people considered Jaybird Coleman to be the harmonica player in the Birmingham Jug Band, but it sure doesn't sound like him to me, either in the playing, singing, or vocalizing behind his playing in the final solo.
Another especially nice version of "John Henry" was done by The Two Poor Boys, Joe Evans and Arthur McClain, singing and accompanying themselves on mandolin and guitar.  I don't know which musician played which instrument or sang lead.  Their version was recorded in New York City on May 20, 1931.  The version I have of this recording was re-issued on an old OJL "Alabama Country" LP, at which time it was thought that Evans and McClain were from Northeast Alabama.  I believe they were later found to have come from Northeastern Tennessee in the area that produced Howard Armstrong, and across the border in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, Carl Martin. 
Evans and McClain do their version of "John Henry" in G, in standard tuning, and the instrumental portion of their rendition is beautifully worked out, as was everything the duo recorded.  The guitar employs a complex sort of customized "boom-chang" approach with lots of syncopated chromatic runs on the D string, somewhat akin to Jim Jackson's accompaniment to "Wild About My Lovin'".  The duo sang beautifully well together, too, and whichever of them sang the harmony part had a deep relaxed voice something like Walter Beasley's.  As usual, there are some lyrics not encountered elsewhere.

   John Henry was a little baby boy, settin' on his mama's knee
   Had a nine pound hammer, hold it in his arms,
   "Gonna be the death of of me", (harmony, mmm, mmm)
   "Gonna be the death of me"
   "Gonna be the death of me, mmm, mmm
   "Gonna be the death of me"

   John Henry went to that Big Bend Tunnel, hammer in his hand
   John Henry was so small, 'til that rock was so tall,
   Laid down his hammer and he cried, oh, partner,
   Laid down his hammer and he cried
   Laid down his hammer and he cried
   Laid down his hammer and he cried

   John Henry asked his shaker, "Shaker, did you ever pray?"
   "'Cause if I miss this piece of steel,
   Tomorrow, be your buryin' day, oh, partner,
   Tomorrow be your buryin' day
   Tomorrow be your buryin, day, (simultaneous) oh, part', oh God,
   Tomorrow be your buryin' day"

   "Who's gonna shoe your pretty little feet, who's gonna glove your little hand
   Baby, who's gonna kiss your rosy little cheeks
   When I'm in a distant land
   I'm in a distant land?"

   John Henry, he took sick and went to bed, sent for the doctor and he come
   Took a chair down the side of John Henry's bed, says,
   "You sick and can't get well, oh, partner,
   Sick and can't get well."

All best,
Johnm
   
   
   
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 15, 2007, 04:56:20 PM
Hi all,
Pink Anderson recorded "John Henry" at a session in Spartansburg, South Carolina on August 14, 1961, with Samuel Charters doing the recording.  This version can be found on the album "The Blues of Pink Anderson--Ballad & Folksinger, Vol. 3", most recently available on CD on the Original Blues Classics label (originally Prestige-Bluesville).
Pink's version is played slide style in Vestapol, using a knife as a slide according to Samuel Charters' liner notes.  Pink's slide playing and right-hand approach here are somewhat akin to Peg Leg Howell's when playing slide, though Peg Leg was a cleaner and more nifty player with a slide.  You get the sense listening to the cut that Pink did not do a lot of slide playing, and his playing gains in surety and solidity drastically through the course of the 4:58 rendition.  He does a lot of conversing with his guitar during solos as did Rev. Gary Davis.
Pink sings many verses I have never heard elsewhere.  I've never heard a version of "John Henry" before, for instance, that suggests that John Henry had more than one wife.  I also particularly like the fifth verse, with its suggestion that John Henry was not just some kind of machine himself, but objected to his captain's taking advantage of his work ethic and abilities.  The final verse is a puzzler, and seems almost as though it may have been interpolated from another song.

   Now, when John Henry was just a little bitty boy,
   Went to put his Papa to town,
   "Daddy, I want you to buy me a twelve-pound hammer,
   I want to beat a steam drill down,
   Daddy, I want to be a steam drill down."

   So they put John Henry on the right hand side,
   Steam drill was standing on the left, said,
   "Before I let a steam drill beat me down
   Daddy, I'll hammer my fool self to death
   Daddy, I'll hammer my fool self to death
   Yes, I'll (guitar finishes line)
   Yes, I'll" (guitar finishes line)

   John Henry said just before he died, "Man ain't nothin' but a man."
   Said, "Before I let a steam drill beat me down
   Lord, I'll die with my hammer in my hand
   Lord, I'll die with my hammer in my hand
   Yes, I'll (guitar finishes line)
   Yes, I'll" (guitar finishes line)

   Yes, we heard a mighty rumblin' in the mountain one morning
   We thought 'twas the tunnel caving in
   John Henry whispered to his waterboy,
   "That's my hammer ramblin' wind
   That's my hammer ramblin' in the wind

SPOKEN, DURING SOLO:
   Yeah!------what?---what'd you say?---I knew it?---umm?---sing it again!---Yeah!

   John Henry said to his captain one morning,
   "Captain, how can this be?
   Man, I been on your job just about twelve long years,
   You don't hurry nobody but me,
   You don't hurry nobody but me,
   You don't hurry nobo' but me,
   You don't hurry nobody but me."

   John Henry married to a little bitty woman
   Her name was Polly Ann
   John Henry got sick and she took a five-foot switch,
   Woman drove down the steel like a man,
   Polly, she drove down the steel like a man,
   Yes, she (guitar finishes line)

   SPOKEN DURING SOLO: 
   Say something, guitar!---Yeah!---what'd you hear?---Umm Hmmm---Ummm?

   John Henry married to another little woman
   Dress that she wore was blue
   That woman walked down the track, Jack, never looked back,
   "Man, I once been true to you,
   "Man, I once been true to you,
   "Man, I once been true to you, hear, Lord,
   Once been true to you."

   Mama, when I die, want you to bury me
   Way under beneath-a de floor
   So maybe I can hear some good gambler say,
   "I bet you a dollar more,
   Lord, I bet you a dollar more,
   Lord, I'll" (guitar finishes line)

Edited, 10/17, 07 to pick up correction from Rivers

All best,
Johnm


   
   
   
   
   

   
   
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Rivers on October 15, 2007, 05:15:25 PM
The version Pink recorded on Gospel Blues and Street Singers (compilation shared w/RevGary) for the last verse he sings something like this:

"Mama when I die, you can bury me, way under'a'neath'a'the floor"

Definitely my favorite version of John Henry, always seems like the archetype to me.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Cooljack on October 16, 2007, 09:40:34 AM
Fiddlin' John Carson did a 1924 four minuite recording of "John Henry Blues", I dont know whether or not this was the first version of John henry ever recorded (atleast non orchestral version) it's well worth a listen though, just him and his fiddle as far as I can tell , pure skill. It's a classic in my opinion, don't think I can transcribe the lyrics though as I can't really make them out (Only a few words or a line here and there).
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 17, 2007, 03:43:57 PM
Hi Rivers,
I believe the Pink Anderson version you cited is the same one I transcribed, and your reading of the second line of the last verse made me re-listen, since I wasn't happy with the sense of my transcription.  Yours both makes more sense than what I had, and gibes well with Pink's enunciation, so after re-listening I made the correction on the earlier post I had done.  Thanks for the help.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 17, 2007, 04:31:59 PM
Hi all,
Peg Leg Howell was discovered living in Atlanta in a state of extreme decrepitude and dire poverty by blues researcher George Mitchell in the early 1960s, and was recorded for an album on Pete Welding's Testament label with the idea that any sales the record generated might help Howell out of his desperate situation.  Things didn't quite pan out that way, for Howell's poor health and long hiatus from playing music projected all too clearly on the recording for it to be a comfortable listening experience for all but the most voracious Country Blues fans.
I had never heard this recording but was aware of its somewhat notorious reputation when a copy of it was made available to me last year.  I found that Howell did indeed sound feeble, with his guitar playing perhaps even more wan than his singing.  More listening made apparent flashes of his former instrumental expertise and originality and some beautiful and distinctive singing, though very weak and without the power to push the voice.  I should probably temper this praise by saying that I almost always prefer to hear blues sung by older singers--I much prefer Tampa Red and Scrapper Blackwell's singing on their '60s recordings for Prestige to the singing on their early recordings and I think John Hurt's singing in the '60s completely blew away his singing on his Okeh recordings, which for the most part sounds kind of scared to me.
In any event, there is an interesting version of "John Henry" on the Peg Leg Howell Testament album.  Like most of the versions discussed so far, it was played in Vestapol with a slide.  One of Howell's nifty touches is that every time the melody goes from the V note to the VI note and then to I, he plays the line in octaves, which sounds great.  A couple of his lines are very difficult to decipher, and given the state of his health at the time the recordings were done, I don't know if it can be safely assumed that the intent of the lines would have made sense even if enunciated clearly.

   John Henry was a little boy, hold him in your hand
   Sat upon his father's knee, says,
   "Someday I'll be a steel gang (guitar finishes line)
   And I'm bound to be a steel gang man"

   Carried John henry to the Colorado mountains, put a [steel to John?]
   John Henry so low and the mountains so tall,
   He laid down his hammer (guitar) cried
   Laid down his hammer and he cried

   Henry said to his shaker, "Shaker, you better pray.
   If I miss this six-foot steel
   Tomorrow be your buryin' day
   Tomorrow be your buryin' day."

   So they carried John Henry to the Colorado mountains, put a steel [to John]
   John Henry so low and the mountains so tall,
   He laid down his hammer and he cried
   Laid down his hammer and he cried

   John Henry had a lovin' wife, her name were Polly Ann
   He took sick and he had to go home
   Polly Ann worked steel like a man
   Ann worked steel like a man

   John Henry had a lovin' wife, took her apron string
   She put that hammer and the [handle on the bin]
   You ought to heard the hammer ring
   Heard the hammer ring.

All best,
Johnm
   
    
     
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: mr mando on October 18, 2007, 03:55:52 AM
I posted this over at the IGS forum as my old (???) friend Kyle was asking for it. Since Orville mentioned this here thread at WC over at IGS, I thought I might just post Ragtime Texas' version here as well. It was recorded in 1927 and I think I heard it was the first recorded version of JH by an african-american performer.

John Henry
(Henry Thomas)

Henry got a letter, said his mother was dead.
Put his children on a passenger train.
He gonna ride the blind, lordy.
He gonna ride the blind.

Henry looked down, railroad track, spied the steel-drive engine coming down.
Before I let that steel-drive beat me down.
Die with that hammer in my hand.
Lord I'll die with the hammer in my hand.

Henry went on the mountain top, givin' his horn a blow.
Last words the captain said,
"John Henry was a natural man.
John Henry was a natural man."

Henry had a woman, dress she wore was red.
Goin' on down that railroad track.
"Goin' where John Henry fell dead.
Yes, I'm goin' where John Henry fell dead."

Henry had a baby boy, hold him in his palm of his hand.
Last words that poor boy said,
"I'm gonna learn to be a steel-drivin' man.
Yes I'll learn to be a steel-drivin' man."

Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: mr mando on October 18, 2007, 04:03:51 AM
Here's the lin to the IGS thread, BTW:
http://www.guitarseminars.com/ubb/Forum1/HTML/019103.html
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 19, 2007, 06:15:58 PM
Thanks very much, Mr. Mando, for posting the lyrics to the Henry Thomas version of "John Henry".  One fun thing about getting these different versions as they occur to people rather than seeking them out in some more systematic fashion is that you are reminded that there are versions of the song that you've heard and may even have in your record collection, but have utterly forgotten.  The Henry Thomas version falls into that category for me, and I will have to give it a listen when I get back to my records next week.  Thanks!
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Kokomo O on October 19, 2007, 06:37:15 PM
The Henry Thomas version is a favorite of mine, for the pan-pipes, the vocal, and most of all the rhythm that just pops out of the speakers. Wish I could do that.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 21, 2007, 10:14:07 PM
Hi all,
I dug out the Leadbelly version of "John Henry" from his Last Sessions that Andrew posted about earlier in this thread, and having some spare time, decided to transcribe it.  It is a superlatively strong version, with Leadbelly playing in D position in standard tuning, though tuned down to about B, as was his wont.  He uses substantially the same accompaniment as he used for his version of "House of the Rising Sun".  His tempo here is just screaming along; he must have had one of the fastest right hands in the history of Country Blues, in a league with Kokomo Arnold, that very few players ever approached.
A couple of times during his spoken intro, Frederick Ramsey, Jr., who was recording him, interrupts him to get a point clarified.  John Henry buried at the White House?  That's kind of a shocker.  Here goes:

   SPOKEN, LEADBELLY:  Now "John Henry", you know, it's a-made up about a hard-working man, folks, don't forget it.  Anytime you hear anybody singin' "John Henry", it's a dance tune if they play it right.  Some people don't . . .
   RAMSEY, INTERRUPTING:  Well now, where did John Henry come from?
   SPOKEN, LEADBELLY:  Well, John Henry come from Newport News.  Mr. Lomax and myself, we drove all around where the spot John Henry was born at.  Well, that's the reason why they say "that C & O road", that road runs out from Newport News to Cincinnati, Ohio.  John Henry was the man, drove steel and put down, he drove spikes around all the steel that was laid from Newport News to Cincinnati, Ohio, now that's true.
   Ellen Louise was a track liner.  She'd come behind like John Henry, she'd line the track with eight men.  She lined all that track and when Ellen Louise went out linin' track, in come the train, oozin' on up to it, see?  The whole thing come, the Rock Island line, see, when they brings in . . .
   RAMSEY, INTERRUPTING:  She kept ahead of the train.
   SPOKEN, LEADBELLY:  That's right.  What?
   RAMSEY;  She kept ahead of the train.
   SPOKEN, LEADBELLY:  Yes, she was ahead of the train, but they didn't start the train 'til she was nearly out, you know.  So she had to be out when the train come, but anyhow, the train'd ooze along, track was all right.  Now, this is "John Henry", and it's a dance tune, and we dance to it down home, now I'm gonna play it to you.

   John Henry was a new-born baby, sittin' down on his mama's knee
   Say, "That Big Bend Tunnel on that C & O road,
   It's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord,
   It's gonna be the death of me
   It is gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord,
   It's gonna be the death of me."

   John Henry had two women, one was named Mary Magdalene
   He would go out on the job and she would sing,
   "Hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord,
   Hear John Henry's hammer ring. 
   Hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord,
   Hear John Henry's hammer ring."

   John Henry had another little woman, her name was sweet Polly Ann
   John Henry taken sick, boy, and he had to go to bed
   Polly Ann drove steel just like a man, Lord, Lord,
   Polly Ann drove steel like a man
   Polly Ann drove steel just like a man, Lord, Lord,
   Polly Ann drove steel like a man.

   SPOKEN:  Before John Henry dies, he called Polly Ann to his bedside.  Wasn't thinkin' about Mary Magdalene.  And this what he wanted Polly Ann to tell him 'fore he died.

   "Baby, who's gonna shoe your little feet, tell me, who's gonna glove your hand?
   Tell me, who's gonna kiss your sweet little lips, now
   Tell me, who's gonna be your man, Lord, Lord,
   Tell me, who's gonna be your man.
   Tell me, who's gonna be your man, Lord, Lord,
   Tell me, who's gonna be your man."

   SPOKEN:  She told him, 

   "My papa's gonna shoe my little feet, my mama's gonna glove my hand
   My sister's gonna kiss my sweet little lips, now
   You know I don't need no man, Lord, Lord,
   You know I don't need no man.
   You know I don't need no man, Lord, Lord,
   You know I don't need no man."

   SPOKEN, DURING SOLO:  Tell him, now---ah ha--yeah!

   Then they taken John Henry to the White House, they buried him in the sand
   And every locomotive comes a-rollin' by, sayin'
   "There lies that steel-drivin' man, Lord, Lord,
   There lies that steel-drivin' man.
   There lies that steel-drivin' man, Lord, Lord,
   There lies that steel-drivin' man."

SPOKEN:  That was "John Henry", which is a dance tune.

All best,
Johnm
   

   

 
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on November 08, 2007, 07:11:03 PM
Hi all,
There are some great recordings of "John Henry" by Old-Time musicians.  On the recently released "Hobart Smith--In Sacred Trust" on Smithsonian Folkways, Hobart Smith does a really nice, unusually contemplative slide version of "John Henry" in Vestapol.  And on the old County Records anthology, "Clawhammer Banjo", there's a ripping version featuring Fred Cockerham on fiddle and vocal and Kyle Creed on banjo.  I love Fred's singing, but man, is it hard to tell what he's saying!
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: banjochris on November 10, 2007, 03:00:57 PM
I have a recording of Cockerham singing "John Henry" and playing it (beautifully) on banjo on an old LP called "Southern Clawhammer Banjo." It's very marginally easier to understand than the recording with him and Kyle Creed. He sings an extra verse to the usual melody of the tune before launching back into the Round Peak version.

Here are the words, as best as I can make out:

Been to that bottom don't get mad, lord lord,
Been to that bottom don't get mad.

Pass around them bacon and your beans, lord lord
Pass around them bacon and your beans.

I used to court John Henry's girl,
Asked her to be my bride,
She run away with a steel-drivin' man,
Thought it would take my life, lord lord,
Thought it would take my life.

Chris
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on November 10, 2007, 11:35:51 PM
Thanks for those lyrics, Chris.  I'm inspired to go back and listen to the recording I have and see if I can hear any more of the lyrics on it.  Fred Cockerham's music was so strong, no matter what he was doing.
all best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: banjochris on November 11, 2007, 10:04:14 PM
John, I think it's the same first two verses that I transcribed on that "Clawhammer Banjo" track. The bacon and beans is the same, for sure. And I agree, Cockerham was great; his banjo playing especially is unique.
Chris
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on February 27, 2008, 03:28:05 PM
Hi all,
I found a nice version of "John Henry" performed by Connie Williams on his Testament CD, "Philadelphia Street Singer--Blind Connie Williams".  As with all of Connie's pieces, it is played out of Vestapol with a complex mixture of slide and naked finger fretting and an unusually rich chordal vocabulary.  Connie sings one verse, takes a solo, and sings essentially the same verse again.  The shortage of verses in a song that so often has very many makes me wonder if the song was possibly a request from Pete Welding, who recorded Connie Williams.  The brevity of the version is reminiscent of the versions of "Stackerlee" and "Spoonful" recorded by Honeyboy Edwards for Alan Lomax.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on April 05, 2008, 10:04:37 AM
A version of John Henry just popped up in my iTunes. An instrumental version by the Chicago String Band (on the eponymous Testament CD), with harmonica and fiddle sharing lead melody duties. Fun!
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: doctorpep on April 05, 2008, 11:01:38 AM
This may be a bit off topic, but my mother is a children's librarian. Knowing that I love Blues, she brought me home a book on John Henry, written by a historian who describes the life of the actual John Henry. I can't seem to find the book on Amazon, but a similar book, Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry: the Untold Story of an American Legend, that was written on the man behind the famous tale states that:

"According to the ballad that made him famous, John Henry did battle with a steam-powered drill, beat the machine and died. Folklorists have long thought John Henry to be mythical, but while researching railroad work songs, historian Nelson, of the College of William and Mary, discovered that Henry was a real person?a short black 19-year-old from New Jersey who was convicted of theft in a Virginia court in 1866. Under discriminatory Black Codes, Henry was sentenced to 10 years in the Virginia Penitentiary and put to work building the C&O Railroad. There, at the Lewis Tunnel, Henry and other prisoners worked alongside steam-powered drills, and at least 300 of them died. This slender book is many-layered. It's Nelson's story of piecing together the biography of the real John Henry, and rarely is the tale of hours logged in archives so interesting. It's the story of fatal racism in the postbellum South. And it's the story of work songs, songs that not only turned Henry into a folk hero but, in reminding workers to slow down or die, were a tool of resistance and protest. This is a remarkable work of scholarship and a riveting story."

Just thought I'd pass that along to everyone.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on April 05, 2008, 12:39:51 PM
FWIW there is also a book,"John Henry Days", written by Colson Whitehead in 2001, a purely fictional novel slightly touching the subject: http://www.amazon.com/John-Henry-Days-Colson-Whitehead/dp/0385498209

Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: SCWV on May 13, 2008, 05:17:03 PM
My Favorite JH recording is the lively, wildly boisterous 1927 rendition by Williamson Brothers & Curry (Ervin & Arnold Williamson & Arnold Curry) of Logan County, WV:

John Henry Told His Captain
A Man Ain?t Nothing But A Man
Before I Be Beaten By This Old Steam Drill
I?ll Die With My Hammer In My Hand
Lord, Lord
I?ll Die With A Hammer In My Hand

John Henry Told His Captain
Captain, How Can It Be
The Big Bend Tunnel On The C&O Road
Gonna Be The Last of Me
Lord, Lord
Gonna Be the Last of Me

John Henry Had A Little Hammer
Handle Was Made of Bone
Every Time He Hit The Drill On The Head
 Hammer Reached Down & Groaned, Groaned, Groaned
Lord, Lord
The Hammer Reaches Down & Groans

John Henry Told His Shaker
Shaker You Better Pray
For If I Lift This Six Foot Steel
Tomorrow Will Be Your Burying Day
Lord, Lord
Tomorrow Will Be Your Burying Day

John Henry Had But One Only Child
Stand In The Palm of Your Hand
(?I?m Afraid What?) John Henry Said
Son, Don?t Be A Steel Driving Man
Lord, Lord
Son, Don?t Be A Steel Driving Man

John Henry Had A Little Woman
Her Name Was Sally Ann
John Henry Got Sick And He Could Not Work
Sally Drove Her Steel Like A Man
Lord, Lord
Sally Drove Her Steel Like A Man

I apologize that there were some words I could not make out clearly.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Ron Mack on May 28, 2008, 05:44:55 PM
Hey Johnm,
My favorite version of John Henry is by Jesse Fuller. I'm not sure If he ever recorded it or not. I learned the song from watching him on Vestapol Video's "Legends of Bottleneck Blues Guitar" What a great performance.
 

Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: doctorpep on May 28, 2008, 09:17:53 PM
So far, my favorite versions of "John Henry" are the Furry Lewis version on "Shake 'Em On Down" (truly epic!) and the version done by the Two Poor Boys. Josh White's is a close second for me.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Bunker Hill on May 29, 2008, 04:52:48 AM
Hey Johnm,
My favorite version of John Henry is by Jesse Fuller. I'm not sure If he ever recorded it or not.
If you have a look here you might spot a version familiar to you on vinyl or CD.

http://www.wirz.de/music/fullefrm.htm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Ron Mack on May 29, 2008, 06:36:23 AM
If you have a look here you might spot a version familiar to you on vinyl or CD.
http://www.wirz.de/music/fullefrm.htm

Thanks Bunker Hill.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 29, 2008, 05:48:07 PM
Hi all,
I found a particularly nice version of "John Henry" on the recently released "George Mitchell Recordings" on Fat Possum.  It is performed by John Lee Ziegler with a spoons player, and Ziegler plays it, as did many other guitarists, in Vestapol with a slide.  The rendition is interesting because though the melody is clearly that of "John Henry", the song is called "Who's Gonna Be Your Man?", and I believe has only one verse that clearly references John Henry.  In this respect it's like the Tommy McClennan song, "Deep Blue Sea Blues", that has the "Catfish" melody and form, but never sings the catfish verse.
John Lee Zielger's playing and singing on this cut are just beautiful, and he often uses the slide to finish a lyric, a device used to perfection by Herman E. Johnson, among others.  Ziegler's other song on the Mitchell set, "If I Lose, Let Me Lose" is, if anything, even better than "Who's Gonna Be Your Man?".  He really had a beautiful sound.
all best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on May 20, 2009, 09:42:35 AM
Hi all,
Lightnin' Wells has a very strong version of "John Henry" on his "Shake 'Em On Down" CD from last year.  Like many or most of the players from his part of the world, Lightnin' does it in Vestapol with a slide, and both his singing and playing are really forceful on this rendition.  You should seek it out if you've not had the chance to hear it yet.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Lyndvs on May 20, 2009, 10:23:09 AM
Blind James Campbell and his Nashville Street band do a version of "John Henry" on their Arhoolie cd.A brilliant ragged string band-they had five members who between them played guitar,banjo,mandolin,fiddle,tuba and trumpet.It`s great to hear the brass on some of these tunes-it sounds brilliant in this context-especially the deep fruity bass of the tuba.Well worth a listen.
take care lyndvs.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Slack on May 20, 2009, 11:33:46 AM
Heard on the juke the other day a great Old Time Mountain Stringband version of John Henry by Earl Johnson & His Dixie Entertainers..... complete with falsetto harmonies (but not too many  :D ).  This is on disk 4 of "Mountain Blues: Blues, Ballads & String Bands, 1927-38"
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 04, 2009, 07:57:38 PM
Hi all,
There are so many great versions of "John Henry", but I know that Henry "Rufe" Johnson's version on his Trix album, "Henry Johnson--The Union County Flash!" is the particular favorite of more than a few people who have heard it.  I have long admired it and intended to transcribe it, and today was the day it happened.  In the sung portion, when a line concludes with a dash it means the guitar concluded the line.  This one is definitely worth more than a few requests on the Weenie Juke.  Enjoy.

John Henry--Henry ?Rufe? Johnson

SUNG: John Henry, he was a little bitty boy, settin? on his mama?s knees
The last thing I heard that poor boy say, he says,
?The women?ll be the death o? -------
Uh, he said, ?The women?ll be the? ------
He say, ?The women?ll be the death o? me?, he said,
?The women?ll be the? ----------

SPOKEN:  You know, one day, you know, I was walkin? out on the railroad there down where John Henry lived, he lived down in a little old shack down on the railroad, you know.  And he had a woman who was named Polly.  And, you know, he was livin? down there for a lo-o-ong time, you know.  

And so, one day, you know, poor John Henry took sick, you know.  And the poor boy had to go to bed.  And so when they had to go to bed, you know, his work stopped.  And ?bout that time, you know, Polly looked over at him, said, ?Now listen, darlin?, you don?t have to worry about your job.?, say, ?I go up and take your job, oh.?  He said, ?Okay, old lady,?, said,  ?Now when you go up there,?, said, ?Now, don?t try to show out on me, or do I have to get up out of this b-e--d, and show you a trick.?

And ?bout that time, you know, they?s livin? in a little two-room shack, you know, one part where they sleep and the other ?un where they cook and eat, you know.  And ?bout that time, you know, she switched off into the kitchen in the little old part where they cook and eat at, you know, ?cause he kept his hammers, you know, settin? over in the corner, you know, right side o?the thing what they cook on they called the stove, you know.  

And ?bout that time, you know, when she got over there, she picked among John Henry?s hammers, you know, and she got the lightest thing the poor man had, that little light five-pound hammer. And ?bout that time, you know, she puttin? on a show and she come switchin? back through the little old part where they sleep at, you know, and she told him , said, ?Now, listen, daddy,? sayin?, ?I?m goin? to bein? doin? your work, and I?m gonna take your job over, this mornin?."  He says, ?Okay, darlin?, don?t forget what I told you,? said, ?Do I have to get up out of this b-e-d and show you a trick??

She said, ?Okay, darlin??, and ?bout that time, you know, you know how women is when they think they got you covered, you know, she switched out of the little old thing what open and shut and called it the door, you know, and ?bout that time she went out there and went switchin? up a rail, walkin? like this, you know, switchin?, she thought she had him covered, she said:  (guitar imitates Polly?s switchin?). Switchin?!

And ?bout that time, you know, she got up there where she?s supposed to go to work at, you know.  And so she forgot about what John Henry had told her, you know.  And so, about that time, you know, she had raised the little old hammer, that little old light five-pound hammer, you know, and when she raised it up, you know, she commenced to hittin? down on the rail like this, you know, just like this, she said:  (guitar plays melody)  Do it, Polly!  Yeah!  Umm hmm!

And ?bout that time, you know, poor John Henry crep? up out the b-e-d and put his shoes on.  And when he crep? up out the bed and put his shoes on, you know, he went in there in the little old part where they cookin? at, they call it the kitchen , you know,
and so he looked over there among his hammers behind the little old thing, they called it the stove, you know, and so he got that big nine, the one he roll off his shoulder, you know.  And so, poor John Henry come out, you know, and then he went out the little old thing what open and shut, and called it the door, you know, and so when he walked out there the poor boy been sick, he went up the rail kind o? limpin?, he said:  (guitar imitates limpin?)  Limpin?!

And ?bout that time, you know, he got up there where she was, you know, he said, ?Now listen, old lady,? say, ?I told you, don?t try to do that, do it, I have to get up out of this b-e-d and show you a trick.?  She say, Okay, daddy?, say, ?I just tryin? to get the work done.?  He said, ?That?s all right, you just stand right over there, stand right over there, out of my way, you know.?

And ?bout that time, you know, poor John Henry walked up there with that big nine, the one he rolled off his shoulder, and he commenced to hittin? it like this, you know, he said:  (guitar plays melody)  Do it, John Henry!  Yeah!  Umm hmm!

And ?bout that time, he asked her a question:

   SUNG:  Who gon? shoe them pretty ---?
   Who goin? to glove your hand?
   Tell me, who gon? kiss them rosy cheeks, baby,?
   Who gonna be your ----?
   Baby, who?s gonna ---?
   Baby, who?s gonna be your man?
   Baby, who?s gonna be -----?

(Laughter)

All best,
Johnm  
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on October 04, 2009, 09:38:16 PM
Thanks for transcribing that, John. Indeed, one of the great versions of John Henry, and one of the most original while still being recognizable as John Henry.

One I've been listening to lately, completely and utterly different, as well as lyric-less and not country blues, is Glen Smith's version from the County Clawhammer Banjo CDs. Pure joy. Pretty much everything I've heard by Smith qualifies as that though.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 04, 2009, 10:36:13 PM
Thanks for the good words, Andrew.  It took a little while, but it was really fun.  I sure wish I had seen Henry Johnson.
I couldn't agree with you more about Glen Smith, by the way.  His version of "Polly Put the Kettle On" on the old Folkways "Old-Time Music From Grayson and Carroll Counties" album was for a long time my absolute favorite Old-Time banjo playing.  He was a terrific player, and his "Old Jimmy Sutton" from the same album sounds practically Asian in some parts.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: dj on October 05, 2009, 03:56:56 AM
John, thanks for the Henry Johnson transcription.  It's one I've long wanted to do, but frankly I was always daunted by the sheer size of the job.  Those words in the spoken part just come rushing out, don't they?  I love it that you transcribed the laughter at the end, something I probably wouldn't have done.  That song is just an all-together amazing performance.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: oddenda on October 05, 2009, 09:09:45 PM
Folks -

          Henry Johnson's version is the "John Henry" that I released on Trix: Because it's so original, unlike all the other versions I got over the decade! Knocked Alan Lomax off of his stool at my place back in the day (as did Peg Leg Sam's "Fox Chase", and some Rev. C.J. Johnson on Savoy). I transcribed it back in the day for the arrangement copyright. Rufe was "my" greatest find.

Peter B.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on March 12, 2010, 08:05:08 AM
It was mentioned earlier in the thread but only as a video track, so I just thought I would put in a word for Jesse Fuller's version of John Henry again, since I just picked up the new CD, Jesse Fuller - Move On Down the Line (Fledg'ling Records FLED 3074). This CD combines material from two early vinyl releases on the Topic label, recorded in 1954 and 1960. John Henry is from the earlier recordings made in El Cerrito, CA, and it is monumental, worthy of John Henry himself. The drive on this version could probably keep a club full of kids dancing for its full 6 minutes and 42 seconds. Played with slide in a low Vestapol tuning I would guess (haven't checked yet). All I can say is holy cow.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: dj on June 10, 2010, 02:20:33 PM
Black Bottom McPhail's "John" is a version of John Henry.  It was recorded at a Vocalion session in Chicago on May 26 1938.  McPhail sings, his probable accompanists are Jack Newman on piano and Charlie McCoy on mandolin.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: BlueInGreen on June 11, 2010, 05:43:48 AM
Being a harp player, have to throw in one of my favorite version of John Henry. Here's DeFord Bailey's original recording of John Henry:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gcz7R3-Y3o

Here's DeFord Bailey recorded by his biographer, David Morton, in the eary 70s:

Harp instrumental version:
http://defordbailey.info/node/20


Banjo and vocal. I love the way Bailey got the same sort of "double" melody/rhythm feeling as on his harp playing when he played banjo:
http://defordbailey.info/node/30
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on June 11, 2010, 07:19:23 AM
Thanks for those links, BlueInGreen. The version on the banjo is great to hear.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on February 09, 2011, 04:49:25 PM
Hi all,
I noticed recently a ripping Old-Time version of "John Henry", entitled "Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand", performed by Williamson Brothers & Curry, and recorded in 1927.  It can be found on the Document CD "Old-Time Music From West Virginia", DOCD-8004, which also includes all of the cuts Dick Justice recorded and a goodly number of Frank Hutchison's songs, too.  
The Williamson Brothers were Arnold and Irving, and Curry's first name is unknown.  The trio's instrumentation sounds to be fiddle, guitar, and banjo-uke, or possibly mandolin.  The guitarist makes some interesting and unusual choices in harmonizing the tune; he begins each of the first three lines in each verse on the IV chord, something I've not heard done before.  A second singer joins the lead singer, singing an octave higher, for the last two lines of every verse, giving the singing a really wild sound, something like Versey Smith behind William Smith, or Hattie Stoneman on the Stoneman Family recordings. Hearing this rendition reminded me that many of the most intense and driving versions of this song that I've heard have been performed by Old-Time musicians, like Fred Cockerham and Kyle Creed or Mark Graham.  This one is worth seeking out.

   John Henry told his captain,
   "Man ain't nothin' but a man
   Before I'd be driven by this old steam drill, I'm gonna
   Die with my hammer in my hands, Lord, Lord,
   Gonna die with a hammer in my hands."

   John Henry told his captain,
   "Captain, how can it be?
   The Big Bend Tunnel on that C & O road is
   Gonna be the death (last) of me, Lord, Lord,
   Gonna be the death of me."

   John Henry had a little hammer
   Handle was made of oak
   Every time he hit that rail on the head
   Hammer laid just down and broke, Lord, Lord
   Hammer laid just down and broke

   John Henry told his shaker,
   "Shaker, you better pray
   For if I miss this six-foot steel
   Tommorow'll be your buryin' day, Lord, Lord
   Tomorrow'll be your buryin' day."

   John Henry had but one only child
   Fit in the palm of your hand
   The very last words John Henry said,
   "Son, don't be a steel-drivin' man, Lord, Lord,
   Son, don't be a steel-drivin' man."

   John Henry had a little woman
   Her name was Sally Ann
   John Henry got sick and he could not work
   Sally drove the steel like a man, Lord, Lord,
   Sally drove the steel like a man

All best,
Johnm
  



 
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: eric on February 09, 2011, 05:07:10 PM
I love this version of John Henry.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Mr.OMuck on February 09, 2011, 08:03:57 PM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qfUxZZXhqU (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qfUxZZXhqU)

Don't forget Good ol' Sonny Terry who could produce stuff as strange as it comes sometimes.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Mr.OMuck on February 09, 2011, 08:05:46 PM
Also one of the masterpieces of washboard playing, Bull City red I 'm guessing 1938
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on March 24, 2011, 07:26:51 AM
Lesley Riddle was mentioned in another thread and I notice that his version of John Henry is not listed in this thread. It's quite a nice one, not that unusual a version certainly, but a classic driving slide tune.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C4VBvr_yVE

It's on the Smithsonian Folkways compilation, Classic Mountain Songs (as per the video) or the compilation Close to Home - Old-Time Music from Mike Seeger's Collection.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: lindy on March 24, 2011, 12:50:47 PM
A few weeks back I revisited "And This is Free," the great documentary about Chicago's Maxwell Street. Lots of special features, plus a wonderful CD of songs related to Maxwell Street, with performers ranging from Papa Charlie Jackson to Daddy Stovepipe to Johnny Young. If you haven't seen the DVD or heard the CD yet, I highly recommend them.

Blind Arvella Gray was a mainstay on Maxwell, playing a steel-body guitar tuned in Spanish, and using the middle finger of his left hand--which was missing the index and little fingers--as a bar. Made some amazing music on that guitar with what he had.

The song he was best known for as he strolled up and down the middle of the weekend street market was John Henry. There are a few lines that I haven't yet seen on this thread, so here are the lyrics:

Well the foreman said to John Henry,
He said, ?What can you do??
?Line a track, and I can carry a jack,
I can pick and shovel, too, lord, lord,
Pick and shovel, too.

John Henry said to the Captain,
?Captain, how can that be?
Got 49 men on your job,
You hurry nobody but me, lord, lord,
Hurry nobody but me.?

But John Henry was a steel-driving man, lord, lord.
Henry was a railroad man.

That John Henry had, had a little wife,
Name was Polly Ann.
When John Henry was sick and in his bed,
She drove steel like a natural man, lord, lord.
She drove steel like a natural man.

John Henry had, had a little wife,
And she began to sing,
Said, ?You don?t have to worry,
As long as I can make this hammer ring, lord, lord.
Long as I can make this hammer ring."

Well the peckwood, peckerwood, woodpecker,
What make your head so red?
I?ve been working on the levy,
And the sun done burnt my head, lord, lord,
Sun done burned my head.

Says, ?Where did you get your pretty little shoes, woman?
Your dress so fine??
Got the shoes off of Maxwell,
Got the dress off of Halstead, lord, lord,
Got the dress off of Halstead, there.

But John Henry was a steel-driving man, lord, lord.
Henry was a railroad man.

John Henry went to his woman?s house.
Told her to turn down her bed.
Says he was sick, and he had to lay down,
He had a mighty hurtin? in his head, lord, lord.
A mighty hurtin? in his head.

Now John Henry died up in the mountain,
They buried him in the clay.
And the last words I heard him say,
Never let your woman have her way, lord, lord,
Never let your woman have her way.

But John Henry was a steel-driving man, lord, lord.
Henry was a railroad man.

All in all, a fine straightforward version of John Henry. Note also that copies of the solo LP (now CD) that he recorded in 1972 are available from a label called Conjuroo.

Lindy
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Rivers on December 05, 2011, 08:56:54 PM
There's a ripper version of John Henry, probably my personal favorite at this point, with John Cephas (vocals), Eddie Pennington (guitar), Phil Wiggins (harp) and Johnny Bellar (bass), on Masters of the Steel String Guitar available on Arhoolie's site.

It's worth buying the CD for this track alone but actually there are several other goodies on it. The John Henry track though is the stand-out, a truly great and classic contemporary country blues live recording, very inspiring. Standard tuning, key of E
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on October 26, 2012, 05:18:03 PM
Hi all

If I'm not mistaken, J.W.Warren's version of the tune has not been listed on this thread.

J.W. Warren - John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbsXBLOYJI0#)

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on October 29, 2012, 01:48:24 PM
Jessie Clarence Gorman - John Henry

Jessie Clarence Gorman - John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgMe5wpW5U0#)

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on October 29, 2012, 05:22:09 PM
Here's a version I've been enjoying recently, not the classic John Henry but the classic Take This Hammer tune. Sid Hemphill, Lucius Curtis, Alec Askew and Will Head.

Sidney Hemphill - John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksMMlUdTJxE#)
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on December 16, 2013, 04:09:14 PM
Hi all.

I just came across the Fruit Jar Guzzlers' version of the tune:

Fruit Jar Guzzlers Steel Driving Man (1928) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sn3YACBqzeU#)

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Laura on December 17, 2013, 04:41:23 AM
Nice version! Thanks for posting, Pan.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on January 10, 2014, 02:17:49 PM
Hi all,
Lonzie Thomas recorded a terrific version of "John Henry" for George Mitchell.  As with many of the versions we've looked at before, Lonzie's was played in Vestapol with a slide.  Considering what a small percentage of his recorded tunes were played using a slide, Lonzie shows himself to have been a remarkably skillful and nuanced slide player.  His droll sense of humor really comes out in his spoken comments.  As is often the case, he used the slide to finish words or lines throughout his rendition, and where he did that I've used a hyphen to indicate it.  We are so lucky that George Mitchell found and recorded Lonzie, for his music stands with the best in Country Blues from any period.

John Henry was a little baby
He was sittin' on his Papa's right knee
Well, he picked up a hammer and a little piece steel
Said, "This hammer's gon' be the death of ------."
Said, "This hammer gon' be the death of me."

John Henry told his Cap---,
"Captain, when you go to town,
Go, bring me back good old nine-pound hammer.
Captain, I'll beat this steam drill d----,
Captain, I'll beat this steam drill ----,
I will beat this steam drill ----,
Cap'n, I'll beat this steam drill down."

John Henry told his Cap----,
"Captain, a man ain't nothin' but a man.
'Fore I let another man beat me down in this steel,
Cap'n, I'll die with this hammer in my ----,
Cap'n, I'll die with this hammer in my hand,
I will die with this hammer in my ----,
I will die with this hammer in my hand."

John Henry were on the right side
And the steam drill was on the left
"Before I let this steam drill beat me down,
Sugar, I'll drive myself to d----,
Lord, I'll drive myself to -----,
I will drive myself to -----,
I will drive myself to death."

John Henry, he had a little wo---,
And her name was Polly Ann
John Henry got sick and he had to go home
And little Polly, she drove steel like a m---,
Yeah, little Polly, she drove steel like a man,
Well, little Polly drove steel like a m--,
Yeah, little -----, drove steel like a man

SPOKEN:  John Henry was on his deathbed, his wife asked him a question, had been there, she seed he was gon' die, she wanted to make him feel good.  He asked a question:

"Baby, who's gonna shoe your pretty little feet,
Darlin', who's gonna glove your hand?
Baby, who's gonna kiss your ruby cheeks,
Now, darlin', who's gonna be your ---,
Tell me, who's gonna be your own man?"

SPOKEN: She done laughed, just like the women do all howadays time, she told him smart, she told him, you know:

"Well, my Papa gonna shoe my pretty little feet,
Then brother gonna glove my hand.
Then my Mama gonna kiss my rosy cheek
Now, darlin', I won't need no m--,
Now, darlin', I won't need no ---,
Darlin', - won't need no ---,
Darlin', I won't need no man."

SPOKEN: He asked her one more question, he just asked her one more question:

"Baby, where'd you get them shoes you wear,
And that dress you wearin' so fine?"
Says, "I got my shoes f'om a railroad man,
And my dress from a driver in the m---,
Yeah, my dress from a driver in the mine."

All best,
Johnm

Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on January 17, 2014, 08:08:41 PM
Hi all,
Uncle bud posted an exceptionally nice version of "John Henry" by Leslie Riddle earlier in this thread at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg59523#msg59523 (http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg59523#msg59523) .  Leslie Riddle's time had a beautiful flow to it and something about the way he sounded his IV chord in Vestapol, where he played the song with a slide, is just beautiful.  Lesley Riddle's opening line to his final verse is one we've not encountered previously in this thread.

John Henry was a baby boy, sittin' on his Mama's knee
Said, "The Big Bend tunnel on the C & O Road,
Is gonna be the death of me,
Well, it's gonna be the death of me.
Well, it's gonna be the death of me,
Lord, it's gonna be the death of me.

John Henry went in the tunnel, he went in the tunnel to drive
The rocks was so tall, John Henry was so small
'Til he laid down his hammer and he cried,
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he cried.
Well, he laid down his hammer and he cried,
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he cried.

John Henry had a little woman, her name was Polly Ann
When Henry got sick and he could not work
Lord, Polly drove steel like a man,
Lord, Polly drove steel like a man.
Well, Polly drove steel like a man,
Well, Polly drove steel like a man.

Put one hole in the headin', you can put one hole in the side
Well the mountain was so tall, John Henry was so small
'Til he laid down his hammer and he died
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he died
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he died
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he died

All best,
Johnm 
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: harriet on January 18, 2014, 05:26:36 AM
Big Bill Broonzy's version 1951

'John Henry' BIG BILL BROONZY (1951) Country Blues Guitar Legend (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7wluszxDrY#)

John Henry said to his captain,
A man ain't nothing but a man
Before I'd let your steam drill beat me down
I wil die with that hammer in my hand
Yes I?ll die with that hammer in my hand
Cause I?ll die with that hammer in my hand
Now Lord die with that hammer in my hand

John Henry said to his shaker,
Now man, why don't you sing?
I?m shakin twelve pounds from my hips on down
Can?t you hear that cold steel  ?.
Oh don?t you hear that cold steel ring,
Why  don?t you hear that cold steel ring
Oh don?t you hear that cold steel ring

John Henry ?? that railroad track
With a twelve lound hammer by his side
Yes he went down the track but he never came back
Cause he lay down his hammer and he ??
Yes he lay down his hammer and he died
Cause he lay down his hammer and he ??
Yes  he lay down his hammer and he died

John Henry hammered in that mountain
That mountain was so high
The last words that I heard that poor boy say
Give me a cool drink of water before I ??.
Give me a cool drink of water before I die
Give me a cool drink of water before I ??.
Give me a cool drink of water before I die

John Henry had a little woman
And the dress that she wore was red
And the last words that  I heard that little girl say
I ?m going where John Henry fell dead
Yes I ?m going where John Henry fell dead
Cause I ?m going where John Henry fell ?.
Yes I ?m going where John Henry fell dead

John Henry was a little baby boy
She held him in the palm of his hand
And the last words that I know that poor boy said
I?m going to be a steel driving man
I?m going to be a little steel driving man
I?m going to be a steel driving man

Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on February 10, 2014, 05:53:07 PM
Hi all,
Jesse Fuller recorded an epic version of "John Henry", accompanying himself with a slide in Vestapol as so many other players had done.  One really cool touch in his rendition is that he waits until the next-to-last line of his second verse before bringing in his high-hat, and when he does, that percussion really gooses things.  His slide playing here is exciting, and he uses the slide to start or finish lines occasionally during the course of his rendition.  Where that happens, it is indicated with a dash.  I think his guitar playing is terribly under-rated--by the time he gets to his outro, he is really tearing along, just screaming.  Here is the performance, which incidentally ends at 4:44 with an additional five minutes or so of silence, for some reason.

Jesse Fuller - John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y__s9xKepGU#)

SOLO

John Henry, when he was a little baby
He sat on his Papa's knee
And the first piece of steel that he ever seed,
He said, "Gonna be the death of me,
Yes, this is gonna be the death of me.
Of me, of me,
This is gonna be the death of me."

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Sarah Ann
When John Henry was on his dyin' bed
Lord, she drive steel just like a man
She drive steel just like a man
Like a man, like a man
She drive steel just like a man

John Henry said he was born in Texas
Some said he was born in Maine
John Henry was born down in North Carolina
He's the leader of a steel-drivin' gang, Lord, Lord
He's the leader of a steel-drivin' gang
---------, of a gang
He's the leader of a steel-drivin' gang

John Henry said to his captain,
"When you go to town,
Bring me back a nine-pound hammer,
I'm goin' to beat that steam drill ----
I'm gonna beat that steam drill down.
Mmmm down, oh down
I'm gonna beat that steam drill down."

John Henry went up on the mountain
Hammered that great nine-pound
He drove steel three days and nights
Lord, the big rock come a-tumblin' ----
Oh, that big rock come a-tumblin' down
Tumblin' down, tumblin' down
Lord, the big rock come a-tumblin' down

John Henry said to his shaker,
"What seem to be the trouble with you?"
That Big Bend Tunnel on the CVQ,
Lord, it was gonna be the death of ---
Lord, it's gonna be the death of him
Of ---, of you
Lord, it's gonna be the death of him

"Where'd you get that pretty little red hat,
Shoes and stockings so fine?"
"Got this hat from a railroad man,
Got these stockings from a driver in the mine.
In the mine, in the mine
Got these stockings from a driver in the mine"

"Now, who gonna shoe your little feet?
Who gonna glove your hand?
Who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks?
Lord, who's gonna be your man?
Says now, who's gonna be your man?"

"Papa gonna shoe my little feet,
Papa's gonna glove my hand,
Papa gonna kiss my rosy cheeks,
Lord, and Papa's gonna be my man.
Oh, Papa's gonna be my man.
Oh, Papa's gonna be my man.
Oh, Papa's gonna be my ----"

SOLO

Now, when John Henry died
Buried him in the sand
Three of his womens come a-passin' by, singin'
"This sure been a steel-drivin' man,
Sure been a steel-drivin' man."

OUTRO

All best,
Johnm

Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on February 17, 2014, 04:51:04 PM
Hi all,
Carl Martin did a version of "John Henry" on his Testament album, for which he played mandolin in G, accompanied by Johnny Young on guitar, also working out of the G position.  This is one of the versions that is more bare bones in terms of telling the story, as opposed to some of the epic versions.  Carl Martin takes some terrific mandolin solos on it, though, and as most often seems to be the case, he has some different twists and turns of phrase in his lyrics.

John Henry was a little man
Settin' on his Papa's knee, and said,
"Drivin' steel on this B & O road,
Gonna cause the death of me,
It's gonna cause the death of me."

SOLO ON TAG

John Henry said to his captain,
"A man ain't nothin' but a man.
And before I'll be governed by this steel drill there,
I will die with my hammer in my hand,
I'm gonna die with this hammer in my hand."

FULL SOLO

John Henry told his steel shaker,
"Shaker you had better pray.
Because if I miss this eagle steel,
Lord, tomorrow be your buryin' day
Lord, tomorrow'll be your buryin' day
Yes, tomorrow be your bury, buryin' day, go buddy,
Tomorrow be your buryin' day

FULL SOLO

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on March 03, 2014, 03:47:20 PM
Hi all

Arthur Bell did a nice unaccompanied version of John Henry, for the LoC, in 1939, at Camp No. 5, Cummings State Farm, Gould, Arkansas.

https://archive.org/details/ArthurBell-JohnHenry

Cheers

Pan

Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on March 13, 2014, 11:26:58 AM
Hi all,
Dock Boggs recorded "John Henry" on June 4, 1964, with banjo in gDGBD tuning in G and Mike Seeger backing him on guitar.  Dock almost gets a Buegrassy sound on his rendition, especially behind the last two lines of each verse.  I've had a difficult time hearing some lines and would appreciate correction/corroboration, especially at the indicated places in verses two and three.

John Henry was a little baby
Singin' on his daddy's knee
'Bout, "The Big Bend Tunnel on the C & O road,
It's a-gonna be the death of me,
It's a-gonna be the death of me

John Henry put [a hole] in the rock
Looked down in the [sign]
Oh, the rock was so tall, John Henry was so small
He laid down his hammer and he cried,
He laid down his hammer and he cried

Well, the people all heard a mighty rumblin'
Thought the tunnel might be fallin in
John Henry said, "It's nothin' in the world
But my steel hammer [horsin'] in the wind
But my steel hammer [horsin'] in the wind

John Henry said to his shaker,
"Boy, you'd better pray.
If ever I miss this six-foot steel,
Tomorrow'll be your buryin' day
Tomorrow'll be your buryin' day."

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Julie Ann
He hugged her, he kissed her before he died, said,
"So Julie, do the best you can, then,
Oh Julie, do the best you can

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on March 26, 2014, 10:18:24 PM
Hi all,
Gabriel Brown recorded two versions of "John Henry" at a field recording session in Eatonville, Florida on June 20, 1935, one an instrumental version played in C position in standard tuning and one an "almost instrumental" version played in Vestapol with a slide, in which he sang one verse.  I hadn't listened to the Vestapol version in a while, and forgotten what a showpiece it is, with very dynamic playing, moving the melody around to different registers, et al.  Here is the one verse Gabriel Brown sang.

John Henry had a little woman
Dress she wore was red
She went on down to the railroad track, says,
"Goin' to where my man fell dead,
Goin' to where my man fell dead."

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on April 15, 2014, 05:46:33 PM
Hi all

Pinetop Slim was discussed in this thread a while ago.

http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=7589.msg60864#msg60864 (http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=7589.msg60864#msg60864)

Here's his version of John Henry:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym3nfytgyg4&list=FL2l894iFLagnet1pk0nWk7Q (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ym3nfytgyg4&list=FL2l894iFLagnet1pk0nWk7Q)

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Laura on May 07, 2014, 01:54:17 PM
I can't stop listening to John Lee Ziegler's "Who's Gonna Be Your Man". The way he sings it is great. I notice JohnM mentioned this version previously in the thread but thought I'd add my transcription since I'd already done one. No guarantee on the accuracy - can barely make out the first few lines!

John Lee Ziegler
Who's Gonna Be Your Man
????????????????

What am (?) worry land(?)
Brothers(?) in that worry(?)
What am rock and wind and worried lamb(?)

Tell me (?) shoes your feet, who gonna glove your hands?
Who gonna kiss your little rosy cheeks and who gonna be your ----
Tell me who gonna be your man?

Who gonna be your ---- Tell me who gonna be your man?

Tell me where did you get them pretty little shoes? Dress you wear so fine.

Got my shoes from a railroad man got my dress from a man never ----
Got my dress from a man, never mind.

Tell me (?) shoes your feet. Who gonna glove your hands?
Who gonna kiss your little rosy cheeks and who gonna be your ----
Tell me who gonna be your man?

Don't (?)

Well my father gonna shoe my feet, mother gonna glove my hands. 
Brother gonna kiss my rosy cheeks and I won't need no ----
Tell me I won't need no man.

I won't need no ---- tell me I won't need no man.

Henry had a little woman, name was Polly-Ann.
John got sick in that bed one day and Polly drove -- like a ----
Yes and Polly drove them steels like a man.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on May 07, 2014, 10:57:00 PM
Laura, you sure picked a winner.  That's a beautiful performance and I think that John Lee Ziegler had an unforgettable voice, though really tough to understand at times.  I'll see if I can get anything more of it.  I'll think I'll just copy what you did here and capitalize any things I'm hearing differently.  That first stanza is the hardest to hear for me, but I realized I'd heard an Old-Time Gospel Song called "Rockin' In A Weary Land", and I think that's what he's singing in the main there.  The very end of the third line of that opening stanza I can't hear well at all.  It would be cool to get some John Lee Ziegler transcribed.
All best,
Johnm

WELL, THEY'RE ROCKIN 'ROUND THAT WEARY land
ROCKIN' 'ROUND that WEARY---
WELL, THEY'RE ROCKIN' WHEN THAT WEARY [?]

Tell me WHO GON' shoes your feet,
Who gonna glove your hands?
Who'S GON' kiss your little rosy cheeks and who gonna be your ----
Tell me who gonna be your man?

Who gonna be your ---- Tell me who gonna be your man?

Tell me where did you get them pretty little shoes? Dress you wear so fine.

Got my shoes from a railroad man got my dress from a man never ----
Got my dress from a man, never mind.

Tell me WHO GA' shoes your feet? Who'S gonna glove your hands?
Who'S gonna kiss your little rosy cheeks and who'S gonna be your ----
Tell me who'S gonna be your man?

(SPOKEN: THEM CHILDREN OVER YONDER THERE'S DANCE)

Well my father gonna shoe my feet, MAMA'S gonna glove my hands. 
Brother gonna kiss my rosy cheeks and I won't need no ----
Tell me I won't need no man.

I won't need no ---- tell me I won't need no man.

Henry had a little woman, name was Polly-Ann.
John got sick in that bed one day and Polly drove -- like a ----
Yes and Polly drove them steels like a man.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Laura on May 08, 2014, 01:47:01 AM
Thanks SO much, John.  Those parts I couldn't hear at all sound perfect!  I'd only heard his two tracks from the George Mitchell collection, I'm going to try and hunt down some of the others.

I found a couple of nice pieces of writing about him and the first has some thoughtful reflection on his version of "John Henry".  I'm not sure if they've been posted before but here they are for those that may be interested.

http://brooklynrail.org/2007/05/music/time-loss-and-the-blues (http://brooklynrail.org/2007/05/music/time-loss-and-the-blues)

and

http://sundayblues.org/archives/159 (http://sundayblues.org/archives/159)
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Laura on May 08, 2014, 01:55:40 AM
but I realized I'd heard an Old-Time Gospel Song called "Rockin' In A Weary Land", and I think that's what he's singing in the main there.  The very end of the third line of that opening stanza I can't hear well at all. 
WELL, THEY'RE ROCKIN 'ROUND THAT WEARY land
ROCKIN' 'ROUND that WEARY---
WELL, THEY'RE ROCKIN' WHEN THAT WEARY [?]


Hi John.  Listening back, I am pretty sure that he is repeating the first line (but as you have transcribed "'round" becomes "when") the [?] sounds clearly like "land".
Thanks again!
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: wreid75 on May 08, 2014, 12:19:57 PM
When I was at UNCG one of my classes had a lecture downtown in the old Woolworths where the Greensboro sit in was done.  It was before it was renovated.  One of the lectures was a comparison and contrast on late 19th and early 20th century lore of Stagger Lee and John Henry.  I was the lone quiet Caucasian in the group and after about 90 minuets I was asked about being so quiet and let them know exactly what I had on my mind.  I think I bored them to tears about songs made for both singers by various people, how they differed from one another.  Subconsciously I must have thought, "this is my chance to convert some listeners."  After some time of rambling on the lecture continued and I wasn't asked another question again.   
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on May 08, 2014, 01:27:20 PM
Hi wreid,
I think that most people don't particularly enjoy being introduced to aspects of their cultural heritage by someone whom they consider to be not of that heritage, even or especially if that person appears to know more about that heritage than they do.  It's like a quote I read from the Jazz tenor guitarist Eddie Condon, who objected to the writings on Jazz of the French critic, Hughes Panassie:  "I don't go over there and tell them how to stomp on a grape."
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Slack on May 08, 2014, 03:07:45 PM
Quote
Eddie Condon, who objected to the writings on Jazz of the French critic, Hughes Panassie:  "I don't go over there and tell them how to stomp on a grape."

That's really funny.  Could be one for the quote generator.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: wreid75 on May 08, 2014, 09:17:19 PM
"I don't go over there and tell them how to stomp on a grape."

maybe someone should, France doesn't make the best wines in the world anymore although they are still very good. 
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on May 19, 2014, 02:31:04 PM
Hi all

Here's an instrumnetal version by Etta Baker & Cora Phillips

JOHN HENRY BY ETTA BAKER & CORA PHILLIPS (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WauhqNyYFtY#ws)

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Gilgamesh on May 20, 2014, 07:52:55 PM
Hi wreid,
I think that most people don't particularly enjoy being introduced to aspects of their cultural heritage by someone whom they consider to be not of that heritage, even or especially if that person appears to know more about that heritage than they do.  It's like a quote I read from the Jazz tenor guitarist Eddie Condon, who objected to the writings on Jazz of the French critic, Hughes Panassie:  "I don't go over there and tell them how to stomp on a grape."
All best,
Johnm

 :D
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on June 03, 2014, 03:11:29 PM
Well, it would be wonderful to sound like this!

John Henry - Deford Bailey (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3lRfRbRzNE#)

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on June 04, 2014, 09:35:28 AM
Hi all,
Here's another really nice instrumental version from Tommy Jarrell.

Tommy Jarrell: John Henry (1983) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiKFaGjzV_c#)

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on June 12, 2014, 04:22:45 PM
Hi all,
There are a lot of terrific field recordings being posted up at YouTube currently by someone named Nico Fournier.  Among them I found this very strong version of "John Henry", sung a capella by Arthur Bell, of whom I know nothing.  His singing is so focused, and his time and phrasing is unerring.  It's neat to hear a new melody to this song, too, as well as a lot of different verses than I've heard before.  Here it is:

Arthur Bell - John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI2H3pZ9URk#ws)

Well, every Monday morning,
When the bluebirds begin to sing
You can hear those hammers a mile or more,
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring, oh Lordy,
Hear John Henry's hammer ring

John Henry told his old lady,
"Will you fix my supper soon?
Got ninety miles of track I've got to line,
Got to line it by the light of the moon, oh Lordy,
Line it by the light of the moon."

John Henry had a little baby,
He could hold him out in his hand
Well, the last word I heard that poor child say,
My Daddy's a steel-drivin' man, oh Lordy,
Daddy's a steel-drivin' man."

John Henry told his old captain,
Said, "A man ain't nothin' but a man.
Before I let your steel gang down,
I will die with the hammer in my hand, oh Lordy,
Die with the hammer in my hand."

John Henry told his captain,
"Next time you go to town,
A-just bring me back a ten-pound mawl,
For to beat your steel-drivin' down, oh Lordy,
Beat your steel-drivin' down."

John Henry had a old lady,
And her name was Polly Ann
John Henry took sick and he had to go to bed
Polly drove steel like a man, oh Lordy,
She drove steel like a man

John Henry had a old lady,
And the dress she wore was red
Well, she started up the track and she never looked back,
"Goin' where my man fell dead, oh Lordy,
Where my man fell dead."

Well, they taken John Henry to Washington
And they buried him in the sand
There was people from the East, there's people from the West,
Come to see such a steel-drivin' man, oh Lordy,
See such a steel-drivin' man

Well, some said-a he's from England,
And some say he's from Spain
But I say he nothin' but a Lous'ana man,
Just the leader of the steel-drivin' gang, oh Lordy,
Leader of the steel-drivin' gang

All best,
Johnm





Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on June 15, 2014, 04:40:52 PM
Hi all,
This version of "John Henry", recorded for the Library of Congress in 1936-1937 in Florida, doesn't lend itself to the transcription of lyrics, but as an ensemble sound, it is kind of amazing.  I don't know which of Booker T. Sapps and Roger Matthews played the slide guitar and which played the harmonica, but the over-all effect is kind of hair-raising.  The way the harmonica plays time on the extensions at the end of each verse is a sound new to me.  Wow!

Booker T. Sapps & Roger Matthews- John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TT-nZfA__40#ws)

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: frankie on July 19, 2014, 10:12:40 AM
From John Lee Hooker, and it's exactly as individual and loose as you would expect. Like Big Joe Williams, it's unfortunately easy to overlook precisely how great he was:

http://youtu.be/dntVNUSeKMM (http://youtu.be/dntVNUSeKMM)

The lyrics as I have them:

John Henry
John Henry
John Henry
John Henry
Lay the hammer down
Lay the hammer down

People kept a-coming
Miles around
To hear John Henry's hammer
Hear his hammer ring
Hear his hammer ring

John Henry
John Henry

Work, mmmmm
Work from sun to sun
Work from sun to sun
Hammer ringing
Ring from sun to sun
Ring from sun to sun

Yes I ring this old hammer
Ring it 'til my dying day
Ring it 'til my dying day
mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm
mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm

Said people
From miles around
Come all around
To hear John Henry's
Hear that hammer ring
Hear that hammer ring

Hammer
Hammer
Hammer
Lay that hammer down
Lay that hammer down
Lay that hammer down

Yes, I'm gonna ring
Yes, I'm gonna ring
Ring this old hammer
Ring this old hammer
Ring it 'til my dying day

Hammer
Hammer
Hammer
Lay that hammer down

John Henry
John Henry
John Henry
Lay the hammer down
Lay the hammer down

Ha
Ha
Ha
Lay the hammer down
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on July 20, 2014, 10:34:16 AM
Hi all,
Thanks for posting the John Lee Hooker version of "John Henry", Frank.  I had never heard it before, and it is arresting.  What a presence John Lee Hooker had!

Here is a really nice version of "John Henry" by Reese Crenshaw, recently put up on youtube by Nico Fournier, who has been posting a lot of great field recordings there.  Like so many versions, it was played out of Vestapol with a slide.  Reese Crenshaw seems to have been particularly adroit at doing hammers with his slide, and that, taken in combination with his phrasing ahead of the beat, gives his version a tremendous rhythmic lift.  Here it is, and I will try to come back later and transcribe his lyrics.

Reese Crenshaw - John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezf6f0EPbgE#ws)

John Henry said to his captain,
That "A man ain't nothin' but a man.
'Fore I let the old steam drill beat me down,
I'm gonna die with a hammer in my hand,
Lord, I'll die with a hammer in my hand."

John Henry had a little boy
And he held him in the palm his hand
John Henry told the boy to his Mammy's face,
"Lord, you might just be a steel-drivin' man
Might just be a steel-drivin' man

John Henry told his captain,
"Don't see how in the world it can be--
Says, "In five long years on your chain gang
You don't dog nobody but me,
You don't dog nobody but me
You don't dog nobody but me
You don't dog nobody but me."

John Henry had a woman
Her name was Polly Ann
John got sick and he had to go home
Polly Ann drove steel like a man
Polly Ann drove steel like a man
Polly Ann drove steel like a man

John Henry had a woman
And the dress she wore was red
Says, she went down the track and she never looked back
Says, "I'm goin' where my man fell dead,
I'm goin' where my man fell dead,
Says, I'm goin' where my man fell dead."

Edited, 9/18 to pick up correction from Jim Hauser


All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on July 23, 2014, 11:40:36 AM
Hi all,
Here is a real nice version from fiddler Sid Harkreader and Grady Moore.  It pretty much uses the same melody as Uncle Dave Macon's "The Death of John Henry", but has a couple of nice, different twists.

Sid Harkreader & Grady Moore-John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E49hZ7aRBOs#)

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on July 23, 2014, 11:42:10 AM
Hi all,
Here is a version by Henry Grady Terrell, recorded by Art Rosenbaum.

Henry Grady Terrell- Old John Henry Died on the Mounta (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MqbZgsZE78#ws)

John Henry died on the mountain
John Henry died on the mountain
He was a-whupping steel, a-whupping steel
Oh partner, he was a-whupping steel

I ain't gon' tell nobody my right name
I ain't gon' tell nobody my right name
My name is Sam, my name is Sam
And I don't give a --
Oh partner, and I don't give a --

Anybody aks you, was I runnin'
Anybody aks you, was I runnin'
Now, tell 'em no, no, I was flyin'
Oh partner, you know I was flyin'

I run 'cross Blue Ridge Mountain
I run 'cross that Blue Ridge Mountain
When the sun went down, when the sun went down
Oh captain, a-when the sun went down

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on August 15, 2014, 04:51:49 PM
Hi all

I don't think this was mentioned? Jimmie Owens did John Henry in the State Penitentiary, Richmond, Virginia, on Sunday, 31 May 1936.

Jimmy Owens- John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Fen5Qx9LTI#ws)

John Henry was a little teeny boy
Settin' on his Daddy's knee
He pointed his finger at a little piece of steel
"Lordy,that's gon' be the death of poor me,
Lordy, that's gon' be the death of poor me."

John Henry went up on the mountain
The mountain come crashing around
He cast his eye 'tween the Lord and the sky
Sayin', "It's nothin' but my hammer fallin' down,
Lord, it's nothin' but my hammer fallin' down."

John Henry worked on the railroad
That's where he earned his bread
Lord, Rosie got a message 'way down home
That old John Henry was dead
That old John Henry was dead

SOLO

Lord, when John Henry went up on the mountain
He went up to drive some ties
They got a message 'way down home
That John Henry wasn't no man of a mine
That John Henry wasn't no man of a mine

"Tell me, where did you get those new shoes from,
Dress you wear, so fine?"
"Shoes came from a railroad man,
And the dress from a man in the mine,
Lord, the dress from a man in the mine."

SOLO

John Henry got drunk and begin to search his trunk
Sayin' "All I want's my own."
Said, "All I want is my .44 gun,
And I'll blow her on down to my size,
Lord, I'll blow him down to my size."

SOLO

Edited 9/17 to pick up corrections from Gumbo


Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: joebanjo on August 16, 2014, 08:54:57 PM

FYI for folks not in the class, these songs were peformed a capella and were recorded by Dr. Cortez Reese in southern West Virginia from 1949 to 1953 and released on a CD called Work and Pray.


Waxwing, is this the "Work and Pray" to which you refer?

http://www.arhoolie.com/gospel/paramount-singers-work-and-pray-on.html?sl=EN (http://www.arhoolie.com/gospel/paramount-singers-work-and-pray-on.html?sl=EN)

If not, where can i find it?

Many thanks,

joe
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: frankie on August 16, 2014, 09:55:39 PM
joe - try this:

http://wvupressonline.com/cd/work_and_pray#1 (http://wvupressonline.com/cd/work_and_pray#1)
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 17, 2014, 10:54:58 AM
Hi all,
Pan posted a really nice version of "John Henry" by Jimmy Owens three posts back in this thread, at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg88713#msg88713 (http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg88713#msg88713) , and I've done a start on transcribing the lyrics there, but I'm stumped by a couple of passages.  I'd very much appreciate help with any of the bent bracketed passages.  Thanks.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Gumbo on September 17, 2014, 11:51:58 AM
I have a couple of suggestions, John.

1.4 sounds like 'Lordy'  again. I don't hear 'says'

2.4 and 2.5 sounds like 'It's' rather than 'that's'

3.3 Lord, Rosie got a message way down home (similar to the 4th verse.)

4.1 spellings
4.4 and 4.5 wasn't no MAN OF A MINE (though I'm not sure what this means.)

5.1 began to SEARCH his trunk
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 17, 2014, 12:55:32 PM
Thanks so much for your suggestions, Gumbo, I believe they are all spot on.  I will make the changes.  Maybe not being a "man of a mine" means he was not a coal miner, but a railroad man?  Why they would get a message at home to that effect I can't guess.
I really like this version and especially like the line,
   He cast his eye 'tween the Lord and the sky

Thanks for the help.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Gumbo on September 17, 2014, 03:31:55 PM
I wonder if it means that he is no longer a man of the mine? It would connect with the previous verse and make the following verse more poignant. Either way it is a lovely track with a great pulse. Another reason to love Weeniecampbell  8)
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 18, 2014, 10:24:07 AM
Hi all,
There is another really nice version of "John Henry" on the previous page of this thread by Reese Crenshaw, at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg88347#msg88347 (http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg88347#msg88347) .  I've taken a run at transcribing his lyrics and would very much appreciate help with the bent bracketed passages which I've been unable to decipher thus far.  Thanks for help with finishing the transcription.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: jphauser on September 18, 2014, 11:33:43 AM
Hi all,
There is another really nice version of "John Henry" on the previous page of this thread by Reese Crenshaw, at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg88347#msg88347 (http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg88347#msg88347) .  I've taken a run at transcribing his lyrics and would very much appreciate help with the bent bracketed passages which I've been unable to decipher thus far.  Thanks for help with finishing the transcription.
All best,
Johnm

In the third verse I hear "Been seven years on your chain gang." 

Woody Guthrie also recorded a version with Cisco Houston in which John Henry is on a chain gang.

Jim Hauser
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 18, 2014, 12:11:20 PM
Thanks very much for the help, Jim.  In re-listening to the line several times, I think he sings,
   Says, in five long years on your chain gang
   You don't dog nobody but me, etc.
I will make the change.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: uncle bud on September 18, 2014, 03:59:07 PM
That Reese Crenshaw version is smokin'. I think I hear five years, though a tough one.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: jphauser on September 18, 2014, 08:20:29 PM
Thanks very much for the help, Jim.  In re-listening to the line several times, I think he sings,
   Says, in five long years on your chain gang
   You don't dog nobody but me, etc.
I will make the change.
All best,
Johnm

To me, it's very unclear, but I'll go along with 5. 

By the way, Pink Anderson has a similar verse in his version except there's no mention of a chain gang and the number of years is 12.  https://archive.org/details/PinkAnderson-JohnHenry

Jim
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 21, 2014, 10:51:19 AM
Hi all,
Here is a ripping version from the Lilly Brothers, Everett on lead vocal and mandolin, and Bea on guitar, with Don Stover playing the banjo--whew!

JohnHenry.wmv (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qV4pENqfqTA#)

John Henry, he was a little baby boy
No bigger than the palm of your hand
His Mammy looked down at John Henry and said,
"Johnny gonna be a steel-drivin' man, Lord, Lord.
Johnny gonna be a steel-drivin' man."

BANJO SOLO

John Henry, he said to his captain,
"Captain, you goin' into town,
Bring me back a nine-pound hammer
For I want to see that railroad down, Lord, Lord,
I want to see that railroad down."

MANDOLIN SOLO

John Henry said to his shaker,
"Shaker, you better pray.
For if I miss that little piece of steel,
Tomorrow'll be your dyin' day, Lord, Lord,
tomorrow be your dyin' day."

BANJO SOLO

John Henry went up on the mountain
He looked down on the other side
The mountain was so tall, John Henry was so small
He laid down his hammer and he cried, Lord, Lord,
He laid down his hammer and he cried

MANDOLIN SOLO

John Henry, he had a purty little woman
Her name was Polly Ann
John Henry took sick and had to go to bed
Polly drove the steel like a man, Lord, Lord,
Polly drove the steel just like a man

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: btasoundsradio on September 21, 2014, 08:26:18 PM
i dont know if this was shared before or not...
http://youtu.be/54GNI2K3-ec (http://youtu.be/54GNI2K3-ec)

John Henry was a steel-drivin' ---
John Henry was a steel-drivin' man
John Henry died, a hammer in his ---
John Henry died, a hammer in his ---
John Henry was a steel-drivin' man

John Henry, he said, just before he died
What are the two more roads that he want to ride
Lord, John Henry ---
Lord, John Henry said before he died
Lordy, two more roads he want to ride
Lord, he want ---
Oh Lord, he want ---

Lord, I got up one mornin', well, it looked like rain
Look around the curve, come a passenger train
Lord, John ---
Lord, John Henry said 'fore he died
Lordy, two more roads he want to ride

John Henry had a wife, dress she wore was red
Last word I heared her say, "I'm goin' where Johnny fell dead.
Lord, I'm ---
Lord, I'm gwine ---
Lord, I'm ---
Lord, I'm goin', John Henry fell ---
Lord, I'm goin' John Henry ---
Lord, I'm goin' where John Henry ---."
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: btasoundsradio on September 21, 2014, 08:29:09 PM
also...
http://youtu.be/ksMMlUdTJxE (http://youtu.be/ksMMlUdTJxE)

This is the hammer killed John Henry
Laid him low, laid him low
This is the hammer killed John Henry
Laid him ---

Take this hammer to the Captain
Tell him he's gone, tell him he's gone
Take your hammer to the Captain
---

When you hear that bulldog a-barkin'
Somebody 'round, somebody 'round
When you hear that bulldog a-barkin'
Somebody's 'round, somebody's 'round

When you hear that peafowl a holl'in'
Gwonna rain, gwonna rain
When you hear that peafowl holl'in'
---

Hammer, hammer, killed John Henry
Don't you see, don't you see?
Hammer, hammer, killed John Henry
---

I don't like no red-black woman
Like myself, like myself
I don't like no red-black woman
---

This is the hammer killed John Henry
Don't kill me, don't kill me
This is the hammer killed John Henry
---

SOLO

Take this hammer, carry it to Captain
Tell him he's dead, tell him he's dead
Take that hammer, carry it to Captain
He's ---

This is the hammer killed my brother
He is gone, he is gone
This is the hammer killed my brother
---

Hammer, hammer killed John Henry
He's gon' need, he's done need
Hammer, hammer killed John Henry
---
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on October 07, 2014, 09:16:57 AM
Hi all,
Here is a version of "John Henry" from, I believe, John Cephas and Phil Wiggins' last CD before John passed.  It's one of the few versions that has an altogether different sound in the guitar part, the way John walked the melody down in harmony with a lower line.  He really gave the song a grand sound.

Cephas and Wiggins - John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntfPUNE-5dQ#)

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on October 07, 2014, 03:32:59 PM
Such a nice version, Johnm. Thanks for posting it!

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: oddenda on October 11, 2014, 06:32:43 AM
Cephas was the only one who played the song without a slide and in standard tuning! All others I recorded learned that as one of their first songs - open tuning was easier for learners... slide, even more so.

Peter B.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Pan on October 25, 2014, 04:36:01 PM
Hi all

The search function revealed, that a few pages back, I posted an instrumental duet version by Etta Baker and Cora Phillips:

http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg87457#msg87457 (http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=4256.msg87457#msg87457)

Anyway, here's a solo instrumental version by Etta Baker, that I just came across:

Etta Baker - John Henry (Country Blues/ Slide Guitar) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7wzXm6EOsc#)

Cheers

Pan
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: wreid75 on October 30, 2014, 07:43:10 AM
Saw a play recently in a few different locations in NC with John Henry as the protagonist and Stagger Lee as the antagonist.  Now the stories don't ever intertwine but is more of a compare an contrast.  It was interesting how different demographics identified with each person differently.  In more economically depressed areas Stagger (who was portrayed sinister as F$&*) was cheered and supported.  In the areas with either affluence or strong blue collar audience John Henry was championed.  Also when the performance was done for friends and family (heavy amount of comic nerds like myself) Henry had a replica of Thors hammer could no one else could pick it up.  Since a fair amount of improv was done the Thor angle was awesome.  Stagger was portrayed as creepy as Hannibal Lectar and as bad ass as Joe Pesci in Casino/Good Fellows.  Just awesome.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: jphauser on October 30, 2014, 12:37:41 PM
Saw a play recently in a few different locations in NC with John Henry as the protagonist and Stagger Lee as the antagonist.  Now the stories don't ever intertwine but is more of a compare an contrast.  It was interesting how different demographics identified with each person differently.  In more economically depressed areas Stagger (who was portrayed sinister as F$&*) was cheered and supported.  In the areas with either affluence or strong blue collar audience John Henry was championed.  Also when the performance was done for friends and family (heavy amount of comic nerds like myself) Henry had a replica of Thors hammer could no one else could pick it up.  Since a fair amount of improv was done the Thor angle was awesome.  Stagger was portrayed as creepy as Hannibal Lectar and as bad ass as Joe Pesci in Casino/Good Fellows.  Just awesome.


Here's a quote from Zora Neale Hurston that may be of interest to some.

"John Henry is a culture hero in song, but no more so than Stacker Lee, Smokey Joe, or Bad Lazarus."

(I once tried to figure out who Smokey Joe was.  I found that there was a great negro league baseball pitcher named Smokey Joe Williams.  I couldn't find a song about him though. The only song I could find was Leiber and Stoller's "Smokey Joe's Cafe.")

Jim Hauser
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on April 02, 2015, 10:24:06 AM
Hi all,
I was glad to find this version of "John Henry" by Big Boy, who recorded "Blues", which was discussed over in the "What is this Musician Doing?" thread, recently.  Big Boy was a member of the prison population who, like Blind Joe, was drastically under-recorded, relative to his musical skills.  He's joined by someone else here, singing lead, and Big Boy actually has a coughing fit almost a minute long in the middle of the rendition, but his playing never falters.  What time, and what a touch!  This is one of those recordings which opens and closes with a fade, which always makes you wonder how long they actually went with the song.  Here is the performance:

John Henry (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcqIYIFMuFE#ws)


. . . standin' on the side
Said, "The Big Bend tunnel on that C & O Road,
It's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord,
Lord, It's gonna be the death of me,
Lord, it's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord,
Lord, it's gonna be the death of me."

Johnny Henry was a little fella
You could hold him in the palm of your hand
Now, he said to his Ma, "When I grow up,
Gonna be a steel-drivin' man, yes, yes, Lord
Gonna be a steel-driving man."

Johnny Henry walked in the tunnel
With his captain by his side
The mountain so tall, John Henry so small
He laid down his hammer and he cried
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he cried
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he cried
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he cried

Now, they heard a mighty rumblin'
Says, "The mountain must be cavin' in."
John Henry said to the captain, "Boys,
It's my hammer swingin' in the wind,
It's my hammer swingin' in the wind,
It's my hammer, swingin' in the wind,
It's my hammer, swingin' in the wind."

John Henry said to his shaker,
"Shaker, you'd better pray.
'Cause if ever I miss this piece of steel,
Tomorrow'll be your buryin' day, yes, Lord,
Tomorrow'll be your buryin' day.
Lord, tomorrow be your buryin' day, Lord, Lord,
Lord, tomorrow'll be your buryin' day."

Johnny Henry said to his captain, "Captain,
'Fore I ever leave town,
Give me a five-pound hammer and a whalebone hat
I'll hurry that old steam drill on down, yes, yes
Got to hurry this old steam drill on down.
Lord, I hurry that old steam drill on down, Lord, Lord
Lord, I'll hurry that steam drill on down."

Johnny Henry said to his captain,
"'Fore I ever leave town,
Give me one more drink of that old tom cat here,
And I'll hurry that old steam drill on down.
Lord, I'll hurry that old steam drill on down."

Now, John Henry said to his captain,
"Man ain't nothin' but a man.
'Fore I let your steam drill beat me down
I will die with my hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
Yes, I'll die with my hammer in my hand.
Lord, I'll die with the hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
Yes, I'll die with the hammer in my hand."

Now, the captain of the steam drill
Lord, he was mighty fine
John Henry drove down twelve foot of steel
While the old steam drill only drove nine, Lord, Lord,
While the steam drill only drove nine, Lord, Lord,
While the steam drill only drove nine, Lord, Lord,
While the steam drill only drove nine

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 04, 2015, 08:17:53 AM
Hi all,
Here is a field recording of Ed Lewis singing "John Henry", recorded by Alan Lomax.  You can hear Ed Lewis chopping as he sings.

http://youtu.be/U_1SGxfy2u8 (http://youtu.be/U_1SGxfy2u8)

Woh, John Henry went up on the mountain
You know that mountain, it was so high
Woh, John Henry laid his hammer down, he cried,
"Captain, a ten-pound maul is too small, oh Lord,
A ten-pound maul too small."

Woh, John Henry, he says to the captain,
"Captain, pay me my whole back-day.
I will make more money on that IC line,
I will on this M & O,
Woh, than I will on the M & O."

Well, John Henry's captain told him,
"I have a power steel driver down home.
Well, John Henry, and if you beat that power driver down,
I'm going to buy you a railroad of your own
I'm going to buy you a railroad of your own."

Well, John Henry told his captain,
He says, "A man ain't nothin' but a man.
'Fore I would stand to see your power driver beat me down,
Would die with my hammer in my hand,
 Woh, I would die with my hammer in my hand."

Oh well, the people all heard a mighty rumblin'
Well, like a train comin' down the track
Woh, John Henry throwed his hammer on the ground and lay,
"It's the echo from my hammer comin' back,
Woh, that's the echo from my hammer comin' back."

Well, John Henry had a buddy
Said, "Buddy, why ain't you takin' your time?"
John Henry drilled down eighteen spikes
While his buddy was only drivin' down nine,
Oh, while his buddy was only drivin' down nine

John Henry, he told his shaker,
He said, "My shaker, you better pray.
If I misses this steel on the deal goin' down,
Tomorrow be your buryin' day.
You know, tomorrow'll be your buryin' day."

Well, John Henry told his captain,
Said, "Just bring your steam driver down here.
And before I let your steam driver beat me down,
Gon' die with my hammer in the wind,
I'm going to die with my hammer in the wind."

John Henry, he had a little woman
And her name was Polly Ann
John Henry taken sick and he had to go to bed,
Polly Ann drilled steel like a man,
Woh, Polly Ann drilled steel like a man

All best,
Johnm


Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: oddenda on September 04, 2015, 10:38:14 PM
For what it's worth, I don't care for the song as EVERYbody (except Henry Johnson) cited that as the first piece they learned to play. Peg Leg Sam's favorite performance venue was busking, and when doing so for Blacks, "John Henry" was his most requested song! Shows ya' what I know!

pbl
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on May 21, 2016, 06:26:35 AM
Hi all,
I just found this instrumental version of "John Henry" on youtube.  It's by William Francis and Richard Sowell.  I don't know where the musicians were from, or even which one played guitar and which played harmonica, but here you go:

https://youtu.be/_wWHjzsJB0U

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Bunker Hill on May 21, 2016, 06:58:06 AM
Hi all,
I just found this instrumental version of "John Henry" on youtube.  It's by William Francis and Richard Sowell.  I don't know where the musicians were from, or even which one played guitar and which played harmonica, but here you go:
All best,
Johnm
I thought this had been raised before at Weenie but can't locate it. For what it's worth the Eagle & Leblanc magnum opus give the following:

Richard Sowell (h) (apparently Buffalo Township, Kershaw County, November 13, 1905?Jefferson, Chesterfield County, January 1980). He recorded the instrumental "Roubin Blues" for Vocalion (1927), with guitarist William Francis.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on May 21, 2016, 09:27:56 AM
Thanks very much for that information, Bunker Hill.  So it appears that Richard Sowell, at least, (and probably William Francis, too) was a native of South Carolina.  It's nice to have enough information so that people aren't complete biographical ciphers.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 20, 2016, 06:20:41 PM
Hi all,
Here is  version of "John Henry" sung by Rich Amerson, backed by his older sister, Earthy Ann Coleman.  They were recorded by Harold Courlander, in Alabama in 1950.  It is probably the most involved version I've ever heard, lyrically, clocking in at over eight minutes long (!) and one of the most striking aspects of the rendition is the way that Earthy Ann Coleman shadows her brother's singing throughout the song.  Here is their performance, and if you listen to the youtube version, some very valuable notes from the original recording, "Negro Folk Music of Alabama, Vol. 1" on Folkways, are provided:

https://youtu.be/k6aKU-NZK7A

John Henry said to the captain,
That a man is not but a man,
Said, "Before I let this steam drill beat me down,
I'll hammer my fool self to death,
I'll hammer my fool self to death."

John Henry had a little woman
Well, the dress she wore, it's a-red, like blood
And the shoes she wore, it's a-red
Well, the hat she had on it's a-red
That woman's eyes had turned red with blood
Well, she come a-screamin' and a-cryin' that day
Come a-walkin' down, a-that railroad track
The captain's replied to the woman,
Says, "Tell me, woman, what's troublin' your mind."
Says, "I'm goin' where my man fell dead."
Says, "I'm goin' where my man fell dead."
Says, "I'm goin' where my man fell dead."
Says, "I'm goin' where my man fell dead.
He done hammered his fool self to death.
He done hammered his fool self to death."

John Henry had another woman
Well, her name was Polly Ann
Well, Polly Ann, she heard about this man's dead
Well, what you reckon she said?
Said, "Before I'll stand to see my man go down",
Said, "Give me a ten-pound hammer,
Gonna hook it on to the right of my arm,
Gonna bring me a nine-pound hammer,
I'm gonna hitch it on to the left of my arm,
Before I stand to see my man go down,
I'll go down 'tween of them mountains.
And before I'll stand to see, man go down,
I'll hammer, just like a man,
I'm gon' hammer, just like a man.
I'm gon' hammer, just like a man,
I'm gon' hammer, just like a man."
I'm gon' whup a-this mountain down,
I'm gon' whup a-this mountain down."
He say, "I'll hammer my fool self to death,
I'll hammer my fool self to death."

John Henry had a little baby boy
You could tote it in the palm of your hand
Well, a-every time a-that baby cried,
He looked at his mother face
Well his mother looked down all in her baby's face
"Tell, tell me, son, what you worryin' about."
The last lovin' words you will hear the boy say,
"Mam', I want to make a railroad man,
Mam', I want to make a railroad man.
I want to die like Papa died,
I want to die like Papa died."
"Son, Papa was a steel-drivin' man,
Son, Papa was a steel-drivin' man,
But he hammered his fool self to death,
Yes, he hammered his fool self to death."

John Henry had another little baby boy
He were layin' in the cradle, kickin' and cryin'
Every time Mama rocked, the baby bumped a-lump-a-lump
"I want to make a railroad man,
Say, I want to make a railroad man.
Wanta die like Papa died,
I wanta die like Papa died."
"Son, your Daddy was a steel-drivin' man,
Your Daddy was a steel-drivin' man,
But he hammered his fool self to death,
But he hammered his fool self to death."

When the Henry was seein' them mountains
The captain saw him gwine down
He 'plied to Henry one day,
Tried to pacify to his mind
Said, "Henry, you know you's a natch'l man."
Well, what you reckon that he said?
Said, "The steam drill driver gonna hammer my steel,
Well, the steam drill driver, one by air,
Well, how in the world, you 'xpect to beat steam down?
And how in the world you 'xpect to beat air down?
Henry's reply to his captain that day,
"Steam is steam, I know air is air,
'Fore I let the steam drill beat me down,
I say, I'll die with these hammers in my hand,
I'm gon' die with these hammers in my hand.
I'm gon' hammer my fool self to death,
I'm gon' hammer my fool self to death."

When the Henry was seein' them mountains
His wife could hear the hammers cryin',
When she went down 'tween them mountains,
For to get a little iron down
He surprised his wife that day,
Said, "My kneebones are gettin' to grow cold."
Said, "My grip of my hands, givin' out.
My eyes begin to leak water.
Before I lay a-these hammers down,
I'll die with these hammers in my hand,
I'm gon' die with these hammers in my hand."

Take John Henry to the cemetery,
Laid him in his lonesome grave
Wife, she walks up at the foot of his grave,
Cast her eyes in her husband's face
Commenced screamin' and a-cryin' that day
Preacher looked 'round her, at the woman's face
"Tell me, woman, what you screamin' about?"
Last lovin' words that she 'plied to him,
"Tain't but the one thing, troubles my mind,
That certainly was a true man to me,
That certainly was a true man to me.
But he hammered his fool self to death,
He hammered his fool self to death."

John Henry's wife sittin' down one day
Just about hour of sun
Commenced to screamin' and a-cryin',
Papa said, "Daughter, what' troublin' your mind?"
"I got three little children here,
Who gonna help-a me carry 'em along?
Who gonna shoe my children's feet?
Who gonna glove a-my children's hand?
Who gon' shoe my lovin' feet?
Who gon' glove a-my lovin' hand?"
Papa looked 'round her, at his daughter's face,
Tried to pacify his daughter's mind
"Daughter, I'll shoe your lovin' feet.
Daughter, I'll shoe your children's feet.
Daughter, I'll glove a-your lovin' hand.
Daughter, I'll glove a-your children's feet."
Brother, he looked her, in his sister's face,
Tryed to pacify a-his sister's mind
"Sister, I kiss your rosy little cheeks."
"But you can't be my lovin' man,
Brother, can't be my lovin' man.
Papa can't be my lovin' man,
Papa can't be my lovin' man.
'Cause you can't follow the whole deal down,
Brother, can't follow the whole deal down.
Papa can't follow the whole deal down,
Papa can't follow the whole deal down."

SPOKEN:  That's old John Henry from the mountains, directly.

All best,
Johnm














 










 
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: TenBrook on September 21, 2016, 08:24:37 AM
Yesterday in my searchings I stumbled upon a site for the 'Kentucky Alan Lomax Recordings' [http://lomaxky.omeka.net (http://lomaxky.omeka.net)] which to my surprise contains 34 recordings of George 'Shortbuckle' Roark made in 1938 (it seems the recordings may not have directly involved Alan Lomax but rather were made by Mary Elizabeth Barnicle who worked with Lomax at various times). Also to my surprise George does his version of 'John Henry' which can be heard here: https://archive.org/details/afc1938009_1997A (https://archive.org/details/afc1938009_1997A) He also does renditions of many other classic old time songs. Through some small effort I was able to dl all of his recordings, if anyone is interested pm me and I'll send you a link to grab them as well.

Also, not sure if this has been touched on in this thread or not, but I've recently noted two instances of old time performers claiming that John Henry and John Hardy are in fact the same person, a claim which definitely seems incorrect and yet is really interesting. The first I heard of it was in an interview Joe Bussard conducted with Buell Kazee where Buell very emphatically makes the claim for the two men being the same person. Then I noticed a letter from Ernest Stoneman reprinted in 'People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs' which makes the same claim.

A little searching found this:
From Alan Lomax:
"John Hardy was an actual person, a black man, working in the tunnels of West Virginia (just like "John Henry"). In fact, as Alan Lomax remarks, "the two songs ["John Henry" & "John Hardy"] have sometimes been combined by folk singers, and the two characters confused by ballad collectors....")."

Looking forward to reading through the rest of this thread for more insight into this American literary treasure.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: jphauser on September 21, 2016, 10:59:56 AM
Yesterday in my searchings I stumbled upon a site for the 'Kentucky Alan Lomax Recordings' [http://lomaxky.omeka.net (http://lomaxky.omeka.net)]
Also, not sure if this has been touched on in this thread or not, but I've recently noted two instances of old time performers claiming that John Henry and John Hardy are in fact the same person, a claim which definitely seems incorrect and yet is really interesting. The first I heard of it was in an interview Joe Bussard conducted with Buell Kazee where Buell very emphatically makes the claim for the two men being the same person. Then I noticed a letter from Ernest Stoneman reprinted in 'People Take Warning! Murder Ballads & Disaster Songs' which makes the same claim.

A little searching found this:
From Alan Lomax:
"John Hardy was an actual person, a black man, working in the tunnels of West Virginia (just like "John Henry"). In fact, as Alan Lomax remarks, "the two songs ["John Henry" & "John Hardy"] have sometimes been combined by folk singers, and the two characters confused by ballad collectors....")."

Looking forward to reading through the rest of this thread for more insight into this American literary treasure.

I believe that Louis Chappell is credited with settling the argument, at least according to an article in the summer 2004 issue of Southern Cultures titled John Hardy: a desperate Little Man.  The two paragraphs below are an excerpt from it.  (I believe you can access the back issues at no charge on the Southern Cultures website.)

The confusion between John Henry and John Hardy was deeper than the similarity of names. Even W. A. McCorkle, the former governor of West Virginia, mixed up the two. In a 1916 letter, McCorkle wrote that John Henry, the famous steel driver of the 1870s, had gone bad and killed a man in the 1890s.

The facts established by Louis Chappell in the 1920s proved something else altogether. John Hardy, "a desperate little man," was hanged at Welch, West Virginia, on January 19, 1894, after killing a man in a gambling dispute in the Shawnee coal camp. He was described by those who saw him as a small, tough man still in his twenties at the time of the crime, making it impossible that twenty-two years earlier he had been the hero of Big Bend Tunnel.

Jim Hauser
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: TenBrook on September 21, 2016, 11:26:44 AM
Thanks Jim. That article looks really interesting. Seems like you can only access Southern Cultures issues online if you're a student or otherwise in academia. But, it seems you can order back issues online so I'll give that a shot. Would definitely enjoy reading an updated account of the link (or non-link as it were) between these two men/folk legends.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Stuart on September 21, 2016, 12:03:09 PM
I checked the Project Muse site and they list "John Hardy: A desperate little man" by John Douglas, but the article is actually, "John Henry: Take this hammer, it won?t kill you? by John Douglas. So I guess someone wasn't paying attention when they put the article and the cover page together for MUSE.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: jphauser on September 21, 2016, 12:30:28 PM
Thanks for the title correction Stuart.

Regarding getting a copy of the article, I had a memory lapse about articles from Southern Cultures back issues being available at no charge on its website.  You might check your local public library though.  I believe mine is where I've gotten free copies of articles from that publication  through an  electronic database called Infotrac.

Jim
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 21, 2016, 12:49:21 PM
Hi all,
Several years ago, uncle bud found and posted a picture taken at John Hardy's execution, along with a newspaper account of the events leading up to the execution.  You can find the thread at:  http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=6027.msg48160#msg48160 .  Despite the song's lyrics, John Hardy may have been desperate, but he certainly wasn't little, nor was the crowd of onlookers at his execution.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Stuart on September 21, 2016, 02:15:15 PM
Thanks for the reminder, John, and the tip on Infotrac, Jim.

I edited this post to eliminate possible confusion, and not in an attempt to cover up my general incompetence which is already well known in these parts!
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Stuart on September 21, 2016, 03:14:07 PM
Bonehead Alert!

It looks like I really boneheaded this one. Although Southern Cultures and MUSE list "John Hardy: A desperate little man" by John Douglas as a separate article, it is a section within the "John Henry" article by John Douglas under the same title (on page 77) in the MUSE archives. Although Jim quoted an excerpt from it, here it is as it appears in the "John Henry" article:

John Hardy: A desperate little man
It?s hard to believe, but one of the puzzles that early-twentieth-century folklorists spent time sorting out was whether John Henry and John Hardy were the same man. John Hardy was the villain of a murder ballad that also originated in southern West Virginia. Though ?John Hardy? isn?t quite as well-known as ?John Henry,? the song is also part of both black and white musical traditions. Lead Belly often performed it in the 1940s. Odds are, he learned it from the Carter Family?s 1928 record.
    The confusion between John Henry and John Hardy was deeper than the similarity of names. Even W. A. McCorkle, the former governor of West Virginia, mixed up the two. In a 1916 letter, McCorkle wrote that John Henry, the famous steel driver of the 1870s, had gone bad and killed a man in the 1890s.
    The facts established by Louis Chappell in the 1920s proved something else altogether. John Hardy, ?a desperate little man,? was hanged at Welch, West Virginia, on January 19, 1894, after killing a man in a gambling dispute in the Shawnee coal camp. He was described by those who saw him as a small, tough man still in his twenties at the time of the crime, making it impossible that twenty-two years earlier he had been the hero of Big Bend Tunnel.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: TenBrook on September 22, 2016, 05:39:37 AM
Thanks to Stuart I was able to check out the Southern Culture article and learned quite a bit (including finding out about two early books on John Henry that sound great).

After reading the evidence against John Henry & Hardy being the same person I decided to look further into John Hardy and found an article originally printed in the Journal of American Folklore in 1919 which contains some eye witness accounts that John Hardy was actually in his 40s at the time of his hanging. But, of course, as the article states, no one knows for sure. Still, it makes me wonder if John Douglas had read the Journal of American Folklore article at the time he wrote his John Henry piece. Interested parties can find the article at https://www.jstor.org/stable/535190 (https://www.jstor.org/stable/535190)

All in all it's intriguing to find, after years of knowing the tales of both men, that it's possible (though maybe not probable) that they are actually one man who lived a life that inspired two separate legends and countless renditions of his story in song.
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on September 22, 2016, 11:34:23 AM
There is not actually any doubt that John Henry and John Hardy were two different people, is there?  They lived at different times.
All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: jphauser on September 22, 2016, 11:40:54 AM
Thanks to Stuart I was able to check out the Southern Culture article and learned quite a bit (including finding out about two early books on John Henry that sound great).



I imagine those two books are Guy B. Johnson's John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend and Louis Chappell's John Henry; A Folk-Lore Study.  You might also check out a relatively recent book by Scott Reynolds Nelson titled Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend.   Nelson's book is important because it brings out the darker side of the legend--the use of convict lease labor to build some tunnels.  Another researcher named John Garst has written a book, but it has not yet been published.   Garst and Nelson have conflicting theories about who the historical John Henry actually was.  Neither one of them believes the race with the drill took place at Big Bend Tunnel. 

Joseph Scott has summarized Garst's research in the comments section to this Youtube post of Furry Lewis's version.  You can't get to the comments from the WeenieCampbell site.   But you should be able to easily find the video in Youtube and read the comments from there.  (I can't vouch for the correctness of Scott's summary.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIL9Vc3EAnk

Jim


 
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: TenBrook on September 22, 2016, 12:29:27 PM
Jim,
Thanks for the heads up on Nelson's book and Garst's research. I checked out the summary in the youtube comments. Definitely adds more layers to dissect in tracking down the true story. In this day and age of instantaneous information overload it's nice to spend some time exploring events and people that, despite tireless research, still retain some mystery.

Lew
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Mr.OMuck on September 22, 2016, 12:37:18 PM
Did anyone post this masterpiece from "The Other Side Of The Tracks"? Simultaneously elegiac and uncomfortable, but I think kind of great:
https://youtu.be/hI0D44zYP-Q
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Stuart on September 22, 2016, 10:10:46 PM
Chasing John Henry in Alabama and Mississippi - John Garst

https://www.ibiblio.org/john_henry/alabama.html
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Stuart on September 25, 2016, 08:54:01 AM
Here's the link to Paul Garon's article at the ILAB site:

https://www.ilab.org/eng/documentation/57-john_henry_the_ballad_and_the_legend.html

In it he mentions that that John Harrington Cox later discarded his opinion that John Henry and John Hardy were the same person, but I couldn't find a citation about where Cox states this.

Paul's site: http://www.beasleybooks.com/
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: TenBrook on September 26, 2016, 08:43:00 AM
The more you search, the more you find. Here's a link to a pdf of a
lecture presented at the John Henry Day Celebration in Leeds, Alabama by John Garst on September 15, 2007. Its fairly lengthy but a few pages in I find that it's an illuminating read and I very much enjoy Garst's method of laying out the 'facts'.

http://alabamafolklife.homestead.com/John_Henry_Garst_paper.pdf (http://alabamafolklife.homestead.com/John_Henry_Garst_paper.pdf)
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: lindy on March 08, 2017, 10:19:06 AM
I first heard of Big Boy Henry through a Lightnin' Wells CD.

I came across his name while visiting the Music Maker Relief Foundation website today. Here's a link to a CD of his called 'Beaufort Blues':

https://musicmaker.org/artists/big-boy-henry/

The first selection is 'John Henry,' a strong version.

Lindy

Edited to add: I purchased a download of the entire CD. The guitar playing sounded like someone else instead of Big Boy, and it looks like Lightnin' Wells plays guitar on most (maybe all?) of the tracks. Nice version of (Oh What a) Beautiful City. Check it out!
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on February 11, 2018, 09:32:01 AM
Hi all,
I've recently found some versions of "John Henry" not previously posted to this thread.  Here is one from Archie Edwards, the Washington D.C. barber, that he called "East Virginia John Henry":

https://youtu.be/wXqrGLVaC1s

SOLO

John Henry walked into the Big Bend tunnel
Captain was by his side
The rock was so tall, John Henry so small
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he cried
Lord, he laid down his hammer and he cried

When I was in Roanoke city
Comin' down Fifth Avenue
Met a little girl, she's all dressed in red
I said, "Honey, I'm crazy 'bout you, Lord,
Honey, I'm crazy 'bout you."

Ain't gonna tell you no story
I ain't gonna tell you no lie
If I don't get that little girl I love
Gonna take morphine until I die, Lord, I'm gonna
Take morphine until I die

GUITAR REPEATS LAST LINE AND SOLOS

John Henry had a little woman
The dress she wore was red
She went down the track one day, she never came back
She said, "I'm goin' where my husband fell dead,
Lord, I'm goin' where my husband fell dead."

SOLO

The second features North Carolina banjo player George Pegram, recorded live at the Union Grove Fiddler's Convention in 1971.

https://youtu.be/-2BxKR3moRA

Here is Gid Tanner's Skillet Lickers, with Riley Puckett singing, doing "John Henry".  The clanging steel is a nice touch.

https://youtu.be/3Xd8jaZp9YE

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on March 06, 2018, 09:37:21 PM
Hi all,
Here's a version of "John Henry" that I don't believe has been posted here before, by Buell Kazee:

https://youtu.be/4YrPYX2CXjs

INTRO

John Henry was a steel-driving man
He drove for many of a crew
And every time his hammer went down
You could see that old steelman movin' through, Lord, Lord
You could see that old steelman movin' through

John Henry married him a woman
Her name was Polly Ann
John Henry got sick in the tunnel one day
And Polly drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Polly drove steel like a man

SOLO

John Henry stepped up to his Captain
Says, "Captain, here I stand.
If I can't beat your steel-driving drill, oh I
Die with my my hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord
Oh, I drive with my -mer, in my hand

INTERLUDE

John Henry hammered in the mountain
'Til his hammer caught on fire
And the very last words I heard John Henry say, was,
"A cool drink of water 'fore I die, Lord, Lord,
Oh, a cool drink of water 'fore I die."

CODA

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on April 21, 2019, 12:05:16 PM
Hi all,
Here is a version of "John Henry" that I don't believe has been posted here before, by Sid Hemphill.  Structurally, it's more like John Hurt's "Spike Driver Blues" than "John Henry" as it is normally sung.  Sid sure had some great energy in his vocal.

https://youtu.be/ksMMlUdTJxE

All best,
Johnm
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: btasoundsradio on April 22, 2019, 04:57:37 AM
Sids version was posted in 2012 by Uncle Bud. One of my faves.
This isn't John Henry, but it's the same melody:
https://youtu.be/Cknpu1Bzl9Y
Title: Re: John Henry
Post by: Johnm on April 22, 2019, 11:50:10 AM
I posted the John Lee Ziegler, sans video, in 2008, and it was posted again a couple of years later, at which time the lyrics were transcribed.  It is a beautiful version.
All best,
Johnm