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I'm not a crook. I'm an opportunist - Bernie, owner of the Nightshift Tavern, Bremerton spoken to Texan JohnD after Bernie tried to sell him a pint of Alaska Amber for $6

Author Topic: John Henry  (Read 28934 times)

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Offline Laura

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #75 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

and

http://sundayblues.org/archives/159

Offline Laura

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #76 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!

Offline wreid75

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #77 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.   

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #78 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

Offline Slack

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #79 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.

Offline wreid75

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #80 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. 

Offline Pan

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #81 on: May 19, 2014, 02:31:04 PM »
Hi all

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



Cheers

Pan

Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #82 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

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #83 on: June 03, 2014, 03:11:29 PM »
Well, it would be wonderful to sound like this!



All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #84 on: June 04, 2014, 09:35:28 AM »
Hi all,
Here's another really nice instrumental version from Tommy Jarrell.



All best,
Johnm

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #85 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:



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





« Last Edit: June 12, 2014, 09:31:11 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #86 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!



All best,
Johnm

Offline frankie

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #87 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:



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

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #88 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.



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
« Last Edit: September 18, 2014, 03:40:32 PM by Johnm »

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #89 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.



All best,
Johnm