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Author Topic: need help identifying a particular Furry Lewis version of John Henry  (Read 434 times)

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Offline jphauser

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I found the verse below (which is a variation to a verse typically found in the Texas prison work-song "Go Down Ol' Hannah") in a version of "John Henry" by Furry Lewis contained in the book The Country Blues by Samuel Charters.   Based on the text, I thought that Charters was describing the two-part "John Henry" 78 that was recorded by Lewis back in the 1920s, but it's not.  Is it possibly a version by Lewis that Charters recorded himself?  If so, what album can I find it on? 

John Henry looked at the sun one day,
The sun had done turned red.
He looked back over his shoulder, Lord,
He seen his partner falling dead.
My partner's falling dead.

Jim

Offline StoogeKebab

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Re: need help identifying a particular Furry Lewis version of John Henry
« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2015, 02:16:45 PM »
Hi Jim, I have 7 different versions of John Henry by Furry Lewis, which I know isn't all of them and I know I'm missing a Folkways album with notes, I believe, by Charters. I will give each version that I have a listen now and get back to you if the words turn up, if not one could deduce it might be there?
Confident that I'm probably almost definitely the youngest record label owner in my street

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Offline StoogeKebab

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Re: need help identifying a particular Furry Lewis version of John Henry
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2015, 02:40:13 PM »
Hi Jim, based on the Charters connection, here's a link to a 1959 album for Folkways recorded and produced by Charters.
http://www.folkways.si.edu/furry-lewis/blues/music/album/smithsonian

Actually I wrote that before listening all the way through my playlist. He doesn't sing the verse on 'At Home in Memphis 1968,' as you mentioned, the 1928 sessions or 'Presenting the Country Blues' but he does on 'Fourth and Beale' which can be found on Allmusic here http://www.allmusic.com/album/fourth-beale-mw0000092979

Enjoy :)
« Last Edit: September 27, 2015, 02:41:16 PM by StoogeKebab »
Confident that I'm probably almost definitely the youngest record label owner in my street

Live Acoustic Wollongong - LAW Records

https://www.facebook.com/law.nkjc/

https://itunes.apple.com/au/artist/james-r-cooper/id992309035

Offline jphauser

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Re: need help identifying a particular Furry Lewis version of John Henry
« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2015, 04:49:40 PM »
Quote
Hi Jim, based on the Charters connection, here's a link to a 1959 album for Folkways recorded and produced by Charters.
http://www.folkways.si.edu/furry-lewis/blues/music/album/smithsonian

Actually I wrote that before listening all the way through my playlist. He doesn't sing the verse on 'At Home in Memphis 1968,' as you mentioned, the 1928 sessions or 'Presenting the Country Blues' but he does on 'Fourth and Beale' which can be found on Allmusic here http://www.allmusic.com/album/fourth-beale-mw0000092979


Thanks!  My copy of Charters' The Country Blues is the Da Capo Press paperback which is a reproduction of the first edition, published in 1959.  Therefore, the version which I'm looking for is probably on the 1959 Folkways album which you identified.  I'll download the "John Henry" track to verify this and let you know if its lyrics match what's in the Charters book. 

According to the allmusic.com review of the Fourth and Beale album, it was recorded in 1969 so the version of JH on it couldn't be the one cited in the Charters book.  I'll probably get that version also just to see how they compare. 

Thanks again. 

Jim
« Last Edit: September 27, 2015, 04:54:18 PM by jphauser »

Offline StoogeKebab

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Re: need help identifying a particular Furry Lewis version of John Henry
« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2015, 05:49:35 PM »
If it's Charters' The Country Blues book then yes I would assume that the 1959 album would make sense. As for Fourth and Beale, the performance is faster but more laboured as he's older, naturally. Both appear good, as I said I haven't yet bought the Folkways Album.

I have a vast collection largely built up from a stack, as in, storage unit of CDs stack, of mostly second hand (mostly Document) CDs and transfers of my uncle's extensive record collection in Chicago as well as countless hours of concert tapes that I've picked up along my journey into the interwebs and with the assistance of the wonderful people I've met there, and I like to keep it all neatly organised so I was very happy to help  :)
Confident that I'm probably almost definitely the youngest record label owner in my street

Live Acoustic Wollongong - LAW Records

https://www.facebook.com/law.nkjc/

https://itunes.apple.com/au/artist/james-r-cooper/id992309035

Offline jphauser

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Re: need help identifying a particular Furry Lewis version of John Henry
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2015, 10:12:22 AM »
It turns out that the version I'm looking for is not on the Charters-produced-recorded 1959 album from Folkways.  Here is a link to it on Youtube.  Apparently, Smithsonian Folkways is uploading parts of its catalog to Youtube based on the note which states "Provided to YouTube by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings."




I also found the Beale and Fourth album from 1969 on Youtube (see link below) and--as you've noted in your post--it does have the key verse I'm looking for where John Henry looks at the sun and then sees his partner falling dead (with, of course, some minor differences from the lyrics in the Charters book.)  While it's the last verse in Fourth and Beale, it's the first verse in the Charters book (unless Charters didn't include earlier verses). 




It's not crucial for me that I find the actual recording that is the source for the lyrics in the Charters book, but finding it is a bit of a puzzle.  I'm sure I'll find it some day, but I'm going to drop my efforts for now.  It might be in this other album from Folkways/Charters titled The Rural Blues: A Study of the Vocal and Instrumental Resources.  The notes say that it includes material from Folkways releases and unissued material.  Amazon has used vinyl copies of it on sale starting at $39, but it's just not that important for me to make the investment to find out if it's the right version.

http://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/folkways/FWRF202.pdf



Your finding the version on Fourth and Beale is a great unexpected bonus for me because it shows that Furry's singing that key verse was not just a one-time thing.  By the way, I love the roughness and intensity of Furry's voice in this version--the way he emphasizes certain words like "Jo-o-o-hn" and "f-i-i-i-re."  Great stuff!

Thanks again for all your help on this!

Jim Hauser


Offline jphauser

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Re: need help identifying a particular Furry Lewis version of John Henry
« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2015, 07:31:37 PM »
It turns out that Furry Lewis wasn't the only musician who included a verse from a black work song in his version of "John Henry."  I came across another recording of the ballad on Youtube which does the same thing.  It was recorded by a musician named Virgil Perkins.   The verse is below and so is a link to the recording on Youtube.  (Samuel Charters wrote about Perkins in the book Language of Song: Journeys in the Musical World of the African Diaspora.)


John Henry said to his captain   
He said, "Captain, my hands gettin' cold"
He [the captain] said, "That don't make no difference,
Boy, what you said.
I want to hear that hammer roll."





The verse is a variation to a verse which appears in a work song entitled "Grade Song" in Howard Odum and Guy B. Johnson's book Negro Workaday Songs.  It also appears in the song "Told My Captain" from Lawrence Gellert's Me and My Captain: Chain Gang Songs of Negro Protest.  The verse from "Grade Song" is below.

Told my captain my han's wus cold.
"God damn yo' hands, let the wheelers roll!"  (A wheeler is a wheelbarrow.)



Jim Hauser
« Last Edit: October 12, 2015, 07:39:26 PM by jphauser »