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So I'm gonna ask you to clap in rhythm. Don't become afraid. We know that old saying. I didn't ask you if you could play basketball, I just said clap in rhythm - Jerry Ricks, Saturday evening concert, Port Townsend 97

Author Topic: John Henry  (Read 28957 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #45 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

Offline dj

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #46 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.

Offline oddenda

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #47 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.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2010, 07:24:58 PM by oddenda »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #48 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.

Offline dj

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #49 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.

Offline BlueInGreen

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #50 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:


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
« Last Edit: June 11, 2010, 05:54:54 AM by BlueInGreen »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #51 on: June 11, 2010, 07:19:23 AM »
Thanks for those links, BlueInGreen. The version on the banjo is great to hear.

Offline Johnm

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #52 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
  



 
« Last Edit: February 09, 2011, 04:58:02 PM by Johnm »

Offline eric

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #53 on: February 09, 2011, 05:07:10 PM »
I love this version of John Henry.
--
Eric

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #54 on: February 09, 2011, 08:03:57 PM »


Don't forget Good ol' Sonny Terry who could produce stuff as strange as it comes sometimes.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #55 on: February 09, 2011, 08:05:46 PM »
Also one of the masterpieces of washboard playing, Bull City red I 'm guessing 1938
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

http://www.youtube.com/user/MuckOVision

Offline uncle bud

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #56 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.



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.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2011, 07:34:02 AM by uncle bud »

Offline lindy

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #57 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
« Last Edit: March 24, 2011, 02:08:31 PM by lindy »

Offline Rivers

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #58 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
« Last Edit: December 05, 2011, 09:03:47 PM by Rivers »

Offline Pan

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Re: John Henry
« Reply #59 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.



Cheers

Pan