John Henry


h1 August 1st, 1998

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The legend of John Henry dates back to the early 1870s during the building of the Big Bend Tunnel through the West Virginia mountains by C & O Railroad workers. To carve this tunnel, then the longest in the United States, men worked in pairs to drill holes for dynamite. One man used a large hammer to pound a huge drill, while another man screwed it into the rock.

John Henry was renowned for his strength and skill in driving the steel drills into the solid rock. One day the captain brought a newly invented steam drill to the tunnel to test. Which was stronger, man or machine? John Henry, the strongest steel driver of them all, beat the steam drill, but according to the song, the effort killed him.

Lyrics:
A
When John Henry was a little baby,
E7
Just a sittin' on his mammy's knee,
A7 D7
Said the Big Bend Tunnel on that C & O Road
A
Gonna be the death of me, Lord God
E7 A
Going to be the death of me.'

Well John Henry said to the captain,
I'm gonna take a little trip downtown
Get me a thirty pound hammer with that nine foot handle
I'll beat your steam drill down, Lord God
I'll beat your steam drill down

Well John Henry hammered on that mountain
Till his hammer was striking fire
And the very last words that I heard that boy say was
Cool drink of water 'for I die, Lord God
Cool drink of water 'for I die

Well they carried him down to the graveyard
And they buried him in the sand
And every locomotive came a roarin' on by
They cried out, 'There lies a steel drivin' man, Lord God
There lies a steel drivin' man.

Well there's some say he came from Texas
There's some say he came from Maine
Well I don't give a damn where that poor boy was from
You know that, he was a steel drivin' man, Lord God
John Henry was a steel drivin' man

Well when John Henry was a little baby,
Just a sitting on his mammy's knee,
Said the Big Bend Tunnel on that C & O Road
Gonna be the death of me, Lord God
Gonna to be the death of me.'

� 1998 McGuinn Music – Roger McGuinn

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