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Other Versions


An Early Version
Construction Crew Version
Folk Version
Prison and Chain Gang Version
Other Versions

Visitors to our site are welcome to submit other versions of John Henry songs they may have encountered.


This version was submitted by Sean, from Dublin, Ireland. It was recorded in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola, LA, by Dr. Harry Oster, 1959 and is available on Prison Worksongs, Arhoolie 448.

JOHN HENRY, STEEL DRIVING MAN

      1. John Henry had a little woman,
      2. and they called her Polly Ann,

        Well who gonna glove her pretty little feet,

        Mama, I'm gonna glove yo hand,

        Yea I'm gonna glove yo hand.

      3. John Henry told his captain,
      4. Says "Captain when you go to town,

        Bring me back a twelve pound hammer,

        So I can drive your steel on down.

        Lawd, Lawd, I can drive your steel on down."

      5. John Henry said to his captain,
      6. "Oh Captain - a man ain't nothin but a man,

        Just before I die with the hammer in my hand,

        Lawd, Lawd, I'll die with the hammer in my hand."

      7. It's, "Big black negro*" when I'm gone,
      8. And it's "Honey, darlin" when I'm home,

        But as soon as I get a twenty dollar bill,

        It's "Baby, where you been so long?"

        Lawd, Lawd, it's "Baby, where you been so long?"

      9. John Henry says to his mother,
      10. Says "A man ain't nothin but a man,

        Before I let this steam beat me down,

        Lawd, I'll die with this hammer in my hand,

        Lawd, Lawd, I'll die with this hammer in my hand."

      11. John Henry, Oh John Henry,
      12. John Henry was taken sick,

        And Polly drove steel like a man,

        Lawd, Lawd, and Polly drove steel like a man.

      13. John Henry said to his father,
      14. "If there's one more train I want to ride,

        That's the Santa Fe, and the Southern Pacific,

        On that I.C. Railroad line,

        On that I.C. Railroad line,

        Oh Lawd, that I.C. Railroad line."

      *Changed from historical text


      This version was submitted by Mr. Floyd Stough. He researched the history of John Henry and put together this version from what he learned from his dad when he was a kid along with input from about 50 years of going to bluegrass festivals.

        JOHN HENRY

        When John Henry was a little bitty baby No bigger than the palm of your hand His daddy looked down at Johnnie and said Johnnieís going to be a steel driving man Lawd, Lawdy Johnnieís going to be a steel driving man When John Henry was a little bitty baby Sitting on his dadyís knee Well, he picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel He said This hammerís going to be the death of me Lawd, Lawdy This hammerís going to be the death of me! Mr. Peabody bought a steam hammer. He brought it to the end of the track. Then he said bring out your best Weíre gonnaí have us a test And if my hammer wins the rest of you can pack Lawd Lawdy If my hammer wins, the rest of you can pack. John Henry Went to the tunnel to drive Steam hammer by his side He said Before I would let that steam hammer get me down You know Iíd lay down this hammer and Iíd die Lawd Lawdy Iíd lay down this hammer and Iíd die Now the straw boss came to John Henry He cried This tunnel is caving in John Henry just laughed at the strawboss and said, Thatís nothing but my hammer sucking wind Lawd, Lawdy, That ainít nothing but my hammer sucking wind. John Henry turned to the straw boss. He said, "Lawd knows how hard I tried. I done my best but that hammer is fast. Please gimme a cool glass of water 'fore I die! Lawd, Lawdy. Gimme a cool glass of water 'fore I die! Mr. Peabody wanted a measure So they brought out the tape so fine John Henry laid down 12 feet of cold hard track The tell me that the hammer just laid 9 Lawd, Lawdy They tell me that the hammer just laid 9. John Henry had a sweet little wife Her name was Polly Ann When Johnnie got sick and He had to go to bed Poly drove that steel just like a man Lawd, Lawdy Poly drove that steel just like a man John Henry died in the evening Left his poor widow to cry Well, they laid John Henry by the railroad track So he could hear the trains go rumbling by Lawd, Lawdy So he could hear the trains go rumbling by. John Henry was a steel driving man He drove steel all over this land And every time a train goes rumbling by his grave They say 'Down yonder lies a Steel driving man!' Lawd Lawdy Yonder lies a steel driving man.

       

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