John Henry 

Traditional, arranged and adapted by Andrew Calhoun, Recorded on Grapevine
with information adapted from Scott Reynold Nelson's book, Steel Drivin' Man.

A young man from New Jersey, 
Just hungry for a meal 
Got picked up down in Prince George County, 
Ten years in a Richmond jail 
Lord God, 
Ten years in a Richmond jail 

They sent John Henry to the mountain 
To work for the Railroad then 
People come from far and near 
Just to see the steel drivin' men 

Well every monday morning 
When the bluebirds begin to sing 
You could hear those hammers a mile or more 
You could hear john henry's hammer ring 

Captain told John Henry, 
"Gonna bring me a steam drill 'round, 
Gonna take that steam drill out on the job, 
Gonna whop that steel on down." 

John Henry told his captain, 
"Go bring your steam drill round 
Go take your steam drill out on the job 
I can beat your steam drill down." 

Captain told John Henry 
"Boy, God damn your soul, 
You might beat this steam drill of mine, 
When the rocks in this mountain turn to gold." 

John Henry told his captain, 
"A man ain't nothin' but a man. 
Before I let a steam drill beat me down 
I"ll die with my hammer in my hand." 

Captain told John Henry, 
"Tell you what I'm gonna do, 
You beat my steam drill to fifteen feet 
I'll have 'em pardon you." 

John Henry kissed his hammer, 
White man turned on steam 
Willie held John Henry's trusty steel 
It was the biggest race Virginia ever seen. 

John Henry told his shaker, 
"Willie, why don't you sing? 
I'm throwin' nine pounds from my hips on down, 
Listen to the cold steel ring." 

John Henry told his shaker, 
"My brother, you better pray, 
If I miss the drivin' spike 
Tomorrow be your buryin' day." 

Captain told John Henry, 
"Can't you hear the tunnel cavin' in?" 
John Henry shout to his captain, "Oh my, 
Ain't nothin' but my hammer suckin' wind." 

John Henry told his captain, 
"Looky yonder what l see, 
Your drill's done broke an' your hole's done choke, 
An' you can't drive steel like me." 

The man who invented the steam drill, 
Thought he was mighty fine. 
John Henry drove by fourteen feet, 
While the steam drill only made nine. 

John Henry was hammerin' in the mountain, 
And his hammer was strikin' fire, 
He drove so hard that he broke his poor heart, saying 
"Cool drink of water 'fore I die." 

John Henry had an old lady 
Dress she wore was red 
Well she started up the track and she never looked back 
"I'm goin' where my man fell dead." 

Here come John Henry's lady 
Her name was Polly Ann 
She took up John Henry's hammer 
Drive one more foot like a man. 

They carried John Henry to the prison 
And lowered him down in the sand 
Every locomotive come roaring by says, 
"There lies a steel-drivin' man."

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