Railroad Ballad: John Henry



John Henry: Barefoot Books LadyD
photo credit: Jusben



John Henry was a black railroad worker who apparently died around 1873 during the 
construction of the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia on the C & O railroad.
 
Here's an easy version of how I play it on the piano with 4/4 time signature and
in the Key of C.
 

Friday Folk Song: John Henry

 

          C
When John Henry was a little baby 
                       G7
Sittin' on his daddy's knee
    C                 
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel, said,
                     F              C        F
This hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lawd, Lawd
                     F             C
This hammer's gonna be the death of me.

 
 
 
 
 (arr. by Bruce Springsteen from the album "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions")
4/26/06


CAPO III


INTRO: D  A7  D  G  D  A7  D  D/C#  Bm  D  A7  D

          D
Well John Henry was a little baby 
                       A7
Sittin' on his daddy's knee
          D                 G
He'd pick up a hammer and a little piece of steel
        D              A7              D   D/C# Bm
And cry hammer's gonna be the death of me, lord lord
D            A7              D
Hammer gonna be the death of me

        D 
Now the captain he said to John Henry
                                  A7
I'm gonna bring that steam drill around
          D                          G
I'm gonna bring that steam drill out on these tracks
          D          A7       D     D/C# Bm
I'm gonna knock that steel on down, god  god
          D          A7       D
I'm gonna knock that steel on down


John Henry told his captain
Lord a man ain't nothin' but a man
But 'fore I let that steam drill beat me down
I'm gonna die with a hammer in my hand, lord lord
Die with a hammer in my hand


INTRO


John Henry drivin' on the right side
That steam drill drivin' on the left
Says 'fore I let your steam drill beat me down
I'm gonna hammer myself to death, lord lord
I'll hammer my poor self to death


Well captain said to John Henry
What is that storm I hear
John Henry said that ain't storm captain
That's just my hammer in the air, lord lord
That's just may hammer in the air


John Henry said to his shaker
Shaker why don't you sing
'Cause I'm swingin' thirty pounds from my hips on down
Yeah listen to my cold steel ring, lord lord
Listen to my cold steel ring


INTRO (2x)


That John Henry he hammered in the mountains
His hammer was strikin' fire
But he worked so hard he broke his heart
John Henry laid down his hammer and died, lord lord
John Henry laid down his hammer and died


Well now John Henry he had him a woman
By the name of Polly Anne
She walked out to those tracks, picked up John Henry's hammer
And Polly drove steel like a man, lord lord
Polly drove that steel like a man, oh


Oh now every, every Monday mornin'
When the bluebird, he begin to sing
You can hear John Henry from a mile or more
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring, lord lord
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring

        D         A7             D     D/C# Bm
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring, lord lord
        D         A7             D
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring


CHORDS without capo:

D    = F
D/C# = F/E
Bm   = Dm
G    = Bb
A7   = C7 


John Henry Children's Book

John Henry is stronger than ten men, and can dig through a mountain faster than a steam drill. Julius Lester's folksy retelling of a popular African-American folk ballad has warmth, tall tale humor, and boundless energy. Jerry Pinkney illustrates the story with "rich colors borrowed from the rocks and the earth, so beautiful that they summon their own share of smiles and tears"


John Henry (Picture Puffins)






 “You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.” -- C. S. Lewis

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