> Trevor Lucas > Songs > John Henry

John Henry

[ Roud 790 ; Laws I1 ; Ballad Index LI01 ; trad.]

Jesse Fuller sang John Henry on his 10" album of 1955, Working on the Railroad. He accompanied himself on “the guitar alone in a style which he learned in the country near Atlanta about 1913.”

Trevor Lucas sang John Henry in 1964 on his first Australian solo album, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.

Amythyst Kiah with Roy Andrade sang John Henry on the 2017 Appalachian ballad tradition anthology Big Bend Killing.


Jesse Fuller sings John Henry on Working on the Railroad

When John Henry was a little baby
Sitting on his papa’s knee,
And the first piece of steel that he ever saw,
“Gonna be the death of me.”

John Henry told his captain,
“When you go to town
Won’t you bring me back a nine-pound hammer,
Gonna beat that steam drill down.”

John Henry went up on the mountain,
Hammer that weighed nine pounds.
Lord, he drove steel till he laid down and died,
Lord the big rock come a-tumbling down.

Now John Henry had a little woman,
Her name was Sarah Ann.
When John Henry got sick and had to go to bed,
Lord, she’d drive steal just like a man.

“Where did you get that pretty little red hat
And them shoes and stockings so fine?”
Said, “I got this hat from a railroad man,
Stockings from a driver in the mine.”

John Henry was on the right hand side
And the steam drill was on the left.
“Before I let this steam drill beat me down
Gonna hammer my poor self to death.”

John Henry said to his shaker,
“What seems to be the trouble with you?”
Say, “That Big Bend Tunnel on the CBQ
Lord, it gonna be the death of you.”

John Henry had a little woman,
The dress she wore was red.
She walked down the track and she never looked back,
Says, “I’m going where John Henry fell dead.”

“Where did you get that pretty little red hat
Shoes and stockings so fine?”
“Got this hat from a railroad man,
Stockings from a driver in the mine.”

When John Henry died,
Buried him in the sand.
Three of his womens come a-passing by,
Saying, “Sure been a steel driving man.”

“Who gonna shoe your little feet,
Who gonna glove your little hand,
Who gonna kiss your rosy cheeks
And who gonna be your man?”

“Papa gonna shoe my little feet,
Papa gonna glove my little hand,
Papa gonna kiss my rosy cheeks,
Papa gonna be my man”