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​John Henry

This song is by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and appears on the compilation A Tribute to Leadbelly (1977).

When John Henry was a little baby
Sitting on his daddy's knee
Pointed his finger at a little piece of steel
Steel's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord

Steel's gonna be the death of me
Well, now steel's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Steel's gonna be the death of me

John Henry told his captain one day
'A man ain't nothin' but a man
Before I will let you steam drill beat me down
Would die with this hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord'

Die with this hammer in my hand
I would die with this hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
Die with this hammer in my hand

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Ann
John Henry got sick and had to go to bed
You know Polly, she drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Polly, she drove steel like a man

How she drive? John Henry drivin' on the right hand side
Steam drill drivin' on the left
Before I will let your steam drill beat me down
I will drive my poor self to death, Lord, Lord
Drive my poor self to death

John Henry drove steel on the Southern
He drove steel on the C&O.
He drove steel for that Big Ben Tunnel
Steel drivin' kill John you know, steel drivin' kill John you know
Well, now steel drivin' kill John you know, Lord, Lord
Steel drivin' kill John you know

Some says John Henry was born in Texas
Some people thinks he was born in Maine
John Henry was born down in Tennessee
He was a leader of a steel-driving-gang, Lord, Lord

Leader of a steel-driving-gang
Was a leader of a steel-driving-gang, Lord, Lord
Leader of a steel-driving-gang

Well, the captain loved to see John Henry
One of all loved to hear him sing
But most of all that the paymaster loved

He just loved to get John Henry's hammer ring
He just loved to get John Henry's hammer ring
He just loved to get John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord,
Loved to get John Henry's hammer ring

They carried John Henry on the mountain
Upon a mountain so high
Last words I heard that poor boy say
Give me a cool drink of water 'fore I die
Give me a cool drink of water 'fore I die
Give me a cool drink of water 'fore I die

Well, they carried John Henry's body to the White-house
And they laid it in the sand
Every time a locomotive follows go rollin' by

They say, yonder lays a steel-drivin' man
Well, now yonder lays a steel-drivin' man
They say yonder lays a steel-drivin' man
Yonder lays a steel-drivin' man

Written by:

Huddie Ledbetter, adapted by Brownie Mcghee; Sonny Terry