Legend of John Henry’s Hammer

John Henry’s pappy woke him up one midnight.
He said, “Before the sheriff comes, I wanna tell you.
Listen boy,” He said, “Learn to ball a jack, learn to lay a track.
Learn to pick and shovel too. And take my hammer.
It’ll do anything you tell it to.

John Henry’s mammy had about a dozen babies.
John Henry’s pappy broke jail about a dozen times.
The babies all got sick and when the doctor wanted money,
He said: “I’ll pay you a quarter at a time, startin’ tomorrow.
That’s pay for a steel driver on this line.”
Then the section foreman said, “Hey, hammer swinger,
I see you brought your own hammer, boy,
But what else can all them muscle do?”

And he said, “I can turn a jack, I can lay a track.
I can pick and shovel too.” (“Can you swing a hammer, boy”)
“Yes sir, I can do anything you hire me to.”
(“Now, ain’t you somethin’, so high and mighty with your muscles.

Just go ahead, boy, and pick up that hammer. Pick up the hammer.”)
He said, “Get a rusty spike and swing it down three times.
I’ll pay you a nickel a day for ev’ry inch you sink into.
Go on and do what you say you can do.”

With a steep-nosed hammer on a four foot switch handle,
John Henry raised it back till it touched his heels.
Then the spike went through the crosstie and split it half in two.
Thirty five cents a day for drivin’ steel.
(“Sweat, sweat boy, sweat. You owe me two more swings.”)
“I was born for drivin’ steel.”

Well, John Henry hammered in the mountain.
He’d give a grunt and he’d give a groan with every swing.
The women folks for miles around heard him and came down
To watch him make the cold steel ring. Lord, what a swinger.
Just listen to that cold steel ring.

But the bad boss came up laughin’ at John Henry.
Said, “You full of vinegar now, but you ’bout through.
We gonna get a steam drill to do you share if drivin’.
Then what’s all them muscle gonna do, huh, John Henry
Gonna take a little bit of vinegar out of you.”

John Henry said, “I feed four little brothers
And baby sister’s walkin’ on her knees.
Did the Lord say that machines oughta take the place of livin’?
And what’s the substitute for bread and beans? I ain’t seen it.
Do engines get rewarded for their steam?”

John Henry hid in a coal mine for his dinner nap;
Had thirty minutes to rest before the bell.
The mine boss hollered, “Get up, who-ever you are and get a pickax.
Give me enough coal to start another hill and keep it burnin’.
Mine me enough to start another hill.”

John Henry said to his Captain, “A man ain’t nothin’ but a man.
But if you’ll bring that steam drill around I’ll beat it fair and honest.
I’ll die with a hammer in my hand, but I’ll be laughin’,
‘Cause you can’t replae a steel drivin’ man.”

There was a big crowd of people at the mountain.
John Henry said to the steam drill, “How is you?
Pardon me, Mister Steam Drill. I suppose you didn’t hear me.
I said, how are you? Huh?
Well, can you turn a jack, can you lay a track?
Can you pick and shovel too?
Listen, this hammer swinger’s talkin’ to you.”

Two thousands people hollered, “Go, John Henry!”
Then somebody hollered, “The mountain’s caving in!”
John Henry told the Captain, “Tell the kind folks don’t to worry.
It ain’t nothin’ but my hammer suckin’ wind. It keeps me breathin’.
This steel driver’s muscle, I ain’t tin.

Captain, tell the people move back farther.
I’m at the finish line and there ain’t no drill.
It’s so far behind but yet ain’t got the brains to quit it.
When she blows up she’ll scatter ‘cross the hills, Lord, Lord.
When she blows up she’ll scatter ‘cross the hills.”

Well, John Henry had a little woman.
I believe the lady’s name was Polly Ann.
Yeah, that was his good woman.
John Henry threw his hammer over his shoulder and went on home.
He lay down to rest his weary back. And early next mornin’ he said,
“Come here Polly Ann. Come here, sugar.
You know, I believe this is the first time I ever
Watched the sun come up that I couldn’t come up.
Take my hammer, Polly Ann, and go to that railroad.
Swing that hammer like you seen me do it.
And when you’re swingin’ with the lead man, they’ll all know,
They’ll all know you’re John Henry’s woman.
But, but tell ’em that ain’t all you can do.
Tell ’em I can hoist a jack, and I can lay a track.
I can pick and shovel too. Ain’t no machine can.
That’s been proved to you.”

There was a big crowd of mourners at the church house.
The section hands laid him in the sand.
Trains go by on the rails John Henry laid.
They slow down, they take off their hats, the men do.
When they come to the place where John Henry’s layin’
Restin’ his back, some of ’em say,
“Mornin’, steel driver. You sure was a hammer swinger.”
Then they go on by pickin’ up a little speed.

Click-a-dee clack. Click-a-dee clack. Click-a-dee clack. Click-a-dee clack.
(Yonder lies the steel drivin’ man, oh, Lord.
Yonder lies the steel drivin’ man.)
||: (Yonder lies the steel drivin’ man, oh, Lord.
Yonder lies the steel drivin’ man.) :||  Repeat and fade


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