John Henry Song

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John Henry told his captain,
"Captain go to town
And bring me back two twenty-pound hammers,
And I'll sure beat your steam drill down. Lord, Lord,
And I'll sure beat your steam drill down."

John Henry told his people,
"You know that I'm a man.
I can beat all the traps that have ever been made,
Or I'll die with my hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
Or I'll die with my hammer in my hand."

The steam drill set on the right-hand side,
John Henry was on the left.
He said, "I will beat that steam drill down
Or hammer my fool self to death, Lord, Lord,
Or hammer my fool self to death."

-John Henry Days, pg. 76

I've always had a love for American folklore. It's just fascinating, especially because the stories always have slight variations depending on who tells/ sings them. When I came across the poem in this book, I recognized it immediately, because I've heard Bruce Springsteen do a rendition of the song.

 It really made me want to listen to that song again--it's on a cd produced by Bruce called "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions." In this cd, Bruce remade several folk songs, including "Jesse James," which is actually my favorite one.
 I wasn't near my computer at the time, so I couldn't listen to the song just then, but when I eventually did, I thought it might be a good idea to read the lyrics while I listened to the song. I was really surprised by just how much of the song had changed with Bruce singing it. A lot of it is just his diction, but then there are whole verses that are different. It really helps me to appreciate how spectacular American Folk is, because its all unique in its own way.

Click here to watch the video of Bruce Springsteen singing "John Henry."
And Click here for Bruce's lyrics to the song, so you can see the difference.

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