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John Henry Lyrics

Artist: Woody Guthrie
Album: One Of A Kind

John Henry when he was a baby
settin' on his mammy's knee
picked up an hammer in his little right hand
Said "Hammer be the death of me me me,
hammer be the death of me!"

Some say he's born in Texas
Some say he's born up in Maine
I just say he was a Louisiana man
Leader of a steel-driving chain gang
leader on a steel-driving gang

"Well", the captain said to John Henry
"I'm gonna bring my steam drill around
gonna whup that steel on down down down
whup that steel on down!"

John Henry said to the captain (what he say?)
"You can bring your steam drill around
gonna bring my steam drill out on the job
I'll beat your steam drill down down down
beat your steam drill down!"

John Henry said to his Shaker
"Shaker you had better pray
If you miss your six feet of steel
It'll be your buryin' day day day
It'll be your buryin' day!"

Now the Shaker said to John Henry
"Man ain't nothing but a man
but before I'd let that steam drill beat me down
I'd die with an hammer in my hand hand hand
I'd die with an hammer in my hand!"

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Anne
John Henry took sick and was laid up in bed
While Polly handled steel like a man man man
Polly handled steel like a man.

They took John Henry to the graveyard
laid him down in the sand
Every locomotive comin' a-rolling by by by
hollered "there lies a steel-drivin' man man man
there lies a steel-drivin' man!"

Comments/Interpretations

by Sequerah Alleyne on 1/7/2009 9:56am
Ilove it. It was really inspiring.
by Fergus on 1/16/2011 7:32pm
There's a line missing in

"Well", the captain said to John Henry
"I'm gonna bring my steam drill around
gonna whup that steel on down down down
whup that steel on down!"

...should have 'I'm gonna bring my steam drill out on the job' in the middle.
by James on 1/4/2012 7:03pm
What does this song mean?
by Cam on 1/15/2012 12:12pm
It's about a railroad worker fighting against the tyranny of capitalism, in particular the automation of his job -- or at least that's what Woody Guthrie would have said.
by Kenny Vaughan on 5/20/2017 1:36am
Maybe in Guthries twisted worldview thats what its about, but in reality its about the temporary victory of human endeavor, determination,skill,fierce pride, and raw strength over cold, soul-less machinery, although ending with the tragedy of the ultimate human trait: mortality. The verse I learned was: "well John Henry said to his shaker (i.e. The man who held the big steel drill in place while twisting and shaking it so it wouldn't sieze up in the hole it was cutting in the rock while being driven by a sledgehammer.) - man, why don't you pray! - cause if I MISS with this 9 lb. hammer, tomorrow's gonna be your buryin daaay, Lord; tomorrow's gonna be your buryin' day". Seems to make more sense and is more true to the story, to me.








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