The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4018 Message #520335
Posted By: GUEST,djh
03-Aug-01 - 09:23 AM
Thread Name: Origins: John Henry
Subject: RE: The origins of john Henry
John did really live.There is allegedly a real picture of the John in an old book about folks songs. I am sorry I don't remember the name, if I find it I will post it.
The Big bend tunnel was Wet rock ,had it been dry the steam drill probably would have won. The mud and clay clogged up the drill frequently.
Railraod work was as good as it got for a black man in the 1870's, So it is not propaganda for the boss man.The later Spike Driver Blues took the stance- (paraphrasing) "workin' to death like John was not what I had in mind , tell the captain I'm gone.",but, John Henry is simply about natural man vs the mechanistic age.
There is a book in my local library from the 20's simply titled "John Henry" in it the author points out that there were a few men named John Henry workin on the railroad. The author comes down on the side of there was a contest although I can't recall his arguments this morning. It may be one of the books others have spoken of in this thread.
The thing I found most interesting about the book was that one of the women interviewed was named Rosalee? Cannon and she spoke about learning the song from her uncle Gus who was a songster over in Memphis = Gus Cannon of Cannon's Jug Stompers. The author , of course, didn't realize that her uncle was an American music legend because he wasn't yet. I love that book , I am the only one who has checked it out in a decade , multiple times.
I love the tale and the many variants on the song so much I named my band "John Henry's Hammer".
Sorry I am all over the place this morn.