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Lyr Req: John Henry (from Dave Van Ronk)

DigiTrad:
HENRY THE ACCOUNTANT
JOHN HENRY
JOHN HENRY 2


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GUEST,NDay 11 Sep 14 - 12:21 AM
GUEST,NDay 11 Sep 14 - 12:53 AM
Joe Offer 11 Sep 14 - 01:45 AM
Joe Offer 11 Sep 14 - 02:08 AM
Mark Ross 11 Sep 14 - 09:21 PM
GUEST,NDay 14 Sep 14 - 09:57 PM
GUEST,Daniel 16 Jan 18 - 05:29 AM
Mark Ross 16 Jan 18 - 08:46 PM
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Subject: Lyr Req: Van Ronk - John Henry
From: GUEST,NDay
Date: 11 Sep 14 - 12:21 AM

Hi everyone,

I've found a lot of lyrics I've been searching for here in the past, but have had no luck with this particular one. I've been listening to this song for years now, and have yet to figure out what the lyrics are. I'd like to share it with a class I'm teaching, and it would be helpful to have the lyrics.

I'm specifically looking for the Van Ronk lyrics.

I know it starts

"John Henry was a little baby,
sitting down on his mammy's knee,"

But then, what? "But that big Bill Turtle gone seein' on me?" Completely unintelligible as far as I can tell. Anyone have complete lyrics for this version, released on Ballads, Blues, & a Spiritual?

Thanks


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Van Ronk - John Henry
From: GUEST,NDay
Date: 11 Sep 14 - 12:53 AM

The lyric also seems to appear in Furry Lewis' 1928 version. Still no luck uncovering anything.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Van Ronk - John Henry
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Sep 14 - 01:45 AM

In the process of finding the Van Ronk song, I came across some good stuff:

This academic paper about the song, which contains the longest single version of the song that I've ever seen.

This collection of verses which may well be the biggest collection I've ever seen.

COMPILATION OF COLLECTED VERSES

When John Henry was a little baby, Just a sittin' on his mammy's knee,
Said the Big Bend Tunnel on that C & O Road A Gonna be the death of me, Lord God Going to be the death of me.

John Henry, he had a woman, Her name was Mary Magdalene,
She would go to de tunnel and sing for John, Jes' to hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lawd, Lawd; jes' to hear John Henry's hammer ring.

John Henry had a li'1 woman, Her name was Lucy Ann,
John Henry took sick an' had to go to bed,
Lucy Ann drove steel like a man, Lawd, Lawd, Lucy Ann drove steel like a man

John Henry went to the tunnel, An' they put him in the lead to drive;
The rock so tall an' John Henry so small, that he laid down his hammer an' he cried ,
Lawd, Lawd, that he laid down his hammer an' he cried.

The captain said to John Henry, "I'm gonna bring that steam drill around
I'm gonna bring that steam drill out on the job
I'm gonna whip that steel on down, Lord, Lord" (repeat)

Well John Henry said to the captain, I'm gonna take a little trip downtown
Get me a thirty pound hammer with that nine foot handle I'll beat your steam drill down,
Lord God I'll beat your steam drill down

John Henry told his captain, "Lord, a man ain't nothing but a man
But before I'd let your steam drill beat me down,
I'd die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord" (repeat)

John Henry tol' his cap'n, Lightnin' was in his eye:
Cap'n, bet yo' las' red cent on me, Fo' I'll beat it to the bottom or I'll die
Lawd, Lawd, I'll beat it to the bottom or I'll die

The captain tol' John Henry, John Henry, damn yo' soul,
You might beat this steam an' drill of mine, When the rocks in this mountain turn to gold,
Lawd, Lawd, when the rocks in this mountain turn to gold

John Henry started on the right hand, the steam drill started on the lef'
Before I'd let this steam drill beat me down , I'd hammer my fool self to death,
Lawd, Lawd, I'd hammer my fool self to death

John Henry said to his shaker, "Shaker, why don't you sing?
Because I'm swinging thirty pounds from my hips on down,
just to listen to that cold steel ring, Lord, Lord" (repeat)

John Henry told his shaker, "shaker, you better pray,
for if I miss this six-foot steel, tomorrow'll be your buryin day
Lord lord, tomorrow'll be your buryin day"

Well John Henry hammered on that mountain Till his hammer was striking fire
And the very last words that I heard that boy say was
"Cool drink of water 'for I die, Lord God Cool drink of water 'for I die"

Now the captain said to John Henry, "I believe that mountain's caving in"
John Henry said right back to the captain,
"Ain't nothing but my hammer sucking wind, Lord, Lord" (repeat)

Now the man that invented the steam drill, he thought he was mighty fine
But John Henry drove fifteen feet,
the steam drill only made nine, Lord, Lord (repeat)

Sun shine hot an' burnin' Weren't no breeze at all ,
Sweat ran down like water down a hill, That day John Henry let his hammer fall,
Lawd, Lawd, dat day John Henry let his hammer fall

The hammer that John Henry swung, it weighed over fourteen pounds
He broke a rib in his left hand side and his entrails fell on the ground
Lord lord, his entrails fell on the ground

John Henry hammered in the mountains, his hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, it broke his poor, poor heart,
and he laid down his hammer and he died, Lord, Lord (repeat)

Well they carried him down to the graveyard And they buried him in the sand
And every locomotive came a roarin' on by They cried out,
"There lies a steel drivin' man, Lord God There lies a steel drivin' man.

All the womens in the West, When they heared of John Henry's death
Stood in the rain, flagged the eas'-boun' train, Goin' where John Henry fell dead,
Lawd, Lawd, goin' where John Henry fell dead

John Henry's lil mother, She was all dressed in red,
She jumped in bed, covered up her head Said she didn' know her son was dead,
Lawd, Lawd, didn' know her son was dead

John Henry had a pretty lil woman, An' the dress she wo' was blue,
An' the las' words she said to him: "John Henry, I've been true to you,
Lawd, Lawd, John Henry, I've been true to you."

Oh, who's gonna shoe yo' lil feetses, An' who's gonna glove yo' han's,
An' who's gonna kiss yo' rosy, rosy lips, An' who's gonna be yo' man ,
Lawd, Lawd, an' who's gonna be yo' man

Oh, my mama's gonna shoe my lil feetses, An' my papa's gonna glove my lil han's
An' my sister's gonna kiss my rosy, rosy lips, An' I don' need no man,
Lawd, Lawd, an' I don' need no man."

Well there's some say he came from Texas There's some say he came from Maine
Well I don't give a damn where that poor boy was from You know that,
he was a steel drivin' man, Lord God John Henry was a steel drivin' man


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Subject: ADD: John Henry (Dave Van Ronk version)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 11 Sep 14 - 02:08 AM

I found out that all those Web pages that claim to have the Dave Van Ronk version of "John Henry," don't.

This is from Smithsonian Folkways CD FW03818, Ballads, Blues, and a Spiritual, a 1959 recording by Dave Van Ronk.

I downloaded the liner notes, and then listened to the CD and made corrections.

JOHN HENRY

John Henry was a little baby,
Setting down on his mammy's knee;
Well, that Big Bend tunnel on that C & O Road
Is gonna be the death of me,
It is gonna be the death of me.

Well, the captain he said to John Henry,
Gonna bring that steam drill around,
Gonna put that steam drill out on the job,
Whup that steel on down,
Whup that steel on down.

Well, John Henry said to his captain,
Well, a man ain't nothing but a man.
Well, before I'll see that steam drill beat me down,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand,
I'll die with my hammer in my hand.

Well, oh John Henry, oh John Henry,
Well, the blood am running red,
Well, before I die with this hammer in my hand
I beat him to the bottom but I'm dead,
I beat him to the bottom but I'm dead.

SIDE II, Band 6: JOHN HENRY
This is one of the most widely dispersed of all Negro ballad creations, and certainly one of the finest of native American ballads. The legend of the great Negro steel driver is believed to have arisen from the building of the Big Bend tunnel in West Virginia in 1870-1872. No documentary evidence of a John Henry having actually existed has ever been uncovered, though the song has been subjected to extensive study, including two long monographs, and any number of shorter investigative pieces. Such problems never bother the singers from whom the ballad has been collected, for to the folk Negro of the South John Henry was a symbol of tremendous magnitude. There is no mistaking the identification of the traditional singer and his audience with the heroic proportions of the giant steeldriver, for he is, as John Greenway has aptly described him, "... the apotheosis of their own unrealized potentia1ities...a Negro who beat the white man at his own game."
For this recording Van Ronk has tuned his guitar in C, as follows:
E C G C G C, a tuning learned from Dick Rosmini of New York, who learned it from Blind Gary Davis.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Van Ronk - John Henry
From: Mark Ross
Date: 11 Sep 14 - 09:21 PM

That tuning is probably E(1st string), C(2nd string), G(3rd string), C(4th string), G(5th string) C(6th string).

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Van Ronk - John Henry
From: GUEST,NDay
Date: 14 Sep 14 - 09:57 PM

Thanks, Joe, for the excellent information, and thanks Mark for the clarification!

Much appreciated.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: John Henry (from Dave Van Ronk)
From: GUEST,Daniel
Date: 16 Jan 18 - 05:29 AM

Hey Mark and Joe! Thanks for the info! I found myself looking for information bout Van Ronk's version and this helped lots!

Do you know which chords does he use in the song? That's a strange tunning! THnaks!


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: John Henry (from Dave Van Ronk)
From: Mark Ross
Date: 16 Jan 18 - 08:46 PM

GUEST Daniel if you get in touch with Elijah Wald, he was one of Dave' students and he might know that arrangement. He's on Facebook and also has a website.

Mark


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