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Lyr Req: John Henry (from Williamson Brothers)

23 Dec 07 - 11:38 AM (#2221370)
Subject: Lyr Add: GONNA DIE WITH MY HAMMER IN MY HAND
From: Roberto

GONNA DIE WITH MY HAMMER IN MY HAND
The Williamson Brothers and Curry
(also included in Harry Smith's Anthology). Please, help complete and correct this text. Thanks. R

John Henry, he told his Captain:
Man ain't nothin' but a man
Before I'll be beaten by this old steam drill
Lord, I'll die with my hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord
Lord, I'll die with my hammer in my hand

John Henry, he told his Captain:
Captain, how can it be
The Big Bend tunnel on the C and O road
Gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Gonna be the death of me

John Henry had a little hammer
Handle was made of …
Everytime …
….


John Henry, he told his Shaker:
Shaker you better pray
For if I miss this little piece of steel
Tomorrow'll be your burying day, Lord, Lord
Tomorrow'll be your burying day

John Henry had but one only child
Had him in the palm of his hand
The very last words John Henry said:
Son, don't be a steel drivin' man, Lord, Lord
Son, don't be a steel drivin' man

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Sally Ann
John Henry got sick and he could not work
Sally drove the steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Sally drove the steel like a man


23 Dec 07 - 11:39 AM (#2221372)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Amos

These are a small subset of the whole song, as I am sure you know.


A


23 Dec 07 - 12:00 PM (#2221381)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Roberto

Yes, Amos. I know many recordings of this song. This time, I'm looking for the lyrics of this one, not my very favourite but a good one. I hope to get help, because the Harry Smith Anthology is widely known. R


23 Dec 07 - 02:10 PM (#2221449)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: 12-stringer

John Henry had a little hammer
Handle was made of oak
Every time he hit the drill on the head
Hammer ...

Can't make out the last line at all, though the sound rhymes with "oak." (Sounds to me like "Hammer ... out and broke," though the rhyming word could also be "smoke".)

FWIW, the Anthology Songbook just gives this verse as "unintelligible."


23 Dec 07 - 02:20 PM (#2221454)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

I've got the Harry Smith anthology on disk here - give me a few minutes to print off the pages and I'll run through it.

Mick


23 Dec 07 - 02:30 PM (#2221461)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

Roberto

There are only very minor differences from the text as given in the Harry Smith Anthology, both in the first verse:

  A man ain't...
  But before I'll

Of verse 3, it merely prints (Third verse if unintelligible) and moves on to the fourth verse.

Mick


25 Dec 07 - 03:19 AM (#2222259)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Roberto

Thanks, 12-stringer, now we are a few words from the goal. R


27 Dec 07 - 07:36 AM (#2223119)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Jim Dixon

OK, I'm being kind of imaginative here, but this is the best I can come up with:

John Henry had a little hammer.
Handle was made of oak.
Every time he hit the drill on the head,
Hammer reaches down and broke, Lord, Lord,
Hammer reaches down and broke.

The above verse would make more sense if there were an accompanying, contrasting verse:

John Henry had another hammer,
Handle was made of steel…

* * *

From Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend By Scott Reynolds Nelson, 2006, page 125:

Other parallels between the story of Samson and the story of John Henry crop up in some unique versions of the John Henry ballad, suggesting that performers saw in John Henry's story a retelling of Samson's. One version declared:
    John Henry had a little hammer,
    The handle was made of bone.
    Every time he hit the drill on the head,
    He thought of regions far beyond.
in this version John Henry's hammer made of bone evokes Samson's biblical tool, the jawbone of an ass….

* * *

The pages that are available through Google Book Search don't include the endnotes, so I don't know where the quoted verse came from, but I don't think it's an accurate transcription of the Williamson Brothers' verse.


27 Dec 07 - 08:57 AM (#2223151)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Roberto

Thanks, Jim Dixon, thanks a lot. R


27 Dec 07 - 11:19 AM (#2223227)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

Finally got round to listening to this and would suggest the following changes:

1) v1: Ignore my earlier correction from the book - they're not on the recording

2) v3: I'd agree with Jim's transcription apart from the last line, which I think is:
   Hammer reaches down and drove
   
3) v4: For if I miss this six-foot steel

4) v5: seems to be more like
      Fit in the palm of your hand


Mick


28 Dec 07 - 06:51 AM (#2223605)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: GUEST,Roberto

Maybe v5 says: sat in the palm of your hand...

Ok for v4: For if I miss this six-foot steel


28 Dec 07 - 03:20 PM (#2223871)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

I've been listening to v3 again, and the last line could be:

Half the region done choke

(or something similar).


I haven't decided on that v5 line yet.

Mick


28 Dec 07 - 10:47 PM (#2224101)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Stewie

Mick, I reckon your first thought for v3 is closer. I definitely hear 'Hammer reaches down'. Could it be 'and talks'? Whatever the word is, it sounds to me that it is followed by the harmony singer singing 'Lord, Lord' in the first instance:

Hammer reaches down and talks, Lord, Lord
Hammer reaches down and talks

v5 lines sounds to me like 'Set/sat in the palm of your hand'.

--Stewie.


28 Dec 07 - 10:54 PM (#2224103)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Stewie

Sorry, when I finally found the track in my collection, I went straight to the third verse without listening to the rest. 'Lord, Lord' is obvious from the rest of the stanzas.

--Stewie.


29 Dec 07 - 03:03 PM (#2224496)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)

I think I'd be happy to go with set in v5.

I've been listening to v3 again (you can't imagine how many filters/time stretches/dynamics I've applied with SoundForge listening to that verse!) and now offer another possibility:

  John Henry had a little hammer,
  Handle was made o' bone.
  Every time he hit the drill on the head,
  Hammer reaches down and groan, Lord, Lord,
  The hammer reaches down and groan.


Mick


29 Dec 07 - 11:41 PM (#2224709)
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Williamson Brothers' John Henry
From: Stewie

Once again, I reckon you've cracked it, Mick. Well done!

--Stewie.