The Songs He Sang
John Henry: Lyrics
As performed by Cisco Houston
Well John Henry when he was a little baby, He was sittin' on his mama's knee, He said "The Big Bend Tunnel on that C & O Road Is gonna be the death of me" He said "It's gonna be the death of me." Well John Henry had a little woman, And her name was Polly Ann, When John Henry took sick an' he was lying up in bed, It was Polly Ann drove steel like a man, Yes Polly Ann drove steel like a man Well, the captain he said to John Henry, "I'm gonna bring my steam drill around I'm gonna bring my steam drill out on the job gonna drive that steel on down, I'm gonna drive that steel on down." But John Henry said to that captain, "You can bring your steam drill around You can bring your steam drill out on the job I will beat your steam drill down, I will beat your steam drill down." Well John Henry raised that hammer and he brought it down on the ground and a man in Chattanooga 300 miles away heard a mighty rumbling sound Well he heard a mighty rumbling sound Well there are some say he was born down in Texas And there are some say he come from Maine But I just say he was a Louisiana man And leader of a steel driving gang He was the leader of a steel driving gang Well John Henry was working on that mountain And his hammer it caught on fire And the last words I heard poor John Henry say "I'd like a cool drink of water 'for I die, I'd like a cool drink of water 'for I die." Well when John Henry died there was no coffin That was big enough to hold his bones So they buried him in a boxcar Three miles deep With a mountain for his tombstone He had a mountain for his tombstone Then they took ol' John Henry to the graveyard And they lay him down in the sand Every locomotve come a-roarin by Hollered "Yonder lies a steel drivin' man, John Henry, Yonder lies a steel drivin' man." They hollered "Yonder lies a steel drivin' man, John Henry Yonder lies that steel drivin' man."
Not a great performance (after hearing Odetta sing this one, who would even try to sing it publicly?) but a pleasant one, demonstrating Cisco's even-handed touch and expressiveness.