John Henry was a little bitty boy,
Sittin’ on his Mama’s knee.
Picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel,
“Hammer’ll be the death of me,
Hammer’ll be the death of me.”
John Henry went upon the mountain,
Come down on the other side.
The mountain was so tall, John Henry was so small,
He laid down his hammer and he cried,”Oh, Lord,”
He laid down his hammer and he cried.
John Henry was on the right hand,
That steam drill was on the left.
“Before your steam drill beats me down,
I’ll hammer my fool self to death,
Lord, I’ll hammer my fool self to death.”
John Henry told his Captain,
“Captain you go to town.
Bring me back a twelve-pound hammer,
And I’ll whup that steel on down,
And I’ll whup that steel on down.”
For the man that invented that steam drill,
Thought he was mighty fine.
John Henry drove fourteen feet,
The steam drill only made nine,
The steam drill only made nine.
John Henry told his shaker,
“Shaker, you better pray.
For if I miss this six-foot steel,
Tomorrow’ll be your buryin’ day,
Tomorrow’ll be your buryin’ day.”
John Henry told his little woman,
“I’m sick and I want to go to bed.
Fix me a place to lie down,
Got a rollin’ in my head,
Got a rollin’ in my head.”
John Henry had a little woman,
Her name was Polly Ann.
John Henry got sick and he had to go bed,
But Polly drove steel like a man,
Polly drove steel like a man.
They took John Henry to the graveyard,
And they buried him in the sand.
And every time that locomotive roared on by,
“There lies a steel driving man,
There lies a steel driving man.”
Instruction on how to play this song can be found in Wayne Erbsen’s books: Bluegrass Jamming on Fiddle, Bluegrass Jamming on Mandolin and Bluegrass Jamming on Banjo.