Paul Bunyan and John Henry

Week 14: American Folklore - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


Spike Driver Blues (Mississippi John Hurt)

Reading time: 4 minutes.

This 1928 recording by Missisippi John Hurt takes a totally different approach to the John Henry story. John Henry is dead, and another worker on the railroad refuses to use John Henry's hammer. Instead, he quits his job and heads back home out West: "John Henry's a steel drivin' boy / But he went down / That's why I'm gone."

AUDIO VERSION at the NPR website; you'll find it listed with the music files on the left.

Take this hammer and carry it to the captain
Tell him I'm gone (3)
Take this hammer and carry it to the captain
Tell him I'm gone (2) I'm sure he's gone

This is the hammer that killed John Henry
But it won't kill me (3)
This is the hammer that killed John Henry
But it won't kill me (2) Ain't won't kill me

It's a long way to East Colorado
And to my home (3)
It's a long way to East Colorado
And to my home (2) That's why I'm gone

John Henry left his hammer
Layin' side a road (3)
John Henry left his hammer
Layin' side a road (2) That's why I'm gone

John Henry's a steel drivin' boy
But he went down (3)
John Henry's a steel drivin' boy
But he went down (2) That's why I'm gone


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • where is the singer going?
  • where did John Henry leave his hammer?
  • what's the difference between this steel drivin' man and John Henry?

Source: Spike Driver Blues, by Mississippi John Hurt (1928). Weblink.


Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM