The ToneWay® Project: helping people play music


John Henry [core]

When John Henry was a little baby
A sitting on his papa's knee
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel
Said, "Hammer's gonna be the death of me," Lord, Lord
"Hammer's gonna be the death of me."

Well, the captain said to John Henry
Gonna bring me a steam drill 'round
Gonna bring me a steel drill out on the job
Gonna whup that steel on down,...

John Henry said to his captain
"A man ain't nothin' but a man
And before I let that steel drill beat me down
I'll die with a hammer in my hand,...

John Henry was driving on the mountain
And his hammer was flashing fire
And the last words I heard that poor boy say
"Gimme cool drink of water 'fore I die,...

John Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker, why don't you sing?"
"I'm a throwin' nine pounds from my hips on down
Just listen to that cold steel ring,...

John Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker, why don't you pray?"
"'Cause if I miss this little piece of steel
Tomorrow be your burying day,...

John Henry, he drove fifteen feet
The steam drill only made nine
But he hammered so hard that he broke his po' heart
And he laid down his hammer and he died,...

They took John Henry to the graveyard
And they buried him in the sand
And every locomotive comes a roaring by, says
"There lies a steel driving man",...

Available in these books:

Get Started Plus:
Core Songs Edition
100 songs and our acclaimed play-by-ear learning method.
Big Print Songs
Over 200 songs.
Family Tradition
The reference manual, with lyrics to 330 songs.
The first two books feature large-print lyrics (20-point type) and include chords, historical info, jamming hints, and more.

...and on these CDs:

Five CDs, 100 songs. Recordings from the Abbott family and their friends.
Listen to sample tracks.

The MP3 collection has all 100 songs on one CD for a discount. See details.


A song from the The ToneWay Mountain Music Collection, which offers lyrics and free Song Clips (recordings for learning the song by ear) for nearly 400 traditional songs, many of which are often heard in bluegrass and old-time jam circles. The ToneWay Project also offers songbooks, CDs, and a free online video series for learning to play music by ear. http://ToneWay.com