One, two, three
When John Henry was a little baby
Sittin' on his daddy's knee
He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel
And cried, "hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lord, Lord
Hammer's gonna be the death of me"
Now the captain he said to John Henry
"I'm gonna bring that steam drill around
I'm gonna bring that steam drill out on these tracks
I'm gonna knock that steel on down, God, God
I'm gonna knock that steel on down"
John Henry told his captain,
"Lord a man ain't nothin' but a man
But before I let this steam drill beat me down
I'm gonna die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord
Die with a hammer in my hand"
John Henry driving on the right side
That steam drill driving on the left
Says, "'fore I'll let your steam drill beat me down
I'm gonna hammer myself to death, Lord, Lord
I'll hammer my fool self to death"
Well, captain said to John Henry
"What is that storm I hear?"
John Henry said, "That ain't no storm
Captain, that's just my hammer in the air, Lord, Lord
That's just my hammer in the air"
John Henry said to his shaker
"Shaker, why don't you sing?
'Cause I'm swigin' thirty pounds from my hips on down
Yeah, listen to my cold steel ring, Lord, Lord
Listen to my cold steel ring"
Come on ???!
I wanna hear that banjo now too!
I want it now!
Now John Henry he hammered in the mountains
His hammer was striking fire
But he worked so hard, it broke his heart
John Henry laid his hammer and died, Lord, Lord
John Henry laid down his hammer and died
Well now John Henry he had him a woman
By the name of Polly Ann
She walked out to those tracks, picked up John Henry's hammer
Polly drove steel like a man, Lord, Lord
Polly drove that steel like a man
Well every, every Monday morning
When a bluebird he began to sing
You could hear John Henry from a mile or more
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring
Set out again!
So you can hear John Henry's hammer ring, Lord, Lord
You can hear John Henry's hammer ring
Come on! Woah!
One, two, a one two three four!
JOHN HENRY is a traditional American song. Bruce Springsteen recorded it with The Seeger Sessions Band on 19 Mar 2005, during the second of the three Seeger Sessions (see the "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" section below for more details). He released it on his 2006 cover album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.
The above lyrics are for Bruce Springsteen's album version of JOHN HENRY as released on We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions.
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We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions is Bruce Springsteen's fourteenth studio album, released in 2006. It is his first and so far only album of cover material, and his second consecutive non-E Street Band and non-rock music project. The album contains Springsteen's interpretation of thirteen folk music songs associated with Pete Seeger.
The project began in late 1997 when Springsteen agreed to contribute a recording for an upcoming Pete Seeger tribute album on Appleseed Recordings. "Growing up a rock n' roll kid I didn't know a lot about Pete's music or the depth of his influence," Springsteen later wrote in the liner notes of his 2006 album. He headed to the record store, came back with an armful of Pete Seeger records, and proceeded to investigate and listen to his music. On 29 Oct 1997, activist attorney and Appleseed founder Jim Musselman sent Springsteen a tape containing 14 Pete Seeger songs: JESSE JAMES, MY OKLAHOMA HOME, WE SHALL OVERCOME, HOBO'S LULLABY, I COME AND STAND AT EVERY DOOR, JOHN HENRY, MRS. MCGRATH, IF I HAD A HAMMER, ROUTE 66 HIGHWAY BLUES, TALKING UNION, TIMES ARE GETTING HARD, WAIST DEEP IN THE BIG MUDDY, WALKING DOWN DEATH ROW, and WORDS WORDS WORDS.
Springsteen had heard about a New York City roots/bluegrass band called The Gotham Playboys via future E Street Band violinist Soozie Tyrell who occasionally played live gigs with them. The band included Jeremy Chatzky, Sam Bardfeld, Larry Eagle, Will Holshouser, and Red Suydam. On 23 Sep 1997, Springsteen organized a private birthday party at his residence in Colts Neck, NJ, and hired The Gotham Playboys for the event. He allegedly joined in on some songs during the party. The band would later be invited to perform at two more birthday bashes at Springsteen's house, on 11 Oct 1998 and 14 Oct 2000.
When time came to record the Pete Seeger track, Springsteen decided to hire four members of The Gotham Playboys: Jeremy Chatzky, Sam Bardfeld, Larry Eagle, and Will Holshouser. Charles Giordano, an associate of The Gotham Playboys, substituted for Holshouser when a scheduling conflict prevented him from attending the recording sessions. This group, in addition to other friends and acquaintances, would eventually become "The Seeger Sessions Band", later renamed "The Sessions Band". Giordano would also join the E Street band in 2008.
The album was recorded over the course of nine years at Thrill Hill East, Springsteen's home studio in Colts Neck, NJ: a one-day session on 02 Nov 1997, a one-day session on 19 Mar 2005, and a one-day session on 14 Jan 2006. During these sessions, all of the album's songs were cut live in the living room of Springsteen's farmhouse – they were not rehearsed and all arrangements were conducted by Springsteen as he and the band played them. "We were doing trapeze without a safety net," Sam Barfeld told Backstreets magazine. "He plays the song for you once, a couple of arrangement ideas. Have enough time to scrawl out a chord chart, and then boom! You record." Six songs were recorded during the first session (02 Nov 1997): JESSE JAMES, MY OKLAHOMA HOME, WE SHALL OVERCOME (eventually selected for the Pete Seeger tribute album), HOBO'S LULLABY, I COME AND STAND AT EVERY DOOR, and PRETTY BY FLOYD.
Seven years later, soon after the conclusion of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's short Vote For Change Tour, Springsteen was liaising with manager Jon Landau regarding material for a potential future second volume of the Tracks boxed set. Some of the leftover material from the 02 Nov 1997 session was being evaluated and out of those discussions came the idea of releasing this session material as a stand-alone album project. "Thanks to Jon Landau for another one of his 'I think we've got something here...' phone calls," Springsteen later wrote in the liner notes of the 2006 album.
There were not enough songs recorded on 02 Nov 1997 to fill an album, so the original 1997 musicians were contacted again and an additional recording session took place on 19 Mar 2005, just prior to Springsteen embarking on his Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour. Nine songs were recorded during the second session (19 Mar 2005): ERIE CANAL, JOHN HENRY, O MARY DON'T YOU WEEP, PAY ME MY MONEY DOWN, OLD DAN TUCKER, FROGGIE WENT A COURTIN', SHENANDOAH, MRS. MCGRATH, and MICHAEL ROW YOUR BOAT ASHORE. Eight of the songs recorded during this second session ended up on the album.
Springsteen undertook a third and final studio session on 21 Jan 2006 following the Devils & Dust Solo Acoustic Tour. There were eight songs recorded during the third session (21 Jan 2006): JACOB'S LADDER, BUFFALO GALS, EYES ON THE PRIZE, HOW CAN I KEEP FROM SINGING?, AMERICAN LAND, BRING 'EM HOME, IF I HAD A HAMMER, and WORRIED MAN BLUES.
For the first recording session, recording engineer Toby Scott and Springsteen's assistant Kevin Buell set up a video camera on a tripod to document the occasion. For the second and third recording sessions, Thom Zimny brought down a camera crew. Footage from the last two sessions was included as DVD bonus material with some editions of the 2006 album.
Springsteen toured with The Seeger Sessions Band throughout 2006. During a break in the tour in mid-2006, and then in late 2006 shortly after the tour's conclusion, he recorded several other songs. Some of these later session details are now known and others may emerge over time. A new vocal track was recorded for BRING 'EM HOME on 18 May 2006 at Disclab Studios in Oslo, Norway. A second version of AMERICAN LAND, with Springsteen solo, was recorded at his home studio sometime in 2006.
The album was recorded with a large ensemble of musicians, and more were added for The Seeger Session Tour.
The album was critically acclaimed. When asked about what he thought of it, Pete Seeger said, "It was a great honor. He's an extraordinary person, as well as an extraordinary singer." The album won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album at the 49th Grammy Awards held in February 2007.
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions was produced by Bruce Springsteen and Jon Landau and was released on Columbia Records on 25 Apr 2006. The album was issued in DualDisc format in the United States and Europe and a two-disc set (audio CD + DVD) in Europe and Japan. The CD (or CD side) contains the full album, while the DVD (or DVD side) features the entire album and two bonus tracks in PCM Stereo, in addition to a 30-minute film about the recording of the album. A 2-disc vinyl LP edition was also pressed in the U.S. and Holland.
On 03 Oct 2006, when the tour had just hit Europe for the second swing, the album was reissued as We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions - American Land Edition. This time it was only issued as a two-disc set (separate CD and DVD). The CD contains the same 13 tracks found on the initial release in addition to five more, including the bonus tracks from the initial release's DVD (or DVD side). The DVD contains a 40-minute extended version of the original film plus new videos for four songs. The album booklet's liner notes were also expanded.
Disc 1 (CD or CD side):
Disc 2 (DVD or DVD side):
Disc 1 (CD):
Disc 2 (DVD):
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List of available versions of JOHN HENRY on this website:JOHN HENRY [Album version]