Mudcat Café message #3672090 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #150708   Message #3672090
Posted By: GUEST,Jim Hauser
25-Oct-14 - 02:46 PM
Thread Name: rebellion and protest in John Henry
Subject: RE: rebellion and protest in John Henry
In my continuing research into "John Henry", I've come across a recording of the song by a blind black musician named Bailey Dansley.   In the second line of the final verse of the song, it sounds like John Henry tells his captain that he has made a "bad mistake."   I've come across two recordings by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee with similar lines in this verse--one in which John Henry says "Shut up! You don't know what you sayin'" and another in which he says "Captain, you are wrong." It sounds to me like the second line in Dansley's version contains the phrase "you's a bad mistake" which I interpret to mean "you made" or "you are making" a bad mistake. Am I hearing it right??? The webpage with the recording (link is below) includes a transcription which has the word "that's" instead of what I hear as "you's."

http://digitalcollections.uark.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/OzarkFolkSong/id/2333/rec/7

Below is the verse as I hear it. Note that based on context and on a number of other versions of the song, including the versions by Terry and McGhee, Dansley mistakenly switches John Henry and the Captain in the first line.

Henry told his Captain, "The mountain's falling in."
"No Captain, you's a bad mistake.
That's my hammer handle ringing in the wind.
That's my hammer handle ringing in the wind, God knows.
My hammer handle ringing in the wind."


Below is a transcription of the verse that appears on the webpage which contains the recording. Note that it's clearly inaccurate and that it even does not include Dansley's mistake of switching John Henry and the captain in the first line of the verse.

Captain told John Henry the mountain's falling in
Henry say to the Captain, That's a bad mistake
That's my hammer handle ringing in the wind
That's my hammer handle ringing in the wind, God knows
That's my hammer handle ringing in the wind


This is quite an interesting version of the song with some lines in other verses that I can't recall ever seeing before!

Jim Hauser

link to my website discussing my research