John Hardy

Rail workers in West Virginia.

Legend has it that John Hardy was an African American coal worker (or possibly a railroad man) who was executed for killing a co-worker in a gambling dispute in a West Virginia coal camp in 1894. And indeed there is record of a John Hardy who was tried and hanged around that place and time.

John Hardy seems to have been frequently confused with that other steel driving man, John Henry. Many of the same stories are told about either. But Maybelle Carter, for one, was absolutely adamant that these were completely different men. The suggestion that the working hero John Henry was the same person as the murderer John Hardy was deeply offensive.

There's no room here to list all the people who have performed and recorded John Hardy. I heard it first from Pete Seeger but everyone in folk and country music has played it at one time or another. One of the most interesting performances was by Bela Fleck on the album 'Tabula Rasa' in an improvisational session with an Indian musician.

Lyrics: 

John Hardy was a desperate little man.
He carried two guns every day.
He shot down a man on that West Virginia line.
You oughta seen John Hardy gettin' away.
You oughta seen John Hardy gettin' away.

John Hardy stood in that old barroom,
So drunk that he could not see,
And a man walked up and took him by the arm.
He said, "Johnny, come and go along with me,
Poor boy. Johnny, come and walk along with me."

John Hardy stood in his old jail cell,
The tears running down from his eyes.
He said, "I've been the death of many a poor boy,
But my six-shooters never told a lie.
No, my six-shooters never told a lie."

The first one to visit John Hardy in his cell
Was a little girl dressed in blue.
She came down to that old jail cell.
She said, "Johnny, I've been true to you,
God knows. Johnny, I've been true to you."

The next one to visit John Hardy in his cell
Was a little girl dressed in red.
She came down to that old jail cell.
She said, "Johnny, I had rather see you dead.
Well, Johnny, I had rather see you dead."

I've been to the east and I've been to the west.
I've traveled this wide world around.
I've been to that river and I've been baptized,
So take me to my burying ground,
So take me to my burying ground.

Instruments: 
Tuning: 
gCGCD