Long John

Sam Hinton - 1937

The story of Long John Green stands next to John Henry as another great African American folk legend. John Lomax tells the story in his liner notes to 'John A. Lomax Jr. Sings American Folksongs':

"Long John is still a favorite song of the negro inmates in the Texas penitentiary system; since the hero outran the "bleedhounds" (as termed by "Lightnin'" the singer) and escaped, the popularity of the song is understandable. The story goes that the county had recently acquired a pack of bloodhounds and the sheriff wished to try them out. Long John Green, in jail at the time was chosen to make trail since he was famous for the way he could skim over the ground. The sheriff gave John a halfway around the court house for a start then unleashed the pack. On his first lap John crawled through a conveniently used barrel, got the hounds of the scent, and then he was 'Long gone." And he hasn't been caught yet!"

I leaned this melody from the singing of Sam Hinton on a Columbia 78, the B side of his recording of Vern Partlow's Talking Atomic Blues. I've added some verses from other sources as well. Sam is a lesser known but really fine folksinger who learned many songs from his youth in Northeast Texas and southern Oklahoma. He later took up in San Diego as a marine biologist but maintained his interest and involvement in folk music until he passed away in 2009. Check out his website www.samhinton.org and the 17 lesson harmonica instruction series.


f I had listened to what my Rosy said
I’d a been home in my Rosy’s bed
But I wouldn’t listen, took to runnin around
Next thing I know, I was jail house bound

Old long John, he’s long gone
Like a turkey through the corn
With his long clothes on
He’s long gone long, long John.

Well old long john a made him a pair of shoes
They was the funniest shoes that you ever did see
Had a heel in the front and a heel behind
So you couldn’t tell where that boy was a gwine

Old long john . . .

Well a hello a honey, how do you do
I done swum across the river just a for ta see you
Hello my honey. Won’t you shut the door.
The hounds is a comin’ and I got to go.

Old long john . . .

Well-a two, three minutes, Let me catch my win
In-a two, three minutes, I’m gone again.
Well good bye captain and the sergeant too
If I call you next summer, be in Kaly-mazoo.

Old long john . . .