For personal non-commercial use only. All rights reserved. Together, this group of songs are referred to as "hammer songs" or "roll songs" after a group of wheelbarrow-hauling songs with much the same structure, though not mentioning hammers. For almost a hundred years after the abolition of slavery, convicts, mostly African American, were leased to work as forced labor in the mines, railroad Sweat And Tears (Vinyl, brickyards, turpentine farms, and then on road gangs of the American South.
It was not unusual for work songs like "Take this Hammer" and its "floating verses" to drift between occupations along with the itinerant laborers who sang them. This old hammer killed John Henry, But it can't kill me. Take this hammer, take it to the Captain, Tell him I'm gone, babe, tell him I'm gone. Odumalso collected transcribed versions. Scarborough's short text, published in her book, On The Trail of Negro Folk-Songsis the first version published under the title "Nine-Pound Hammer", before the earliest Nine Pound Hammer - Johnny Cash - Blood recording of that name.
This song, with intricate finger-picked guitar accompaniment, combines some elements of the "John Henry" ballad. Norm Cohen terms "Spike Driver Blues" "a lyrical variant of "Nine-Pound Hammer" and "more an entertainment piece than an actual work song, but their close kinship is unmistakable". In John A. Lomax and his year-old son Alanrecording for the Library of Congress Nine Pound Hammer - Johnny Cash - Blood the aid of an aluminum flat-disc-cutting recording machine, recorded Allen Prothro, a prisoner in Chattanooga, Tennesseesinging "Jumpin' Judy", Sweat And Tears (Vinyl a theme and verses in common with "Take This Hammer", including reference to the "captain" i.
They printed a longer version of the text in their anthology American Ballads and Folk Songsstipulating that it be performed "rather slow, with pathos. John A. Lomax and his colleague Harold Spivacke made another Library of Congress audio field recording on June 14,of "Take This Hammer", performed by Jimmie Strothers, a blind prisoner at the State Farm Virginia State Penitentiaryat Lynn, Virginia, performing with finger-picked banjo accompaniment.
InAlan Lomax recorded another version of the same song as sung by Sid Hemphill. This version was titled "John Henry" and accompanied by violin, played by Hemphill, and a drum, played by a friend of Hemphill, Will Head. InAlan Lomax and English singer Shirley Collins revisited Parchman Farm in Mississippibringing along with them reel-to-reel stereo equipment. Among other songs, they re-recorded "Take This Hammer", performed by L. Hoskins and an unidentified group of prisoners cutting wood with axes  As late asfolklorist Bruce Jacksonwhile doing field work in the Texas prison system, collected it from prisoners LP sang it also while cutting lumberas "This Old Hammer Killed John Henry".
In his performance on this record, Lead Belly added a "haah" at the end of each line,  explaining in his spoken introduction, Nine Pound Hammer - Johnny Cash - Blood, "Every time the men say 'haah', the hammer falls.
The hammer rings, and we swing, and we sing.
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