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John Henry: The Steel Drivin’ Man


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Key verses of the song describe the great battle between John Henry and the steam drill. Humbled by the mountain before him, “he laid down his hammer and he cried.” But he did not bow to the steam drill. While admitting that “a man ain’t nothing but a man,” he vowed to outdo the machine or die trying. “Before I let that steam drill beat me down, I’ll die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord.” But ultimately, “John Henry drove 14 feet of steel, the steam drill only drove nine.” The effort cost him his life.


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