American Tone Poem: Johnny Cash's "John Henry"

Yeah, I know I’m playing “fast and loose” with the definition of what a “tone-poem” is (no words, I know), but if you have 8:24 to spend one night, you might enjoy listening to Mr. Cash bringing this American Legend to life.

The Carter Family’s in there as well.

You’ll feel that hammer hitting that spike! And you’ll also feel Polly-Ann’s hands trying to soothe her man as he tries to rise with the sun the next morning.

Give it a listen and yes, I know there isn’t a question within this thread, but there might be something there to do all of us some good.

Trust me on this one, Johnny Cash friends!



The song is chilling in my opinion. I think Johnny is the master at bringing the right emotion to a song. I’ve cried many a time listening to his songs.

What do you think of the songs he has covered? Any favorites?


Sunday Morning Comin’ Down (the song Kristofferson “delivered” to John via helicopter on his lawn) and Springtseen’s Highway Patrolman are a couple of my favorites. Lastly, Hurt off Cash, which I never realized was a cover. (it is so Johnny Cash!)

Johnny Cash has a way of covering a song that makes it suddenly his own. He lends an “earthiness” to a tune that pulls me in somehow, is the only way I can describe it.


I just stood there with my mouth hanging open the first time I heard him do John Henry. I wanted to start calling people and play it for them over the phone.

Sunday Morning Coming Down is our family anthem, for various reasons.

John Cash rules.

No disrespect meant to the Man In Black, and I haven’t heard Johnny’s “John Henry,” but

I’ve always liked the Smothers Brothers’ version of John Henry.
(“Dumb smart-aleck thought he could beat a steam drill.”)