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Banjo tablatures for John Henry

Earl Scruggs

Recomended level: Intermediate

Tags: #d tuning, #banjo tune, #old time, #vocal song, #folk music

John Henry is an African American folk hero who is said to have served as a "Steel-driving man"— a man charged with hammering a steel drill through rocks to make holes for explosives. His services were usually employed in the building of railway tunnels. According to tradition, in a battle against a steam-powered rock digging device, John Henry's strength as a steel-driver was calculated, a race he earned just to die in triumph with a hammer in hand as his heart gave out of pain. John Henry's story is told in a traditional folk song which appears in many forms and has been the focus of many tales, works, films, and novels. Many sites have been proposed as the host of the competition, including Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia, Lewis Tunnel in Maryland, and the Coosa Mountain Tunnel in Alabama. Sociologist Guy B. Johnson researched John Henry's myth in the late 1920s. He claimed that John Henry may have served on the Big Bend Tunnel of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, but that "one can consider an argument either for or against it." Many iterations of the song refer to the place of the death of John Henry as "The Big Bend Tunnel on the C. & O." Johnson visited the area in 1927 and found a man who said he saw it.

  • Banjo John Henry Scruggs Style

    Scruggs Style

    This is the Earl Scruggs arrangement off of "John Henry" in D tuning. Check out the original recording, as it's a must-listen for all bluegrass banjo players.

    Banjo John Henry Scruggs Style
  • Banjo John Henry Bluesy Style

    Bluesy Style

    This version of John Henry features some tasteful bluesy playing mixed in with classic Earl Scruggs licks. Bluesy licks lay out really well in D tuning!

    Banjo John Henry Bluesy Style
  • Banjo John Henry Backup


    This arrangement of John Henry demonstrates classic down-the-neck Scruggs playing. Imagine you're backing up a vocalist or fiddle player.

    Banjo John Henry Backup