By the Banks, In the Pines, On a train, and Down the Mines

Hero Ballads and Murder Ballads in African- and Anglo- American Folk

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  1. Bill Monroe and the Monroe Brothers’ On the Banks of the Ohio (1956-1959, Decca Recordings)
  2. The Kossoy Sisters’ On the Banks of the Ohio (1957, Miller/Stevenson)
  3. Johnny Cash’s On the Banks of the Ohio (1970, Warner Bros.)


  4. Bill Monroe and the Monroe Brothers’ In the Pines (Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (1956-1959, Decca Recordings)
  5. Lead Belly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” (?1941-1947, Smithsonian Folkways / Moe Asch collection)
  6. Nirvana’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Live) (1993, MTV Unplugged)


  7. [ Bonus track: here’s another live recording of Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (!!Skip the first song; begin at 4:15!!); a performance by Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love at the Rock Against Rape benefit concert, a few months before their MTV unplugged appearance.]

  8. Mississippi John Hurt’s Casey Jones (1928, Yazoo Records)
  9. Fiddlin’ John Carson’s Casey Jones
  10. (?1923-1924, Document Records)
  11. Billy Murray’s Casey Jones (1912, Edison wax cylinder recording)
  12. The Grateful Dead’s Casey Jones (1970, Warner Bros.)


  13. J. J. Neece’s John Henry (1957, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings / Mike Seeger Collection)
  14. Fiddlin’ John Carson’s John Henry Blues (?1923-1924, Document Records)
  15. Woody Guthrie’s John Henry (Smithsonian Folkways, ca. 1947)


Lyrics:

“BANKS of the OHIO” (Bill Monroe’s recording)

I asked my love to take a walk,
Just a little way’s with me.
An’ as we walked, then we would talk
All about our wedding day.

[CHORUS:] “Darlin’, say that you’ll be mine;
In our home we’ll happy be,
Down beside where the waters flow,
On the banks of the Ohio.”

I took her by her pretty white hand,
I led her down the banks of sand,
I plunged her in where she would drown,
An’ watched her as she floated down.

[Chorus]

Returnin’ home between twelve and one,
Thinkin’, Lord, what a deed I’ve done;
I’d killed the girl I love, you see,
Because she would not marry me.

The very next day, at half past four,
The sheriff walked right to my door;
He says, “Young man, Don’t try to run.
You’ll pay for this awful crime you’ve don.”

[Chorus]

“BANKS of the OHIO” (Kossoy Sisters’ recording)

I asked my love to take a walk
Only for a little way
And as we walked we had a talk
Of our approaching wedding day

[CHORUS:] Then only say that you’ll be mine
And our home so happy be
Down beside some water flow
On the banks of the Ohio

I drew a knife across her breast
As gently in my arms she pressed
Crying “Oh Willy! don’t you murder me
For I am unprepared to die”

[Chorus]

I took her by her lilly white hands
I led her down to the river strand
I plunged her in where she would drown
And stood and watched as she floated down

[Chorus]

While walking home ‘tween twelve and one
Thinking of the deed I done
I killed the girl that I loved best
Because she would not be my bride

[Chorus]

“BANKS of the OHIO” (Johnny Cash’s recording)

I asked my love to take a walk
Just a little ways with me
And as we walked and we would talk
All about our weddingday
And only say that you’ll be mine
In no others arms entwined
Down beside where the waters flow
On the banks of the Ohio

I asked her if she’d marry me
And my wife forever be
She only turned her head away
And had no other words to say

I plunged a knife into her breast
And told her she was going to rest
She cried “Oh Willy, don’t murder me
I’m not prepared for eternity.”

I took her by her golden curls
I drug her down to the river-side
An I there threw her into drown
And I watched her as she floated down

And going home between twelve and one
I cried “Lord, what have I’ve done?”
I’ve killed the girl I love
Because she would not marry me

“IN THE PINES” (Bill Monroe’s recording)


The Longest train I ever saw
Went down that Georgia line
The engine passed at 6 o’clock
The cab passed by at 9.
[REFRAIN:] In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines
And we shiver when the cold wind blows.


I asked my captain for the time of day
He said he throwed his watch away
A long steel rail and a short crosstie
I’m on my way back home.
[Refrain]


Little girl, little girl, what have I done
That makes you treat me so?
You caused me to weep, you caused me to moan
You caused me to leave my home.
[Refrain]

“WHERE DID YOU SLEEP LAST NIGHT (IN THE PINES)” (Lead Belly’s recording)

My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

My girl, my girl, where will you go
I’m going where the cold wind blows

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

My girl, my girl, don’t you lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through
[Interjection: “Tell me what happened down there”]
My husband was a hard working man
Just a mile and a half from here
His head was found in a driving wheel
But his body never ever be found
My girl, my girl, don’t you lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through
My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through
My girl, my girl, where will you go
I’m going where the cold wind blows
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

“IN THE PINES” (Nirvana’s recording)


My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me
Tell me, where did you sleep last night?
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through.


My girl, my girl, where will you go?
I’m going where the cold wind blows
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through.


Her husband was a hard-working man
Just about a mile from here
His head was found in the driver’s wheel
But his body never was found.


My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me
Tell me, where did you sleep last night?
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through.


My girl, my girl, where will you go?
I’m going where the cold wind blows
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through.


My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me
Tell me, where did you sleep last night?
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through.


My girl, my girl, where will you go?
I’m going where the cold wind blows
In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t shine
I shiver the whole night through.

“JOHN HENRY” (John Neece’s recording)

Henry got a letter, said his mother was dead
Put his children on a passenger train.
He gonna ride the blind, Lordy
He gonna ride the blind

Henry looked up the railroad track, spotted two…coming down
Before I let that steel driver beat me down
Die with that hammer in my hand
Gonna die with that hammer in my hand.

Henry went on the mountaintop, give his horn a blow.
Last words the Captain said
“John Henry was a natural man,
John Henry was a natural man.”

Henry had a woman, dress she wore was red.
Going on down that railroad track
Going where John Henry fell dead
Yes, I’m going where John Henry fell dead.

Henry had a baby boy, hold it in his palm of his hand
Last words that poor boy said
“I’m gonna lear to be a steel driving man
Yes, I’ll learn to be a steel driving man.

“JOHN HENRY” (John Carson’s recording)

John Henry was a very small boy,
Fell on his mammy’s knee;
Picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel,
“Lord, a hammer’ll be the death of me,
Lord, a hammer’ll be the death of me.”

John Henry went upon the mountain,
Come down on the side;
The mountain so tall, John Henry was so small,
Lord, he lay down his hammer and he cried, “Oh, Lord,”
He lay down his hammer and he cried.

John Henry was on the right hand,
But that steam drill was on the left;
“Before your steam drill beats me down,
Hammer my fool self to death,
Lord, I’ll hammer my fool self to death.”

The captain says to John Henry,
“Believe my tunnel’s fallin’ in.”
“Captain, you needn’t not to worry,
Just my hammer hawsing in the wind,
Just my hammer hawsing in the wind.”

“Look away over yonder, captain,
You can’t swing like me.”
He hollered out in a low, lonesome cry,
“This hammer’ll be the death of me,
Lord, this hammer’ll be the death of me.”

John Henry told his captain,
“Captain, you go to town,
Bring John back a twelve-pound hammer,
And he’ll whup your steam drill down,
[And] he’ll whup your steam drill down.”

For the man that invented that steam drill
Thought it was mighty fine;
John Henry sunk a fo’teen foot,
The steam drill only made nine,
The steam drill only made nine.

John Henry told his shaker,
“Shaker, you better pray;
For if I miss this six-foot steel,
Tomorrow’ll be your buryin’ day,
An’ tomorrow’ll be your buryin’ day.”

John Henry told his lovin’ little woman,
“Sick and I want to go to bed;
Fix me a place to lay down, child,
Got a rollin’ in my head,
Got a rollin’ in my head.”

John Henry had a lovely little woman,
Called her Polly Ann;
John Henry got sick and he had to go home,
But Polly broke steel like a man,
Polly broke steel like a man.

John Henry had another little woman,
The dress she wore was blue;
She went down the track and she never looked back,
“John Henry, I’ve been true to you.”

“JOHN HENRY” (Woody Guthrie’s recording)

John Henry, when he was a baby
Sittin’ on his mammy’s knee
Picked up a hammer in his little right hand, said
“The hammer’ll be the death of me, me, me.
Hammer’ll be the death of me.”

Some said he’s born down in Texas
Some said he’s born up in Maine
I just say he was a Louisiana man, was the
Leader of a steel-drivin’ chain gang
Leader of a steel-drivin’ gang.

Well the captain said to John Henry
“I’m going to bring my steam drill ‘round
Going to bring my steam drill out on the job
Going to walk that steel on down down down.
Going to walk that steel on down.”

John Henry said to the captain (What’d he say?)
“You can bring your steam drill ‘round.
You can bring that steam drill out on the job
I’ll beat that steam drill down down down.
I’ll beat that steam drill down.”

John Henry said to his shaker
“Shaker, you’d better pray
If you miss your 6’ of steel, why
Tomorrow’ll be your burying day day day.
Tomorrow’ll be your burying day.”

Now the shaker said to John Henry (Yessir)
“Man ain’t nothing but a man” (No he ain’t).
“But before I’d left, that stream-drill’ll be the down
I believe I’ll die with my hammer in my hand hand hand.
I believe I’ll die with my hammer in my hand.”

John Henry had a little woman
Her name was Polly Anne
John Henry took sick and laid in bed, while
Polly Anne drove steel like a man man man,
Polly Anne drove steel like a man.

They took John Henry to the graveyard
Laid him down in the sand
Every locomotive comes a rollin’ by, hollorin’
“Yonder lays a steel-drivin’ man man man
Yonder lays a steel-drivin’ man.
Yonder lays a steel-drivin’ man man man
Yonder lays a steel-drivin’ man.”