“John Hardy” (Traditional Folk Song)

Long, long, long time ago, before the twenty-four hour news cycle, before the internet, before television……..major events were spread across the country by word of mouth and news papers. One of the reasons I love traditional folk music is because the songs tell a story and back then musicians had the important role of composing and singing the story across the country. Songs where written about the Titanic Disaster, the assassination of President William McKinley and even Amelia Earhart.

Over the many years, the folk song “John Hardy” that has been recorded by hundred of artists including everybody from the Carter Family to Bill Frisell, and has become a standard in Bluegrass circles. Often the tune is just used as a jamming vehicle with the song’s words carelessly spewed out which is unfortunate because the story told in the song actually happened.

John Hardy was a railroad worker living in McDowell County, West Virginia n 1893. McDowell County had become quite a wild place due to the influx of thousands of workers to help build the “West Virginia” railroad line and the temporary worker camps were full of gambling, liquor and other assorted vices. The worker, John Hardy got drunk and during a craps game, pulled his pistol and shot another worker named Thomas Drews and killed him. During the game a quarrel regarding a woman both men were involved with had erupted. Hardy tried to flee the state but after a few days was apprehended by the local Sherriff. Hardy was thrown in jail where he was visited by his wife. A jury found Hardy guilty of murder in the first degree. On January 19, 1894, they hanged John Hardy and it is documented that over three thousand people attended the hanging. Poor John Hardy, however, made peace with the Lord the morning before his death and he was brought down to the river and baptized a few hours before the hanging.

Here is my rendition of the song, “John Hardy”. If you follow the lyrics you will hear his story accurately told.