Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

Video: Doc Watson & Earl Scruggs Perform “John Hardy” at Doc’s home

Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and their sons perform the Appalachian ballad John Hardy at Doc’s home.

On January 19, 1894, the Wheeling Daily Register published the following story:

“John Hardy, for killing Thomas Drews, both colored, was hung at 2:09 p.m. today. Three thousand people witnessed his death. His neck was broken and he died in 17 ½ minutes. He exhibited great nerve, attributed his downfall to whiskey, and said he had made peace with God. His body was cut down at 2:39, placed in a coffin, and given to the proper parties for interment. He was baptized in the river this morning. Ten drunken and disorderly persons among the spectators were promptly arrested and jailed.”

As with most folk songs, it is not known who penned the verses that would become one of the most popular murder ballads ever written. The ballad tells the story of John Hardy, a West Virginia outlaw who was hanged in 1894 for killing a man over a 25-cent gambling debt. During the early part of the 20th century, dozens of versions of the Hardy ballad circulated, but after the famous Carter Family recording, everyone from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan used their version which became a regular part of Doc Watson’s repertoire:

[Banjo intro]
John Hardy was a desperate little man
He carried two guns every day.
He shot him a man on the West Virginia line
You oughta to seen John Hardy getting away, poor boy.
You oughta to seen John Hardy getting away.
[Doc’s Solo]

John Hardy run to the Keystone Bridge
He thought he might be free.
But a Marshall stepped up and grabbed him by the arm
Sayin’, “Johnny come along with me.” [You’re a bad one son]
“Johnny come along with me.”
{Randy Scruggs solo]

Well he sent for his Papa and his Mama too
To come around and go on his bail
But money can’t pay on a murdering case
So they locked John Hardy back in jail, poor boy
They locked John Hardy back in jail.
[Earl’s solo]

They hung John Hardy on the following morn,
They strung him way up in the sky.
The last words that poor John Hardy said,
“I’ll see you in that great bye-and bye, Lord, Lord,
See you in that great bye and bye.”

Text and lyrics adapted from Bluegrass Messengers.

John_Hardy_Hanging

Photo of John Hardy before his Hanging

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This entry was posted on October 10, 2015 by in Music and tagged , , .
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