Spike Driver Blues

This song was recorded in 1966, released under Vanguard, in USA

Listen to recording

John Henry was a steel drivin' man
Oh, he went down
Yes, he went down

John Henry, he had a little wife
Name was Polly Ann
Name was Polly Ann

John Henry took sick in his bed
He drove steel like a man
Drove steel like a man

I walked a lot a way from east Colorado
Baby that's my home
Honey, that's my home

You jus' take this hammer and carry it to my captain
Oh, tell him I'm gone
Won't you tell him I'm gone?

John Henry left his hammer
Layin' side the road
Layin' side the road

John Henry left his hammer
All painted in red
All painted in red

You just take this hammer and carry it to my captain
Oh, tell him I'm gone
Won't you tell him I'm gone?


A classic riff to play

To think, many finger-pickers live their day, not realizing others share their origins of starting off with Mississippi John Hurt's, Spike Driver Blues :)

This write-up is based on the recording of it on the album 'Today!'.

What Hurt plays on the recording

The tuning of the song is in standard tuning, EADGBE.

And now, onto those notes...

Section A / Part 1 of 3

the Starting G chord

The song starts with the I/root chord -- the G-chord.

It's played with an alternating bassline & pentatonic notes on the treble-side.

Section A / Part 2 of 3

Getting into the IV chord

The song continues into the IV/C chord. It's played as a C-chord, with a G-note (3rd fret of the 6th string) in the bass. A C 'over' G, C/G-chord

Section A / Part 3 of 3

Back to the I chord

After that trip to the C/IV chord, the riff gets back into the Gmaj/I chord.

Section B / Part 1 of 2

Bit #1: into the G7

Finally, to complete the chorus of Spike Driver Blues, Hurt plays 3 cycles of these endings,

  • First time: Section B - Part 1
  • Second time: Section B - Part 2
  • Third time: Section B - Part 2 (repeated)

This first ending/bit rests on the G7 chord at the end.

Section B / Part 2 of 2

Bit #2: back into the Gmaj

To finish the chorus, Hurt then plays this 2nd ending/bit twice.

The slight difference from the 1st ending is that he lands on the Gmaj instead of the G7.

And that is it -- there are no more new parts to the song!


Wrapping up this song

Thank you for following along with Spike Driver Blues, by Mississippi John Hurt.

It's a classic song that most fingerpickers ought to know. The song's played in the key of G in standard tuning.

Posted by blah148

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