“Swannanoa Tunnel”


"Asheville Junction, Swannanoa Tunnel, all caved in, baby, all caved in." About the life of a steel driver: "This old hammer Killed John Henry, Couldn't kill me." The singer hopes for relief from the hard work and a chance to see his woman.


The connection between this song and "Take This Hammer" (Nine Pound Hammer) is very strong; there are so many intermediate versions that we can hardly draw a clear distinction. But the extreme versions are sufficiently different that I have listed them

separately. - RBW

Sharp's versions mention neither the tunnel nor a cave-in, but I put them here for simplicity's sake, using the mention of Swannanoa as the dividing line from "Take This Hammer." You should check out that entry too, though. - PJS

Cross references


  • Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "Swannanoa Tunnel" (on BLLunsford01) (on BLLunsford02)


  1. BrownII 280, "John Henry" (2 texts plus 5 fragments, 1 excerpt, and mention of 1 more, but the "H" text and "I" excerpt are this piece and most of the rest, except the "A" text, are "Take This Hammer")
  2. Combs/Wilgus 256, p. 166, "The Yew-Pine Mountains" (1 text, which omits the "Swannanoa Tunnel" lyrics but is otherwise so similar I have to believe it the same)
  3. SharpAp 91, "Swannanoa Town" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
  4. Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 749, "Swannanoa Tunnel" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Silber-FSWB, p. 45, "Swannanoa Tunnel" (1 text)
  7. Roud #3602
  8. BI, CW166


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1916 (Cecil Sharp collection); +1913 (JAFL26)
Found in: US(Ap,SE)