Friends this side of the Atlantic may not be familar with the story of John Henry, but you can read about him on Wikipedia. John Henry, the story goes, was a ‘steel-driving man’ whose prowess with the hammer was formidable.
At one point, he took on a steam hammer, side-by-side, and won… but the effort also killed him.
It’s not quite clear whether John Henry was ever anything more than a legend, but he has inspired statues, books, animations, compositions by Aaron Copland… and almost everybody seems to have recorded musical versions of the story, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, Lonnie Denegan, Harry Belafonte, Woodie Guthrie… to name but a few. For a brief version, here’s Tennessee Ernie Ford, or I rather like the slightly longer story as recorded by Johnny Cash.