Here are a four songs inspired by the legend of John Henry, a steel-driving railroad worker who died after a race with a steam-powered hammer.
The versions of "John Henry" by Vern and Ray and Sonny and Brownie are pretty typical fare for the story: they mention Henry's premonition as a baby, the race, his burial, and his wife's reaction (though not necessarily in that order).
Merle Travis' "John Henry Jr." is a comical tale about a crap-shooting gambler, the exact opposite of his mythical folk hero father.
Justin Townes Earle combines Henry's story with that of Joe Hill and his grandfather to create a defiant meta-folk tale about hard working men who can't escape their fates: "They killed John Henry, but they won't kill me."
The themes of working class strength and the fight against modernization made the tune a popular one during the folk and bluegrass revival, and they still resonate today.