John Hardy
By: traditional
Written by: traditional

Live Versions:
  1. John Hardy
  2.  
 
Lyrics:
John Hardy [Live version (a)]:

(From August 6, 2002 banjo stomp version)

John Hardy was a desperate man
He carried guns every day
He killed a man down in Charleston
Should've seen John Hardy get away
Should've seen John Hardy get away

John Hardy was standing at the gambling table
Didn't have no interest in the game
Up stepped a yellow guy who threw it all down
Said deal John Hardy in the game
Said deal John Hardy in the game

John Hardy drew to an inside straight
China-man to a pair
John, he drew and threw him up against
So he left him lying dead in his chair
Left him lying dead in his chair

John Hardy was standin' on the front porch
So drunk he could not see
Up stepped the sheriff and took him by the hand
Said, "John you better come with me,
John you better come with me"

John Hardy was standin' in the jailhouse cell
Tears streaming from his eyes
Said I been to the east, been to the west
Now I'm ready to die, Lord God, now I'm ready to die
Now I'm ready to die, Lord God, now I'm ready to die
 
The Song:

"John Hardy" is another one of those folk tales that have been passed all around from singer to singer so many times that declaring a definite version is impossible (much like "Stagolee"). Generally, the storyline is that John Hardy, a coal miner in West Virginia, shot a man over twenty-five cents lost in a card game (somewhat similar to "Stagolee"'s story actually). There are many many verses and variant details, but that's a quick summary.

Anyway, Beck has claimed on a couple of occasions that he learned the song from Leadbelly's version.  He also introduced it on November 19, 1997 that "John Hardy" was one of the first two or three songs he ever learned to play.
 
Live:

Played live 12 times:
Earliest known live version: March 24, 1994
Latest known live version: August 12, 2002

Beck played "John Hardy" a handful of times that we're aware of between 1994 and 2002. I'm sure there were more we don't know of in those earliest years too though.

The earliest we know about was March 24 1994, at a record store gig in Atlanta.

A few months later, at the June 29 1994 concert in Minneapolis, MN, Dave Ray & Tony Glover, two-thirds of the legendary folk group Koerner, Ray & Glover opened the show. Before playing "John Hardy," Beck introduced Ray and Glover and had them come out. He warned that they hadn't rehearsed, so they could mess up. But Beck, Ray, and Glover are so well-versed in the blues, that screwing up was unlikely. K, R & G covered "John Hardy" on their album The Return of Koerner, Ray & Glover (which also includes a song called "Don't Let Your Right Hand Know What Your Left Hand Do"). This is one of Beck's favorite albums, and Glover is one of his big harmonica influences. They also joined Beck on "Alcohol" and a "Stagolee."

Beck played "John Hardy" at a few acoustic sets through 1995, including his side stage appearances on the Lollapalooza tour (where he would play a main festival set with his band, then go play acoustic on a side stage). Another performance of "John Hardy" came on October 28 1995 at Neil Young's Bridge School Concert IX. Beck mentioned beforehand that it is traditional, but that he learned it from Leadbelly. "It's not really like he does it...he had a 12-string," Beck noted. This might be my favorite take of the song, especially with Beck's superb harmonica.

We also have the song on an acoustic show right before Odelay came out, and a 'country' show right after the Odelay tours. In between, it is down for just one mid-show acoustic section, but I bet it popped up a couple other times.

"John Hardy" was played a couple of times on Beck and Smokey's August 2002 tour with a banjo stomp arrangement, as well.
 
Notes: