John Henry The Myth – The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

John Henry was the second folk song I worked on after I started working at the CSX railroad as a yard switchman. The first tune I wrote was Hub Engineer. We will get to that later.

There was so much going on around us as this tune was being reformatted for contemporary use. A new technology was being introduced, jobs were being cut and morale was at an all time low. Written on the cab wall of one of the railroad yard switch engines, in big black letters read:

The Flogging Will Continue Until Morale Improves.

Remote control technology had been a rumor for a long time and every once in a while in conversation we railroaders would suggest that it could never work, or any version of that argument, however, the union was making agreements, the remote control boxes were arriving and something needed to be done.

I grew up around folk music my whole life!

I was raised by a railroader and political activist! I knew the John Henry story and knew the power of song and being a Sun Ra devotee, knew that myth was important to developing our story. John Henry might as well had been a steel driving man, but we needed a hero. We needed myth and a story. What we needed was good old folk music to the rescue!

After releasing the song, I was sort of concerned because my co-workers were not fully aware of one of their own working class heroes. What was even more troubling, was that the moral to the real folk story John Henry was not being heeded.

Pride killed John Henry, and pride was not going to help us organize against this new technology.  The railroad knew Remote Control Technology was a direct threat to the locomotive engineer craft. They knew the two unions it was being forced on were historically known to fight each other. The railroad worked every aspect of the pride issue and eventually got exactly what they wanted. We were railroaded.

Dumb Boys UTU BLET Fighting Cartoon

Everybody was pissed off, mad and nervous.

Things were changing fast! Operations were changing, two unions were being pitted against each other and something historical was happening and needed to be told. A story. A story about what was going on back in the not so far away past. In some ways, I was embedded behind the front lines of the class war. Sort of a war journalist in a railyard battlefield.

I compiled the song John Henry on a CD titled Music For Modern Railroaders and sold them at the railyard from a clerk van. I think we sold about 200 copies at the yard. The song made everybody who bought a CD from the railroad clerk, laugh.

We needed laughter, bad.

There really was a locomotive engineer named John Henry at the railyard. He retired before the remote control technology was implemented. Ol’ John used to say when the rumors became a locker room conversation, that he would be gone before they came. If you get the nickname John Henry on the railroad these days, it’s probably because you are a company man. You probably need to slow down. He was one of those who would work us out of a job. Slow down! John Henry for ya’ work us all out of a job!

John Henry 2006 from (JP) (rufus porter) to all my brothers and sisters in
the BLE&T and The UTU!
Well John Henry he was a locomotive engineer

Workin’ down in the Osborn bowl.

And he looked at his switchman said you

Better git to work.

We’re gonna beat that RCO.

Gonna beat that RCO!
Yankin’ and a Pullin’ on them cars with his

Switchman working as fast as he can.

Ol’ John is a thinkin the whole time,

A Machine aint gonna beat a man.

A machine aint gonna beat a man.
Well the groundhoggers came out of the shanty

And they looked at the 6022.

Said to each other as they switched on their boxes,

Ya know we got a lotta work to do

Ya know we got a lotta work to do.
The groundhoggers were havin a little problem

They couldn’t get their boxes to link up.

Between a poll off-line and a comm loss,

They wer’nt having a very good time.

Seems like it happens everytime.
Well the groundhoggers hollerd at the bowl.

BOWL TOWR

We’re havin a problem linkin up.

We’ve tried everything we know how to do.

I guess we’re shit outta luck

I guess we’re shit outta luck.
The tower hollers to John Henry.

Come and get this engine outta the way

It’s blockin the East and we gotta pull some cars,

I guess we’ll convert one today,

It seems like it’s better that way.
The groundhoggers sat in the shanty,

Waitin for a Big E to come and git er done.

John Henry and his switchman allready pulled 300 cars

That RCO job pulled none.

But it’s safer when you sit on your bum.
There is a reason for this story,

Corporate greed is killin this land.

If we don’t do something and ORGANIZE.

Say hello to the ONE MAN PLAN.

That’s talkin Union!

They wanna run trains with one man.
Roll the Union on!!

To My Brothers in the Brotherhood

To My Brothers in the Brotherhood

(When I left work – exhausted and hot.
Our secretary was hanging directions
to our meeting on the union board.)

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

It is my direct action to love!
Go home directly, hug my boy –
kiss the wife and hit the sack.

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

Brothers, one day you will take
this union as sacrament.
This power we seek is to unite human
heart with sacred vision.
To be forward thinking – with resolve.
Our kinship, our favor.
Our love for one another,
will be our saving grace.
It is radical to speak without kind intention.
It is what it is, is the mantra of the broken.
Reality dictates that our strength comes in numbers.
It is ignorance that expects people
to come, who have not been invited.
It is morality that guides us to be all inviting.
Conscience that tells of our failure.

Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us pray.

Let us not fall to fear of what might
happen if we raise our voices on high.
They will say, “they won’t stick together!”
They will say, “they don’t care!”
They will say, “they have fallen to
greed and don’t understand!”
Let us be like the tree,
planted by the water.

For I was happy but now I’m not.
I was lost but now, I’m found.
Was blind … but now I see.
I am employed by your favor!
Let’s not get lost in arguments.
Peace be with you.
And also with you.

Let us now greet each other &
feel open hands meet &
raise our voices on high!
Sing:

There is power in a band of working folks
when they stand hand in hand.

Amen.
In solidarity!

P.S
I make motion to change
the name of our union to also
include the word.
Sisterhood.
Can I get a witness?

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The Sabbatical of the Belle

They call me old man.

My crew. Nothing has really changed

in the over 100 years our lady has

made her way around.

They call her a tramp.

The boat. They use her to make a point,

of how things used to be built to last.

They say she is haunted.

By a deckhand, who walks the lower

deck whistling a mournful tune, and

by a captain who loved to gamble.

We are not a team.

For a team is out to win something.

Competes in game-playing.

We are a crew.

Wherein We, is the only way.

There is no, Them.

They call me old man.

My crew. Of young boys of summer.

Spirited like freedom, like

fireworks. Crass, salty and no different

than any other working men –

I have experienced.

They give me shit, and I give it back –

as they carry large bags of ice up a grand

staircase. I shirk that work, as they

miss the details, skip the corners –

walk around in circles,

day dreaming of

cute girls,

success

and

money.

There is something about her –

our Southern Belle. She breathes

with the ebb and flow of the river.

As her lines tighten and slack.

One little mistake could skin

a finger, pull a body into the water.

And that is our only goal, to keep

everyone out of harms way.

The river, our river –

much like how this boat

has been at times.

Trashed, dirty and rolling free,

like the murky blood

of a forgotten country.

And I walk the decks, a reincarnate

of Floyd the whistling deckhand.

Singing railroad hobo songs,

traditional blues. Making up

words to go with the troubles

I have seen, the struggles I feel.

A continuation of a body of

working songs, left in the air

like vibrations reverberating

in time with the clicking of

this massive machine.

They call me old man.

As I honestly greet every passenger

with a southern charm –

that is not a gimmick.

The rich, who shuffle on the

boat without making eye to eye.

The children, scared by the

grandness of our lady’s strength.

The old woman, who rides for free.

The Mayor, just making an appearance.

All the people, no matter

their lot, greeted in the language

of a native son.

Welcome to the Belle,

watch your step and then

Y’all have a gooden or,

take it easy now,

Y’all come back

and see us.

The Sabbatical of the Belle.

They call me old man.

A river man now.

Who once blew

that lonesome whistle,

all the live long day.

I am a stowaway most of

the time, laughing under my

breath.

They,

my crew,

if they only knew.

Old man river.

That old man river –

he must know something.

But he don’t say nothing.

He just keeps rolling –

He keeps rolling along.

John Paul



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On Woody Guthrie’s Birthday

Oh Woody, I am thinking about you!
I have grown somewhat bitter.
I must admit!
I know you – sometimes I fancy
that I am just like you.
But maybe it is because I know too much
and have been burnt by the fire.
So, a few questions I might ask. For
I am romantically involved so as to
mention – Sarah Ogan Gunning!

Was she bitter because Aunt Molly got
to hang around all them rich folks?
Was it because Pete played for the
Rockefellers, while singing –
I don’t want, your millions mister?

Hypocrisy is a bitch!
If you point it out –
they will bury you!
How much more crap should I take
before I “die with my hammer in
my hand?”

I heard Sarah ripped your ass once –
because you did one of her songs.
She picked your little ass up and
almost ringed your neck.
Is that true?

Woody, brother, i see what you saw,
and I think I know why you wrote all
night, alone, falling asleep on your
typewriter, full ashtray …

It takes a worried man,
to sing a worried song.

I certainly am worried.

One last question:

Did you ever hear Joe Hill talking
to you? I have.He said,
Don’t mourn, Organize.
So, i organized my life.
Trying not to get bitter and
am working now as a deck
hand on a Ohio River
Steamboat built two
years after you was borned.

Brother,
I wish we could hang out!
See, I worked on the railroad.
Found a lonesome darkness
engulfing me.
I gave it all up.
Once I built a railroad ..
you know the rest.

Brother,
For your birthday –
I offer you a song.
I wrote it for Jimmie
Rodgers. I have alot
in common with him too.

When the song
gets to the part where
I sing “I think y’all knowd.”
That part is for you!

Happy Birthday.

Love,
JP “Catfish John” Wright

P.S

You wanna hear some shit?
I heard Sarah Ogan died at a
singing circle. Time came
for her to sing. She took a
deep breath, and died.

I wonder if the dress she
wore was blue?

She sure knew how to
drive that steel!


My new position with Railroad Workers United

Two days from now, I officially start my new position with Railroad Workers United.

I will be a contracted organizer …

 

but what they don’t know is that they have hired a KAWA.

 

From what I humbly understand, from my deep study of West African, Guinean village tradition, is that the Kawa is the person who is in contact with the ancestors. The Kawa knows the natural medicines of the area and where they are to be found and is sort of the maintainer of society.

 

Sort of like a peacekeeper.

 

When there are ceremonies and community events happening, the Kawa wanders the crowd making sure people are staying appropriate and respecting the tradition and others.

 

Kind of like the Sergeant of Arms in a union meeting.

 

The video below is one of my favorite all-time YouTube videos. It is a Kawa and his apprentice.

Fadouba Oulare the Djembe player, was a very respected musician. I never had the honor of meeting him, but one of my teachers, Bolokada Conde was very good friends with him.

I take the human side of organizing very seriously. Speaking as someone who has burned out as organizer before – One of the many problems that I see with the labor movement is that they put their apprentices into very powerful positions.

Sometimes organizations expect interns and paid organizers to do way too much internal organizational work. They put people into positions that they’re not ready to fill.

Sometimes that’s OK, however, only if there are patient and loving elders who have tons of experience. Elders who are employed to mentor and challenge strategy that is academic in nature. (that is not to say that all academic study is bad)

The native peoples for centuries solved many of the social problems that We, in the various movements that we are in, are suffering from today. Many native societies had already weeded out the organizational sicknesses that I see today that are originating from corporate thinking … i.e. metrics, performance evaluations, production goals and certain team building cultures.

Those sorts of corporate ideals are evasive and do not belong in structures that are designed to care take human conditions of exploitation, violence and intentional conditions of un-organization. Labor Unions and Community organizations are infested with academic corporate culture and language that is toxic.

In my humble opinion, that is why the AFL-CIO, the UAW and many other community organizations can’t seem to organize the south as well as they would like. They need more Kawas. The organizations need more elders who understand the community and know how to hold it.

The Kawa is sort of the police department. Sort of the internal auditor of the code of culture … the protector of the mission and vision. We need as a society, to re-evaluate and define social policing. Many native societies had already figured that out as well.

more on that later ….

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Folk Labor Desk – What is the #ANTIFA

On this episode of the Folk Labor Desk, John Paul explores several sides of the question – Who is the ANTIFA or the so called “ALT LEFT.”

Reporting from the heart of Central Kentucky – Leitchfield, Kentucky, John Paul gives a little bit of his personal background as well as coins a not so new hashtag for the pundits to talk about while in the confines of their respective social media fox holes and corporate media break rooms …

#TheChildrenOfTheSocialRevolution or

the #CSR

Please share this video with like minded folks. I sure could use your support.  You can support my work by going here and purchasing my music or poetry!

Thanks Y’all

Have a goodin’

John Paul


I’m Gonna Die

They say that writers should be

isolated – by a certain degree.

They say a rhyme should be

tied – to some sort of scheme.

They say you can’t do that

and this is how it’s done.

They seem to hide when the

collection plate comes.

 

Chorus

 

I’m gonna die!

I just might lose my voice.

I’m gonna die!

This life was not my choice.

I’m gonna die from a lack

of common decency.

I’m gonna die.

 

They said fill out these forms.

Ask, “who do you know?”

They wanna make sure

you won’t steal the show.

They wanna see ya suffer.

Ask for your membership dues.

They don’t care if your limping

all about in your walking shoes.

 

Chorus

 

They seem to have deep pockets

so deep – they can’t reach the funds.

They want you a beggin’ for a life

of peace, solitude and fun.

They live in glass houses – have

all the answers for you.

They can’t understand how a good

man could ever get the blues!