Big Bad John

I would like to introduce you to an favorite, old ballad of mine that tells about a shy man who sacrifices himself to save others and thus becomes a hero.

By way of review, you should know that a song has three basic parts: the melody or tune, the lyrics, and the refrain. In this post, you can listen to the melody (or tune) while reading the lyrics. You will notice that the refrain is very simple:

(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Perhaps this refrain is intended to sound like a haunting echo since he dies at the end.

Listen to the song while reading the lyrics.

Here are the lyrics with some slang and idioms highlighted in blue. Mouseover these blue words and phrases to see their meanings pop up as you read and listen. We will discuss the meaning of these at the end of this post.


Big John, Big John

Ev’ry mornin’ at the mine you could see him arrive
He stood six foot six and weighed two forty five
Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip
And everybody knew, ya didn’t give no lip to Big John

(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Nobody seemed to know where John called home
He just drifted into town and stayed all alone
He didn’t say much, he kinda quiet and shy
And if you spoke at all, he just said, “Hi” to Big John

Somebody said he came from New Orleans
Where he got in a fight over a Cajun Queen
And a crashin’ blow from a huge right hand
Sent a Louisiana fellow to the Promised Land, Big John

(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Then came the day at the bottom of the mine
When a timber cracked and men started cryin’
Miners were prayin’ and hearts beat fast
And everybody thought that they’d breathed their last, ‘cept John

Through the dust and the smoke of this man made hell
Walked a giant of a man that the miners knew well
Grabbed a saggin’ timber, gave out with a groan
And like a giant oak tree, he just stood there alone, Big John

(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

And with all of his strength he gave a mighty shove
Then a miner yelled out, “There’s a light up above”
And twenty men scrambled from a would-be grave
Now there’s only one left down there to save, Big John

With jacks and timbers they started back down
Then came that rumble way down in the ground
And then smoke and gas belched out of that mine
Everybody knew it was the end of the line for Big John

(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)

Now they never reopened that worthless pit
They just placed a marble stand in front of it
These few words are written on that stand
At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man, Big John

(Big John, Big John) Big Bad John (Big John)
(Big John) Big Bad John


In the sentences below, complete the phrase with the correct word(s):

1. His truck smashed into the wall. It was the _____ of the _____ for him.

2. I thought I was going to die when that car stopped inches from me.
I thought I’d _____ my last!

3. Engineer, if you don’t be quiet, I’m going to send you to the _____ _____.

4. Lee, are you telling me that you are my _____-___ executioner (killer)?

5. Mothers often get angry when their children give them ____.

Post your answers when you feel confident. 🙂

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