John Hardy on the Fretless

Second practice with my new fretless mountain Banjer from R.K. Smith. Going fretless and playing with nylon strings is a new experience for me and I’m enjoying it.

I’m attempting to play John Hardy who, according to Lomax, was a real fella hanged for a felony around 1895.


John Hardy, he was a desp’rate little man,
He carried two guns ev’ry day.
He shot a man on the West Virginia line,
An’ you ought seen John Hardy getting away.

John Hardy, he got to the Keystone Bridge,
He thought that he would be free.
And up stepped a man and took him by his arm,
Says, “Johnny, walk along with me.”

He sent for his poppy and his mommy, too,
To come and go his bail.
But money won’t go a murdering case;
They locked John Hardy back in jail.

John Hardy, he had a pretty little girl,
That dress that she wore was blue
As she came skipping through the old jail hall,
Saying, “Poppy, I’ve been true to you.”

John Hardy, he had another little girl,
That dress that she wore was red.
She followed John Hardy to his hanging ground,
Saying, “Poppy, I would rather be dead.”

I been to the East and I been to the West,
I been this wide world around.
I been to the river and I been baptized,
And now I’m on my hanging ground.

John Hardy walked out on his scaffold high,
With his loving little wife by his side.
And the last words she heard poor John-O say,
“I’ll meet you in that sweet bye-and-bye.”



  1. Andrew Suttles · January 19, 2014

    Oh yeah! I’ve been waiting for this to get posted!

    I really like the new banjer. Since you don’t have any brackets, you can play really close to the neck without catching your thumb. That skin head sounds perfect, too. How do you like nylon strings?

    I really like this version of John Hardy. I play a version from Ken Perlman’s book, but your version is much more authentic sounding.


    • jm · January 19, 2014

      Thanks Andrew. Any chance you could take a photo of the Perlman tab and email it to me? I’d like to see the difference and learn to play both. The tab I used was taken from one of Patrick Costello’s books, a simple frailing tab, not a lot of frills.

      Leadbelly plays my favourite version of John Hardy:

      I like the nylon with this banjo but doubt I would ever set up a modern banjo with them. They feel perfect on a fretless. I’ve been playing the fretless since I got it and just picked up my other banjo tonight and notice immediately how much more strength I had to use on the steel strings to bend and slide. The “nylon” strings are really just fishing line (

      Any chance you would post a video of John Hardy?

      I would recommend buying a fretless from R.K. Smith. The workmanship is amazing.

      Next on the list, either a reso uke ( or fix up the Banjolin that I have.


      • Andrew Suttles · January 20, 2014

        Sorry about the delay…

        I just e-mailed you a pic. Let me know if you can’t make it out. The pic looks a little dark on my IPod, but maybe it will be readable on a computer screen. I’ll try again in better light if I get a chance tonight.

      • jm · January 20, 2014

        Got it, thank you. I can read it just fine. Seems to be an added finger here and there but essentially the same as what I play.

      • Andrew Suttles · January 20, 2014

        Here’s a vid of a guy playing it to the Perlman arrangement:

        I’d like to post some banjo vids since I’ve progressed tremendously since the last time I was posting them, but I deleted all my Google+ vids b/c my wife doesn’t like me having a personal internet presence. I guess she figures that once the ladies see my thick beard and that beautiful Gold Tone banjo, they won’t be able to control themselves. 🙂

      • jm · January 20, 2014

        My wife is pretty private so I can understand. You could post them on YouTube under private which allows only those with the link to view it. Works well to maintain your privacy.

      • Andrew Suttles · January 23, 2014

        Good idea…


  2. Kipp Soncek · January 22, 2014

    Jason, great stuff. Perhaps my second favorite version, after, of course, the mighty Uncle Tupelo:

  3. jm · January 22, 2014

    Thanks Kipp. It sho is alotta fun.

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