Song Lyric Sunday — Size Matters

For this week’s Song Lyric Sunday theme, Jim Adams is all about size, as in “ Big,” “Large,” “Little,” “Small,” “Tall,” and “Tiny.” I decided to turn on the Wayback Machine and harken back to the days before Jimmy Dean was hawking sausage and was an American country music singer and television host. Yes, I went with Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John.”

“Big Bad John” was a country song written and performed by Jimmy Dean. He wrote and composed it in collaboration with Roy Acuff. Released in September 1961, it became a Billboard Hot 100 number one song by November. It won Dean the 1962 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording.

The song is about a mysterious and quiet miner who earned the nickname “Big John” because of his height, weight, and muscular physique. One day, a support timber cracked at the mine where John worked. The situation looked hopeless until John “grabbed a saggin’ timber, gave out with a groan / and like a giant oak tree just stood there alone,” then “gave a mighty shove,” opening a passage and allowing the 20 other miners to escape the mine.

Just as the other miners were about to re-enter the mine with the tools necessary to save him, the mine fully collapsed and John was believed to have died in the depths of the mine. The mine itself was never reopened, but a marble stand was placed in front of it, with the words “At the bottom of this mine lies a big, big man – Big John.”

Dean wrote the song, which was not based upon a specific mining event, on a flight from New York to Nashville when he realized he needed another song for his recording session.

The Big John character in the song was based upon fellow actor John Mentoe (“Destry Rides Again”), who was 6’5″ tall.

Here are the lyrics to the song.

(Big John, big John)
Every 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, kinda quiet and shy
And if you spoke at all, you 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

12 thoughts on “Song Lyric Sunday — Size Matters

  1. aisasami June 7, 2020 / 7:46 am

    Great old country song. I wonder if my mom likes this song as she is into 50s and 60s Country Western musicals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Maggie June 7, 2020 / 10:28 am

    We sang the dickens out of this song. Always a family favorite when I was growing up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marleen June 7, 2020 / 12:36 pm

    I read one of those Destry books. (By Max Brand.) Because our friend, James, reviewed one/them… or brought them up in some capacity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. msjadeli June 7, 2020 / 3:09 pm

    Fandango, great choice. I love ballads, and I love Jimmy Dean. We used to have the album this was on. “Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip” All kinda sizin going on in this song.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. leigha66 June 10, 2020 / 1:11 am

    Haven’t heard that in ages. Most of the country music stations don’t play anything over 5 or 10 years old.

    Liked by 1 person

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