Cut it as Eva David for Harmony, Velvet Tone and Diva. Sometimes the song is credited to a Jeff Hamilton from Virginia (1909). English musicologist Cecil Sharp heard this song in 1916 as sung by Mrs. Ellie Johnson from Hot Springs, NC, and collected it in English Folk Songs From The Southern Appalachians.
Buell Kazee [B-side of his first Brunswick 78]
Carter Family [as John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man]
Woody Guthrie [as Tom Joad, one of his Dust Bowl Ballads; written in the appartment of Alan Lomax who showed him the Carter Family version]
Woody Guthrie [as Johnny Hart]
Sir Douglas Quintet [as The Story Of John Hardy]
Along with John Henry (see there) one of the most popular American ballads, the stuff where legends are made off. Both older than the invention of the grammophone. Searching for the real original makes no sense. There's so many local versions and lyrical variations, while Henry and Hardy get mixed up frequently. Both worked against each other or filled in nicely, making for some interesting scrambles. Whole phD's were written about the subject. There once was even suggested both were one and the same person, while the historical facts nurturing each ballad lay a quarter century apart. Both stories took place in West Virginia, fueling the confusion. John Henry and John Hardy were both popular heroes and legends all the same. One was good, the other one bad. Both were black. John Hardy was a murderer who was executed in 1894 in Welsh, McDowell Co. West Virginia. Like John Henry he was a steel driver, tunnel digger for the railroad. He was also gambler and drinker and those vices rarely match. He killed another gambler over a 25 cent dispute. They baptized him before the hanging and he showed repent.