by Rev. Robert Jones

Story Summary

Rev. Jones describes how American Roots music tells a story. He plays a song called Lost John that tells the story of a man who escapes a chain gang to see his family. Listen carefully and you can hear the hounds chasing and the train a’ coming.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does Rev. Jones mean when he said that American Root Music (gospel, blues, country, western, Cajun, zydeco, folk, tejano, Native American) needs to be simple so that people can change it?
  2. What kinds of changes to this song would other musicians make?


  • American Root Music by Robert Santelli
  • Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music by Benjamin Filene


  • African American/Africans

Full Transcript
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When you think about American roots music, one of the things that makes it American roots music… makes it so cool… is that not only is it simple, has to be simple so you can change it…  you can remember it and you communicate it, but also it’s gotta tell a story. And one of my favorite storytellers just didn’t use words to tell the story. He was a guy named Sonny Terry, great harmonica player. And he used to do a song called “The Lost John.”

The idea about “Lost John” is while John is on a chain gang trying to get home to see his mama.  And there’re dogs around, big dogs, (harmonica sound), little dogs, (harmonica sound), Chihuahuas, (harmonica sound), and hounds, you know. And as he runs for this train, he hears this train slow down. He starts running forward. And if you listen real close, you can hear the train. You can hear him running. You can hear the dogs. You might even hear his mama.

So he called it “Lost John.”  I call it “Dogs and Hounds.”

(Harmonica playing)

All smoke.

(Harmonica playing)

I love you, Son.

(Harmonica playing)

I know you do.

(Harmonica playing)

Come on home.

(Harmonica playing)

Coming mama

(Harmonica playing)