“These songs didn’t come out of thin air,” he said. “I didn’t just make them up out of whole cloth. . . . It all came out of traditional music: traditional folk music, traditional rock and roll, and traditional big-band swing orchestra music. . . . If you sang ‘John Henry’ as many times as me—‘John Henry was a steel-driving man / Died with a hammer in his hand / John Henry said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man / Before I let that steam drill drive me down / I’ll die with that hammer in my hand.’ If you had sung that song as many times as I did, you’d have written ‘How many roads must a man walk down?’ too.
He’s in his eighties. How does he keep it fresh?