Song of the Day #4,467: ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown (Witmark Demos)’ – Bob Dylan

Between 1962 and 1964, Bob Dylan recorded a few dozen tracks for the publisher M. Witmark & Sons, with a plan to shop those songs to other artists.

Those songs, along with eight tracks he recorded for Leeds Music, were released in 2010 as the ninth volume of Dylan’s Bootleg Series. The collection features some of the earliest versions of beloved classics along with lesser-known and previously unheard tracks.

Today’s SOTD, ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’ would appear in different (but similar) form on The Times They Are A-Changin’ in 1964.

The haunting track tells the story of a desperate, impoverished man who kills himself, his wife and his five children. Dylan’s use of second person for all but the first and final two verses puts the listener in Brown’s shoes in a way uncommon for protest songs of the time.

Hollis Brown, he lived on the outside of town
Hollis Brown, he lived on the outside of town
With his wife and five children and his cabin brokin’ down

You looked for work and money and you walked a rugged mile
You looked for work and money and you walked a rugged mile
Your children are so hungry that they don't know how to smile

Your baby's eyes look crazy, they're a-tuggin' at your sleeve
Your baby's eyes look crazy, they're a-tuggin' at your sleeve
You walk the floor and wonder why with every breath you breathe

The rats, they got your flour, bad blood, it got your mare
The rats, they got your flour, bad blood, it got your mare
If there's anyone that knows is there anyone that cares?

You prayed to the Lord above, oh, please, send you a friend
You prayed to the Lord above, oh, please, send you a friend
Your empty pockets tell you that you ain't a-got no friend

Your babies are crying louder now, it's a-pounding on your brain
Your babies are crying louder now, it's a-pounding on your brain
Your wife's screams are stabbin' you like the dirty drivin' rain

Your grass is turning black, there's no water in your well
Your grass is turning black, there's no water in your well
You spent your last lone dollar on seven shotgun shells

Way out in the wilderness a cold coyote calls
Way out in the wilderness a cold coyote calls
Your eyes fix on the shotgun that's hangin' on the wall

Your brain is a-bleedin' and your legs can't seem to stand
Your brain is a-bleedin' and your legs can't seem to stand
Your eyes fix on the shotgun that you're holdin' in your hand

There's seven breezes blowin' all around the cabin door
There's seven breezes blowin' all around the cabin door
Seven shots ring out like the ocean's pounding roar

There's seven people dead an a South Dakota farm
There's seven people dead on a South Dakota farm
Somewheres in the distance there's seven new people born

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,467: ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown (Witmark Demos)’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Peg says:

    Cheerful way to start the day 😢

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    How much more “bootleg” material could Dylan possibly have at this point?

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