There was a camp town man, used to plow and sing
And he loved that mule and the mule loved him
When the day got long as it does about now
I'd hear him singing to his mule cow
Calling, "Come on my sweet old girl, and I'll bet the whole damn world
That we're gonna make it yet to the end of the row"

Singing "Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, Bessie
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more"

Said it's a mean old world, heavy in need
And that big machine is just picking up speed
And we're supping on tears, and we're supping on wine
We all get to heaven in our own sweet time
So come all you Asheville boys and turn up your old-time noise
And kick 'til the dust comes up from the cracks in the floor

Singing, "Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, brother
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more"

But the camp town man, he doesn't plow no more
I seen him walking down to the cigarette store
Guess he lost that knack and he forgot that song
Woke up one morning and the mule was gone
So come on, you ragtime kings, and come on, you dogs, and sing
And pick up a dusty old horn and give it a blow

Playing, "Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, honey
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, sugar
Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind no more"


Lyrics submitted by smallwonderrobot, edited by planochico, tweedwolfscream

"Hard Times" as written by Gillian Howard Welch David Todd Rawlings

Lyrics © Wixen Music Publishing

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Hard Times song meanings
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7 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentA song for our times. Beautiful.

    I had a stupid argument with my wife about nothing, because we're both stressed about money, then I heard this song for the first time, having downloaded the album that night (though I now wish I bought the CD, check this out! youtube.com/…).

    Anyway, this song came on, and I cried. "Hard times ain't gonna rule my mind, honey, hard times ain't gonna rule my mind any more". I'm sorry, baby.

    Thank you Gillian and David for soothing my life.
    FishesWillLaughon November 10, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment I think this song is about rural people exhibiting steely defiance, even as their way of life crumbles around them.

    The Camptown man doesn't plow anymore because he no longer has any fields of any crops. He's lost them because of "factory farms." The only businesses left in his community are cigarette stores and check-cashing places. Walmart has shut everyone else down.

    An absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful song. Thank you so much for it, Gillian and David.
    shep61on December 01, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI hear "camptown man" instead of "captain". One odd coincidence is that the author of "camptown races", Stephen Foster, also has a song called "Hard Times Come Again No More". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…

    For the uncertain line I believe the lyrics are "It's a mean old world, heavy in need..."

    Also I think she says "lost that knack" or maybe "nag" and not "lost that black".


    sarahpon July 04, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commentedited, thanks
    smallwonderroboton July 06, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe last word in the first verse is "row" not "road"...you plow a row :p

    In the last verse I think she says ragtime kids.

    Thanks for the lyrics.
    sailinshoeson August 17, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think Gillian is singing about the "Janus" effect, the 2sides of the coin unfolding in front of us, transformation: the guy is getting what he prayed for - it's the impetus behind the incredible music we get from ragtime, the mule & plow drop away and dusty horns are there to be picked up. Here it becomes also reminiscent of Dylan's Thunder Mountain - he dusts off an old trombone and blows regardless of all hard times containments up til mow!
    jviaon July 02, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI tried to edit the lyrics from road to row, couldn't change it but sailinshoes is definitely right. Also I think it's "muley cow", not "mule cow".

    And on that topic, one minor thing that confuses me about this song is the camptown man's animal. It's referred to as a mule in the second line and again in the last verse, but also as a "muley cow", which means a hornless cow, not a mule.
    tweedwolfscreamon November 06, 2014   Link

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