Bob Dylan – North Country Blues

bob dylan newport 1963

The summer is gone
The ground’s turning cold
The stores one by one they’re a-foldin’
My children will go
As soon they grow
Well there ain’t nothing here now to hold them.

Once again, a trip home seemingly inculcated him with nostalgia for his “younger days,” when “the red iron pits ran plenty.” The sight of his hometown gripped by irreversible decline, as it would have been by 1963, set off a whole set of memories, good and bad, prompting one of his most effective ballads.
~Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973)

.. it affects a curious combination of distance and intimacy. The character is a woman who grew up in an iron ore mining town; she tells about the people in her life as if they are no more than extensions of the mine itself, regulated by its success and failure. This has been referred to as a “protest song” but any anger or even any moral must be supplied by the listener; the song itself offers only the sad, believable blankness of the narrator’s experience.
~Paul Williams (Bob Dylan Performing Artist I: The Early Years 1960-1973)



  1. Facts
  2. Lyrics
  3. Joan Baez cover

@#116 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.




“North Country Blues” is a song by Bob Dylan, released on his third studio album The Times They Are a-Changin’ in 1964. He also performed it at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival.
Its apparently simple format (ten verses of ABCB rhyme scheme) and subject matter (the perils of life in a mining community and its ultimate demise) appears to have been influenced by Woody Guthrie.
The specific location of the town is never stated. However, a location on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota is suggested by the song’s title, Dylan’s childhood residence in Hibbing, Minnesota, and the reference to “iron ore” and “red iron.” The reference to “red iron pits” strongly suggests the location is on the Mesabi Range, a portion of the Iron Range where open-pit mining has predominated, and where Hibbing is situated.

Known studio recordings:

  • Studio A, Columbia Recording Studios, New York City, New York – 6 August 1963
    The 1st The Times They Are A-Changin’ session, produced by Tom Wilson.
    4 takes – take 4 released on the album “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” 13 January 1964.


  • First known performance:

    Porch # 1 of Newport Casino
    Freebody Park
    Newport, Rhode Island
    27 July 1963
    Newport Folk Festival. Ballads workshop
  • It has been performed only 3 times live – the other performances:
  • Carnegie Hall
    New York City, New York
    26 October 1963

bob dylan carnegie hall 1963

  • Felt Forum
    Madison Square Garden
    New York City, New York
    9 May 1974
    The Friends of Chile Benefit Concert



Come gather ’round friends
And I’ll tell you a tale
Of when the red iron pits ran empty
But the cardboard filled windows
And old men on the benches
Tell you now that the whole town is empty.

In the north end of town
My own children are grown
But I was raised on the other
In the wee hours of youth
May mother took sick
And I was brought up by my brother.

The iron ore poured
As the years passed the door
The drag lines an’ the shovels they was a-humming
‘Til one day my brother
Failed to come home
The same as my father before him.

Well a long winter’s wait
From the window I watched
My friends they couldn’t have been kinder
And my schooling was cut
As I quit in the spring
To marry John Thomas, a miner.

Oh the years passed again
And the givin’ was good
With the lunch bucket filled every season
What with three babies born
The work was cut down
To a half a day’s shift with no reason.
Then the shaft was soon shut
And more work was cut
And the fire in the air, it felt frozen
‘Til a man come to speak
And he said in one week
That number eleven was closin’.

They complained in the East
They are playing too high
They say that your ore ain’t worth digging
That it’s much cheaper down
In the South American towns
Where the miners work almost for nothing.

So the mining gates locked
And the red iron rotted
And the room smelted heavy from drinking
Where the sad silent song
Made the hour twice as long
As I waited for the sun to go sinking.

I lived by the window
As he talked to himself
This silence of tongues it was building
Then one morning’s wake
The bed it was bare
And I’s left alone with three children.

The summer is gone
The ground’s turning cold
The stores one by one they’re a-foldin’
My children will go
As soon they grow
Well there ain’t nothing here now to hold them.

Joan Baez cover

From her 1968 Dylan tribute album Any Day Now.

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One thought on “Bob Dylan – North Country Blues”

  1. Of his early poetry this one stands for me as maybe his crowning achievement, not as full of images like Hard Rain or as important as Blowin ‘in the Wind, but Hemingway-like strong in its seemingly simple story telling and very evocative in its details, working as a song too, hypnotic in its sounds, to me only rivaled by Spannish Boots and One too many Mornings, but hey, I love that album The Times etc, so pure. Some say they miss the humor, but what should that do in such a forceful stark atmosphere it has. It is the maturation of his folk period, and could not be topped, so the change was hanging in the air.

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