I heard this song first when I was in high school playing with an amateur bluegrass band. Words and melody are about another time, a Depression song that Dylan later recorded.

Little to nothing is known about this ’20s folk group, though their sharecropping saga “Down on Penny’s Farm” (recorded in 1929 for Columbia) was enjoyed by many folk revivalists. The words below aren’t the same as the original Bently Bros song but close enough.

“Down On Penny’s Farm”

Come here ladies and gentleman
Listen to my song
Play it to you right
But you may think it wrong
May make you mad
But I mean no harm
It’s just about the renters
On Penny’s farm
It’s a hard time in the country
Down on Penny’s farm

Go into the fields
And you work all day
Deep into the night
But you get no pay
Promise you some meat
Or a little bucket of lard
It’s hard to make a living
On Penny’s farm
It’s a hard time in the country
Down on Penny’s farm

Hear George Penny
He’ll be coming into town
With a wagon load of peaches
Not a one of them sound
Gotta get his money
Gotta get a check
Pay you for a bushel
But you never get a peck
It’s a hard time in the country
Down on Penny’s farm

George Penny’s renters
They be coming into town
With their hands in their pockets
And their heads hanging down
Go to the merchant
And the merchant he’ll say,
“your mortgage it is due
And I’m looking for my pay”
It’s a hard time in the country
Down on Penny’s farm

Deep into his pocket
With a trembling hand,
“can’t pay you what I owe
But I’ll pay you what I can”
Down to the merchant
And the merchant make a call
Put you on the chain gang
Don’t pay at all
It’s a hard time in the country
Down on Penny’s farm

HERE IS BOB DYLAN’S NEW YORK VERSION OF THE SAME TUNE

Old New York City is a friendly old town,
From Washington Heights to Harlem on down.
There’s a-mighty many people all millin’ all around,
They’ll kick you when you’re up and knock you when you’re down.
It’s hard times in the country,
Livin’ down in New York town.

It’s a mighty long ways from the Golden Gate
To Rockefeller Plaza n’ the Empire State.
Mister Empire sets up as high as a bird,
Old Mister Rockefeller never says a word.
It’s hard times from the country,
Livin’ down in New York town.

Well, it’s up in the mornin’ tryin’ to fins a job of work.
Stand in one place till your feet begin to hurt.
If you go a lot o’ money you can make yourself merry,
If you only got a nickel, it’s the Staten Island Ferry.
And it’s hard times in the country,
Livin’ down in New York town.

Mister Hudson come a-sailin’ down the stream
And old Mister Minuet paid for his dream.
Bought your city on a one-way track,
‘F I had my way I’d sell it right back.
And it’s hard times from the country,
Livin’ down in New York town.

I’ll take all the smog in Cal-i-for-ne-ay,
‘N’ every bit of dust in the Oklahoma plains,
‘N’ the dirt in the caves of the Rocky Mountain mines.
It’s all much cleaner than the New York kind.
And it’s hard times in the country,
Livin’ down in New York town.

So all you newsy people, spread the news around,
You c’n listen to m’ story, listen to m’ song.
You c’n step on my name, you c’n try ‘n’ get me beat,
When I leave New York, I’ll be standin’ on my feet.
And it’s hard times in the country,
Livin’ down in New York town.