BluesBlog: The Rollin & Tumblin Story, Pt 1: The Song

Rollin and Tumblin is one of the earliest and most influential blues songs ever written and recorded. The song was written by Hambone Willie Newbern and was first recorded by Newbern in 1929. Nobody knows for sure, but Sleepy John Estes, who was born in Ripley and took guitar lessons from Newbern, recalled hearing Newbern play the song sometime between 1913 and 1917, long before he recorded it, so the song may be over 100 years old.

According to Wikipedia, Rollin and Tumblin is a "great Delta blues classic", it has been interpreted by hundreds of Delta and Chicago blues artists, including well-known recordings by Muddy Waters.[2] "Rollin' and Tumblin'" has also been refashioned by a variety of rock-oriented artists.

Not only has it been recorded hundreds of times, the lyrics have evolved over the years. Some versions stay true to the original lyrics, others take much license with the singer’s particular tale of sorrow. The song itself has an intense, chugging groove that conveys both emotion and motion. Sorrow, but still as with many blues songs, somehow a feeling of hope.

Over the years, and 400 recordings, the title has also varied from Rollin(g) and Tumblin(g) with and without the “g”, to Rolled And Tumbled, Roll And Tumble, I Rolled, And I Tumbled, Roll And Tumble Blues to name a few.

Robert Johnson himself took the song and made a completely new story of it when he wrote and performed “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day”, which in itself became a Blues standard, covered by many over the years.

As the song continues to be passed down from generation to generation, almost every musician covering it honors the original with respect, then moves it along the musical timeline from Hambone Willie Newbern, to Elmore James and Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton, to versions being recorded today by the likes of Samantha Fish, Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers  and the North Mississippi Allstars.

As evidenced by 400 plus recordings of the song, musicians themselves obviously honor this song’s importance over 100 years later as new versions continue to be recorded year after year. If the people making the music still feel compelled to play it, I’m paying attention.

So, there you have it. a quick primer on the song, Rollin & Tumblin. It is rich with a 100 year history, and has a gritty groove and story, and has been played by virtually every Blues legend and pioneer that ever lived.

Which kind of symbolizes what the Blues is about. The Blues has a deep history, the stories are often stark and guitars and harmonicas give it a crunchy, raw, gritty sound. 

For an awesome in-depth look at the background of this song, check out this article:

That's it for part one. I hope you enjoyed reading about the history.


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