BluesBlog: The Rollin & Tumblin Story, Pt 2: What's In A Name?

In the summer of 2011 as I was preparing to launch a new Saturday night Blues show on WYEP, I was trying to decide what the name of the show should be. I was honored to be selected to do the new Saturday night Blues show, and I was even more thrilled to be given the reins to name the show and come up with a concept for the show’s sound and approach.

I took this pretty seriously since I was essentially replacing the great and legendary Bumblebee Slim who was retiring from WYEP after 25+ years of spinning the Blues on Saturday nights.  The show would also air right after Big Town Blues, hosted by Wrett Weatherspoon, another 25+ year blues veteran.

I thought about who the audience might be. The show would air on Saturday nights from 9 to midnight, a time slot when I figured most people were having fun and letting loose. Or perhaps on the move. Maybe out with friends to see a Blues band, partying with friends, or just relaxing at home with a beer or three. Staying up late and enjoying some loud music.

Since it was a fun time to be playing the blues, I decided that the show’s playlist would be mainly fast, up-tempo, gritty electric blues, heavy with guitar solos and intense harmonica with a blend of old- time acoustic blues from the pioneers. I wanted my listeners to enjoy the entire spectrum of blues history, so the show’s name should reflect that feel.

In addition to reflecting the history of the Blues, the name should also convey the movement and energy of the audience.

While kicking around ideas, I attended a local blues show where Eugene And The Nightcrawlers were playing. In the middle of the set, they began a chugging, grungy version of the song Rollin and Tumblin right then I knew I had it. Rollin & Tumblin would be the name of the new Saturday night blues show on WYEP.

Rollin and Tumblin was the first and only real choice for a name I suggested to station management. But before arriving at the final decision on the name, we did mull over some other ideas, just to make sure. Blues Hotel. Blues Café. Red, Hot & Blue and a few other names I can’t even remember.

No other ideas came close as I recall.

Rollin and Tumblin seemed to be the perfect fit. It is one of the first blues songs ever written. The words Rollin and Tumblin themselves are words that describe movement.

The tune has a chugging, train-like tempo that makes it feel like the song itself is actually moving. The words and story are your classic tale of blues sorrow plain and simple, evoking emotions of both sorrow and hope.

Just this year the likes of legends such as Rod Stewart and Billy Gibbons recorded new versions of the song. Even 106 years after being written, it is still being covered by some of the greatest contemporary artists and being recorded regularly by others. It is still a song that is part of the blues repertoire and fabric even today.

So, Rollin and Tumblin was chosen for its name recognition itself, and its nod to and importance to the beginning of recorded blues, its longevity, its ability to convey movement and energy on a Saturday night and for the chugging traditional sound of the song itself. It felt like a great way to describe the feel and them of three hours of blues on a Saturday night.

Rollin & Tumblin is a classic, rich with history, and has a gritty groove and story. A song that was first passed along from town to town by playing it live on a Saturday night in a Blues joint. Later, it would be passed along in the recorded form with the help of radio.

Rollin and Tumblin, to me, captures the spirit, sound and feel of the Blues on the radio in Pittsburgh on a Saturday night. I hope you agree. Thanks for reading!


Next topic: 400 Versions Of The Same Song-Some Studs, Some Duds. Or, An Accidental Streak