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Rollin’ And Tumblin’ – The Roots of the Blues

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It was sometime in the first two decades of the 20th century that share-cropper’s son, Sleepy John Estes was taught to play guitar by his cousin Willie Newbern; in the 1920s the two men began playing at medicine shows in the Mississippi Delta. Newbern was a master of the ‘personal blues’, style that Estes would later make his own during his long recording career that stretched until the 1970s. Newbern on the other hand had a very short recording career; his recorded output was made up of just 6 songs cut over two days in March 1929. On the second day, Hambone Willie as he was known, recorded what has become a standard in the Blues cannon, ‘Roll & Tumble Blues’.

Roll and Tumble Blues
Hambone Willie Newbern
Recorded 14th March 1929 Atlanta Georgia for Okeh Records

And I rolled and I tumbled and I cried the whole night long
And I rolled and I tumbled and I cried the whole night long.
And I rose this mornin’ mama and I didn’t know right from wrong.

Did you ever wake up and find your dough roller gone?
Did you ever wake up and find your dough roller gone?
And you wring your hands and cry the whole day long.

And I told my woman lord, before I left the town.
And I told my woman lord, before I left the town.
Don’t she let nobody tear her barrelhouse down.

And I fold my arms lord, and I walked away.
And I fold my arms lord, and I walked away.
Says that’s all right sweet mama your own trouble gonna come some day.

Newbern’s tune was used by Sleepy John Estes on ‘The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair’ in September 1929. Robert Johnson adapted the song for ‘If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day’, which was cut in 1936, lyrically it’s very similar to the original.

And I rolled and I tumbled and I cried the whole night long,
And I rolled and I tumbled and I cried the whole night long,
Boy I woke up this morning, my biscuit-roller gone.

Twenty one years after Hambone Willie recorded the song that probably goes back way further, Muddy Waters went into the studio with Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica and Leroy Foster on drums and second guitar to cut eight sides including ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’. Muddy remembered the song from his youth. There was a slight snag with Muddy recording, he was at the time under contract to Chess and this recording was going out on the Parkway label. To get around his contractual problem it said it was recorded bythe Baby Face Leroy Trio on the record.

The record features Muddy’s wonderful slide guitar playing which is probably what got him noticed by the Chess brothers who were unhappy that one of their artists was recording for another label. Muddy was soon in the studio cutting a version for the Chess owned Aristocrat label. Muddy’s version of the song was essentially the same as Hambone’s in the first verse, but Muddy changed it around in the second verse

Well, if the river was whiskey, and I was a divin’ duck
Well, if the river was whiskey, and I was a divin’ duck
Well, I would dive to the bottom, never would I come up
Well, I could a had a religion, this bad old thing instead
Well, I could a had a religion, this bad old thing instead
Well, all whiskey and women, would not let me pray

Muddy’s version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’ was never a hit, nor was Baby Face Leroy’s version. Ironically when Muddy rewrote the song as ‘Louisiana Blues’ and slowed it down it became his second chart success when it made No.10 on the U.S. R & B Chart. Muddy had also used the slide guitar riff from ‘Rollin and Tumblin’ on his 1948 recording of ‘Down South Blues’, which Chess did not release for over ten years.

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Cream recorded ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’ on their 1966 album ‘Fresh Cream’. It features Jack Bruce’s harmonica as the lead instrument. The twenty one year old Eric Clapton provided the rhythm, along with Ginger Baker’s tasteful drum work. It is one of the numbers where Cream came closest to capturing the sound of Delta Blues…even with Ginger’s drums.

‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’ has since been recorded by countless artists eager to tap into the roots of the blues; among them Bob Dylan, Canned Heat and Eric Clapton. The fact is blues tunes continually evolved and even the versions that we now call ‘the original’ are simply the earliest known recorded version and not necessarily by the person that originally wrote it. For decades before recorded music songs were passed around from one performer to another, constantly changing, developing and being honed. It’s just the same as what has happened in the last six or seven decades, the blues have been passed from artist to artists and they are keeping the flame alive for the next generation.

In 1961, Howlin’ Wolf cut “Down in the Bottom”, which had a different set of lyrics courtesy of Big Willie Dixon, but it’s fundamentally the same song. This in turn was covered by Captain Beefheart, George Thorogood and a string of others

We;ve put together a great playlist featuring classic versions of Rollin’ and Tumbling’ along with some of the derivatives of this classic and it’s here

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Pete Haffey

    June 22, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    Great information,thanks

  2. freddie

    June 22, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Why would you put this as a Howlin’ Wolf story accompanied by a picture of him and Hubert when the story is mostly about Muddy with no mention of the Wolf at all?

    • Patrick

      May 9, 2015 at 12:08 pm

      Why is this a problem for you? Shut up…

  3. Frank

    June 22, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Heard Canned Heat’s version about 1968. Didn’t know the history about the song. But that was one of the songs that led me to love the Blues. Canned Heat was an awesome band then. Still listen to those tunes.

  4. Andy Macdonald

    June 22, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    good little history

  5. Ian Herrick

    June 25, 2014 at 4:15 am

    Muddy did not sing, “I could have had religion, this bad old thing instead.” He sings, “I could have had religion, to this very ol’ same day.”

  6. Pete "Sibo" Asigé

    June 29, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I wondered to about the photo.But it got the story noticed. So thanks for the info. Is “When I woke up this mornin , believe I dust my blues” bis.
    “When I….blues was in my shoes” ?

  7. Craig McCauley

    November 16, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    I have always loved the blues since 1964!

  8. Hope Hibbert

    November 17, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    One of my favourite songs to play on slide guitar. Great information because I thought Robert Johnson’s version “If I had possession over Judgement Day” was the original. Thanks!!

  9. dan sims

    January 14, 2015 at 4:35 am

    Johnny Winters version is the greatest

  10. Alan M. Ogilvie

    May 9, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    My personal fave version is Jeff Becks on You had it coming….just smokin

  11. anthony pollastro

    June 3, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    i got the blues in me baby…..

  12. Christopher Brooks

    June 3, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    You left out Garfield Akers, “Dough Roller Blues,” from that discography.

  13. Barbod

    October 18, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    first recorded version of this was actually Charley Patton’s banty rooster, same arrangement just slower
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZwoGSXhPSI

  14. Len Platt

    February 20, 2017 at 12:31 am

    Check out Jeff Beck’s version with Imogen Heap. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuXcGHjBeac

  15. Gerrit

    June 30, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    my alltime favourite is from the North Mississippi Allstars

  16. Kirk Williams

    September 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    For my money, the Elmore James version is hard to beat. That angry voice, stinging guitar, cymbal bells ringing, with horns! Must’ve blown the roof off the joint!

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