Rollin' and Tumblin'

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"Roll and Tumble Blues"
Roll and Tumble Blues single cover.jpg
Single by Hambone Willie Newbern
B-side"Nobody Knows What the Good Deacon Says"
Released1929 (1929)
Format78 rpm record
RecordedMarch 14, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia
LabelOkeh (no. 8679)
Songwriter(s)Unknown (Newbern credited on single)

"Rollin' and Tumblin'" (or "Roll and Tumble Blues") is a blues song first recorded by American singer/guitarist Hambone Willie Newbern in 1929. Called a "great Delta blues classic", it has been interpreted by hundreds of Delta and Chicago blues artists, including well-known recordings by Muddy Waters.[1] "Rollin' and Tumblin'" has also been refashioned by a variety of rock-oriented artists.

Original song[edit]

Hambone Willie Newbern recorded "Roll and Tumble Blues" on March 14, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia for Okeh Records. It shares several elements of "Minglewood Blues", first recorded in 1928 by Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers.[2] Newbern's "Roll and Tumble Blues" is a solo piece with his vocal and slide-guitar accompaniment.

The song is performed in the key of A using an open tuning and an irregular number of bars. [3] The tempo varies from an initial 140 beats per minute to a final 158 bpm.[3] A key feature of the song is that the first verse begins on the IV chord, rather than on the more usual I chord (e.g., in the key of A this would be the D chord rather than the A chord). After the first two measures the IV chord resolves to the I chord. Often the IV chord moves to IV♭7 on the second measure or the last two beats of the second measure.[2]

The lyrics follow a standard blues AAB pattern and relate a failed relationship:

And I rolled and I tumbled and I cried the whole night long (2×)
And I rose this mornin' mama and I didn't know right from wrong ...
And I fold my arms lord and I walked away (2×)
Said "that's all right sweet mama your trouble gon' come some day"[citation needed]

"Roll and Tumble Blues" is one of six songs Newbern recorded during his only recording session. It was released before the advent of race records charts, however, it soon became "an oft-covered standard"[4] and Newbern's best-known song.

Blues renditions[edit]

Other bluesmen recorded their own versions—such as "If I Had Possession over Judgment Day" by Robert Johnson in 1936,[5] "Brownsville Blues" and "The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair" by Sleepy John Estes, "Goin' Back to Memphis" by Sunnyland Slim, "Banty Blues" by Charley Patton, "Dough Roller Blues" by Garfield Akers and "Rollin' Blues" by John Lee Hooker.

The best-known version is Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin'", with Ernest "Big" Crawford on bass, for the Chess brothers' Aristocrat label in 1950. Leonard Chess insisted that Waters record the song less than a month after Waters had recorded a version for the rival Parkway label, featuring his bandmates Little Walter and Baby Face Leroy Foster.[6] The Parkway label credits the Baby Face Leroy Trio, with vocals by Leroy, and Muddy Waters as the songwriter. Elmore James recorded a different arrangement of the song in 1960, with himself credited as author.

In 1961, Howlin' Wolf recorded "Down in the Bottom", which employed a new set of lyrics and is credited to Willie Dixon. Delta bluesman Johnny Shines recorded a version called "Red Sun" (1975), with the traditional music but different, prison-themed lyrics. R. L. Burnside recorded what he titled "Rollin' Tumblin'" on several occasions, first on August 1967 for George Mitchell.

In 2010, Cyndi Lauper recorded "Rollin' and Tumblin" with Ann Peebles for her blues album Memphis Blues.[7]

Rock recordings[edit]

Since the 1960s the song has been played and recorded by numerous blues-rock bands, including Cream on their 1966 debut, Fresh Cream; Johnny Winter on his 1968 album The Progressive Blues Experiment; Canned Heat on their 1967 eponymous debut and two versions of the song (with and without harmonica) on their sixth album Vintage; Blues Creation on their 1969 debut album; Fleetwood Mac on their 1971 album The Original Fleetwood Mac; Blackfoot on their 1982 album Highway Song Live; Eric Clapton for his 1992 Unplugged album and 2004's Me and Mr. Johnson; by Jeff Beck in 2000 on You Had It Coming; and Gov't Mule on 2000s Life Before Insanity.

The song was recorded by Bob Dylan for his 2006 album Modern Times. Dylan claims authorship of the song on most versions of his record. While musically the arrangement is very similar to the Muddy Waters version, Dylan's introduces all new verses, though retaining the two opening lines.

A version of the song can be seen on Dr. Feelgood's "Going Back Home" show from 1975 which was released on DVD back in 2005. Dr. Feelgood also covered the song on their second album Malpractise from 1975. The Grateful Dead covered the song[8] live in concert many times under many different names, including "Minglewood Blues," "The New Minglewood Blues," "The All-New Minglewood Blues," and "The New New Minglewood Blues." Despite the similarity in title "New Minglewood Blues" was a different song, originally recorded on November 26, 1930 by Noah Lewis (who had played on Cannon's original "Minglewood Blues").

The Yardbirds recorded the song for their 1967 album Little Games with different lyrics under the name "Drinking Muddy Water," which may be a reference either to Muddy Waters or to the lyrics of the song "Blue Yodel No. 1" (also known as "T for Texas") by Jimmie Rodgers. The album credits Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Jimmy Page and Keith Relf as the songwriters.

The same year, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band recorded "Sure 'Nuff n' Yes I Do" as the opening song on their debut album, Safe As Milk, using the tune with different lyrics (with the first line adapted from the original lyrics of "New Minglewood Blues"). This song was credited to Captain Beefheart with lyrics by Herb Bermann. Half Man Half Biscuit's "If I Had Possession over Pancake Day" on their 2002 album Cammell Laird Social Club parodies Robert Johnson's version of the song.


  1. ^ Herzhaft, Gerard (1992). Encyclopedia of the Blues. Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press. p. 468. ISBN 1-55728-252-8.
  2. ^ a b Obrecht, Jas. "Rollin' and Tumblin': The Story of a Song". Jas Obrecht Music Archive. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Titon, Jeff Todd (1978). Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis. University of Illinois Press. pp. 121–122.
  4. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Hambone Willie Newbern: Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  5. ^ Wald, Elijah (2004). Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues (1st. ed.). New York City: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0060524272.
  6. ^ Gordon, Robert G. (2002). Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters. Little, Brown. p. 100. ISBN 0-316-32849-9.
  7. ^ "True Blues". Metro Weekly. 2010-06-24. Retrieved 2014-04-17.
  8. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 42 - The Acid Test: Psychedelics and a sub-culture emerge in San Francisco. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.