The song “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is a classic blues song from the early days of the modern blues pioneers. It encompasses everything from what you think a blues song should be. It has a simple beat accompanied by that disinctive slide guitar sound, wailing harmonica, and throaty vocals. It has the classic blues makeup of a three line structure with a 12-bar blues lyric. This means that the lyrics are made up of verses with one repeating line but there is no chorus. The lyrics have even been changed from time to time, depending on who performed it, but the beat has always remained the same. Rollin’ and Tumblin’ has been covered numerous times over the years by various musicians and performers. No one knows the exact origins of the song but most people believe the legendary blues master Muddy Waters first authored the current version of the song.
Who Was Muddy Waters?
The real name of Muddy Waters was McKinley Morganfield who was born in rural Mississippi on April 4, 1913. He was one of the founders of what is known as traditional blues and is considered by many to be “The Father of Chicago Blues”. He got his name because as a child he liked to play in the mud which earned him the nickname “Muddy”. Later on he changed it to “Muddy Waters”. He was influenced by early blues musicians Son House and Robert Johnson. Muddy Waters first learned to play the harmonica but by the age of seventeen had picked up the electric guitar. At the time, most blues artists were still playing the acoustic guitar. The foundation of his style is Mississippi Delta blues but he added microtones in his vocals and guitar style which made it hard for others to follow and duplicate. It has been said by himself and others that his style of blues is the hardest to play.
After the 1950’s, Mudder Waters career began to wane. Conflicts with bands and record labels caused a number of problems. Then in 1977, his career took a turn for the better. Guitarist Johnny Winter convinced his label, Blue Sky, to sign Waters. Waters’ album, Hard Again, was hailed as a comeback. The sound of the album was a throwback to the earlier Chicago sound that Waters was known for. Hard Again went on to win a Grammy.
In 1982, Water’s health declined and he had to cancel most of his performances. His last public performance was in 1982 when he sat in with Eric Clapton and his band at a concert in Florida. Muddy Waters died in his sleep in 1983 at the age of 70. His funeral drew a huge crowd of blues enthusiasts and fans. Waters’s career proved to be an influence to a wide variety of music: you can hear his sound in jazz, rock, rhythm and blues, and country. Besides his influence, Muddy Waters helped Chuck Berry get signed to his first record label. Rolling Stone magazine ranked Muddy Waters as #17 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ Through the Years
One of the earliest versions of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” was recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern, one of the early founders of classic blues. But the song has been recorded and covered many times over by many different artists. Other blues masters have recorded it under different names but with the same beat. Robert Johnson recorded it as “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day” in 1936 and John Lee Hooker recorded it as “Rollin’ Blues”. Muddy Waters recorded the song in 1950 for Chess Records.
The song has been popular with early rock bands. In 1966, Eric Clapton’s band Cream recorded their version on their debut album, Fresh Cream. Johnny Winter recorded a version on his 1968 album The Progressive Blues Experiment. Other bands include Canned Heat on their 1967 album. At the same time, the Yard Birds did a version but changed the lyrics and gave it a new title “Drinking Muddy Water”. Fellow Delta bluesman Johnny Shines did a version of the song but renamed it “Red Sun” and changed the lyrics to reflect a prison-theme.
“Rollin’ and Tumblin’” also came up in the 1990’s and later. Eric Clapton played it for his album Unplugged in 1992 aswell as Me and Mr. Johnsonin 2004. Jeff Beck recorded it on his album You Had It Coming in 2004. Grateful Dead did it live in 1995 on their final tour. One of the most recent recordings was by the legendary Bob Dylan for his 2006 album Modern Times. The song basically has the same rhythm and arrangement but Dylan ended up using new lyrics with the exception of the song’s two opening lines.