Monthly Archives: October 2010

“Rollin’ and Tumblin’”: The Story of a Song

Search “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” at www.youtube.com, and more than 300 versions pop up. You’ll find recent performances by Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck and Imogen Heap, Imelda May, Cyndi Lauper, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Gov’t Mule, to name just a few, as well as older readings by Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Johnny Winter, Cream, The Yardbirds, Captain Beefheart, Canned Heat, Bonnie Raitt, R.L. Burnside, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and many others. Over at www.archive.org you can hear 1920s renditions and an array of live covers by the Grateful Dead, Steve Kimock Band, Derek Trucks, and the North Mississippi Allstars – some recorded as recently as last month.

Seldom has one song connected so many musicians. With its mesmerizing riff, distinctive structure, and catchy melody, the song first appeared on 78s by some of the earliest bluesmen on record. Variations soon showed up in the repertoires of Mississippi-based Charley Patton and Robert Johnson. The song journeyed north to Chicago with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James. It crossed over into British blues and rock via covers by the Yardbirds and Cream. It was injected into mainstream American rock and roll by Johnny Winter, Canned Heat, and others. A century after its creation, the song still fills dance floors and provides an unsurpassed avenue for self-expression. Continue reading