Taking the 'Rollin' and Tumblin'' ride through 70 years

Aug 13, 2011

For the first "Blues Time Machine," I’ve chosen “Rollin’ and Tumblin’," a song that goes through some major changes on it’s way to the 21st century.

The story of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" also shows us that although the sound may evolve through time, the song remains true to the original.

This week’s Time Machine begins in 1929 with Hambone Willie Newbern, and the “Roll and Tumble Blues," a song that has been recorded by over 300 musicians over the years.

Hambone Willie Newbern may have gotten his nickname from a common practice among guitarists of the day, using a smooth piece of animal bone to slide on the strings. Sleepy John Estes recalled hearing Newbern perform the song as early as 1913.

The song had been recorded many times by the time Muddy Waters released it in 1950, but his was probably the best known version. Producer Ry Cooder called Waters acoustic slide guitar playing on this recording “transcendent."

Ten years later, Elmore James released a track bristling with electric slide guitar, a hint of the direction music would be going, and many rock groups would emulate this version of the song.

The 2001 Jeff Beck/Imogen Heap recording takes the song fully into the new century, fully electronic yet faithful to the original melody.

Here are the full versions of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" tracked through time:

1929 "Roll and Tumble Blues " Hambone Willie Newbern

1950 "Rollin' and Tumblin'" Muddy Waters

1960 "Rollin' and Tumblin'" Elmore James

2001 "Rollin' and Tumblin'"  Jeff Beck and Imogen Heap


“The Blues Time Machine” is a weekly feature tracking one great blues song through time. The series is hosted by John Kessler, from KPLU’s  “All Blues,” and is published here every Friday and airs on KPLU 88.5 on Fridays at 12:10 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.