“Rollin’ and Tumblin’” is a blues standard that dates back to the 1920s. William “Hambone Willie” Newbern made the earliest recording the track, then known as “Roll and Tumble Blues.” In 1950, the song was famously recorded by Muddy Waters, who claimed credit as the songwriter. His rendition served as inspiration for the rash of covers by psychedelic blues artists in the ‘60s, including Cream, Canned Heat and Johnny Winter. With such a legacy it’s not really a surprise that classic rockers Rod Stewart and Billy Gibbons — the lead singer and guitarist for ZZ Top — each cover the track on their recent albums.
Gibbons’ version is the more satisfying of the two. He plays it as a hard-rocking piece of Texas-dirty-boogie that embodies the spirit of ZZ Top’s sound. For good measure, he throws in a reference to Mexican food, somehow making “I’m gonna get some enchiladas” sound sexual. Though Gibbons recorded his album The Big Bad Blues without his usual cohorts, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” feels like it could have been included on any of ZZ Top’s ‘70s records.
Listening to Rod Stewart’s cover, one wishes he would have recorded it during his ‘70s Faces era, with Ronnie Wood on guitar. Then it might have been a classic. On Blood Red Roses, Stewart is clearly trying for a more contemporary sound. Unfortunately, the tracks come corroded with layers of overproduction that plagues contemporary pop, drowning out much of what makes Stewart so unique. The cover of “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” starts out promising, with an edgy blues guitar intro. Stewart then shouts, “Play the blues!” The track quickly veers a bit into contemporary country territory with an over-programmed screechy fiddle. Though Stewart injects his signature, raspy swagger into the vocals, one can’t help but feel nostalgic for his glory days.
Click here to listen to more Muddy Waters covers.