Graham Reid | | 1 min read
The provenance of some blues songs is so obscure as to be impenetrable. Many would know Rollin' and Tumblin' from the rock version by Cream in the late Sixties where the credits simply had it as "Trad".
The song -- in various versions -- dated back four decades prior to Cream when Roll and Tumble Blues was recorded by Willie Newbern during his sole recording session in 1929. He only put down six songs.
He and Joe Jose got songwriting credit, although other sources suggest it was also recorded around that time -- if not earlier -- by Gus Cannon aka Banjo Joe. His version, known as Minglewood Blues, was slower.
Newbern was an interesting guy: He worked at dances and on the medicine show circuit around Tennessee and Mississippi, taught Sleepy John Estes guitar, was a troublesome cuss and was apparently arrested more than once (one of his songs is Shelby County Workhouse) and according to Estes he was killed in prison in '47 when he was about 48.
Another source has him dying at home in Memphis in '65.
The man's life was as mysterious as the blues itself.
This song comes from an excellent 24-song collection The Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues (through Southbound in New Zealand) and each and every singer has a story just as strange, wire-thin or dramatic.
Sometimes all of those.
The brief liner notes start, "Very little is known about many of these featured early blues artists other than the simple fact that their classic recordings are like arrows through time . . ."
Among these blues archers are the aforementioned Gus Cannon (with Poor Boy Long Ways From Home), Sam Collins, Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas (Geeshie appeared at From the Vaults previously here), KIng Solomon Hill, Kokomo Arnold, Lottie Kimbrough . . .
Hardly household names, but the music often sounds eerily familiar because so much of it was adopted and adapted by rock musicians in the Sixties.
An excellent collection which will have you searching blues internet sites for more information about these voices from so long ago.