Rollin' and Tumblin'
Miller Freeman Books
There are always revolutions in the music world—periods where the sound makes a dramatic departure from the status quo. Western Swing, Rock and Roll, and Jazz-Rock Fusion are all examples of changes that helped broaden musical horizons. Another important development came with the advent of electric guitars. Not only did this create new sounds for jazz, it completely shifted the direction of the blues. Rollin’ and Tumblin’: The Postwar Blues Guitarists, edited by Jas Obrecht, focuses on this important period in American Music’s history.
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ features insightful essays and interviews, showcasing some of the key players who helped shape modern-day blues. Ranging from pioneers like T-Bone Walker to more contemporary players such as Buddy Guy, Obrecht’s book holds valuable information for any blues fan. This collection gives the reader a solid background not only into the development of the music itself, but the social conditions its performers faced, as well. As Johnny Winter puts it: “There are always going to be blues musicians, but it’s just different with people who lived the whole thing in the country and could talk about chopping cotton and pulling corn and riding freights.”
Some of the musicians covered in this volume, Lightnin’ Hopkins, for one, kept much of the country blues tradition from the pre-war era. Many, however, produced a more urbanized sound, influenced as much by jazz players such as Kenny Burrell and Charlie Christian as country blues performers like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Charlie Patton. As a result, the electric blues combined elements of both traditional and contemporary styles to produce a unique and popular segment of American music.
Obrecht features contributing writers, including Dan Forte, Jeff Hannusch, and Chris Gill, with a great knowledge and appreciation of both the music and the social aspects as well. These articles provide an essential background into the musicians and their world. They do show the difficult life many would expect: hard times, booze, discrimination—the whole down and out aspect. But there’s a lot of joy and up-beat messages as well. As B.B. King puts it: “I don’t think a guy has to be in patched trousers. That image that some people put on us is wrong.”
There’s plenty of coverage on the obvious performers like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and B.B. King. There’s also features on artists like Hubert Sumlin and Jody Williams, who weren’t usually known as frontmen. Beside the blues artists themselves, there are lots of anecdotes from guitarists they influenced, like Keith Richards, Ry Cooder, and Eric Clapton.
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ belongs in any blues devotee’s library, but even those with a passing interest won’t be disappointed. This collection makes you want to dig out some of your old records and rediscover what they have to offer. Even if the closest items you have are by Cream or Jimi Hendrix, at least you’ll have a better understanding of where the sound originated. Whatever the case may be, anyone wanting to learn more about the blues will benefit by reading Rollin’ and Tumblin’.