Song Lyric Sunday — Cream — Rollin and Tumblin

While most weeks Song Lyric Sunday prompts are multiple words connected to a theme, this week our host, Jim Adams, has chosen one word: Harmonica. Well, my friends, you would not believe how many songs feature a harmonica. I decided that I didn’t want to focus on blues, a genre in which harmonicas are ubiquitous.

The blues spawned many other musical genres, including rock ‘n’ roll. My introduction to blues in the late 1960s was through two blues-rock bands, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Both bands featured their leaders’ harmonicas. Butterfield’s frenetic Chicago-blues style was well-suited to the fusion of blues and electric-guitar-based rock. Mayall’s style, equally energetic, was more a fusion of blues and jazz. I was researching both bands, listening to some great music, when, as usual, I took a detour down a somewhat surprising path.

Did you know that U.K. rock supergroup Cream recorded a couple of blues songs featuring harmonica? Yes, indeedy. Turns out bassist and singer Jack Bruce plays a mean blues harp, which he demonstrated on “Rollin and Tumblin” from their 1966-67 (U.K.-U.S.) debut album, “Fresh Cream.” Although some sources give Bruce writing credit for Cream’s version, most sources cite either Hambone Willie Newbern or Muddy Waters, or both. Cream credits Newbern, who recorded “Roll and Tumble Blues” in 1929. (edited to add: The true origin of “Rollin and Tumblin” may be unknown. Newbern? Waters? Robert Johnson? Noah Lewis? traditional? See comments section for my discussion with John Holton.)

Cream’s version is the only one featuring harmonica. Otherwise, the music is the same as on recordings by Newbern or Waters but with slightly differing tempos and interpretations. While all lyrics are based on Newbern’s, both Bruce and Waters each made additions and/or changes to their respective versions. In my opinion, that means Bruce and Waters could share credit with Newbern on their recordings. You can find both Newbern’s original lyrics as well as Waters’ additional lyrics here, and Bruce’s here.  Listen to (and/or watch) all three below. Newbern’s and Waters’ are the original recordings; Cream’s is video from their 2005 gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall. You know I love live recordings. Enjoy!



Song Lyric Sunday — Mountain — “Theme For An Imaginary Western”

Before I checked Jim Adams’ page, some part of my brain must have realized this week’s Song Lyric Sunday theme — Cowboy / Gun / Hat / Horse / Western — because for days my interior stereo has been looping Mountain’s “Theme For An Imaginary Western,” sometimes called “Theme From An Imaginary Western.” This beautiful song, in my opinion, outshines Mountain’s better-known “Mississippi Queen.”  (Full disclosure: I may be biased because Mountain’s album played continuously during the first frat party I experienced at college, and the drunken debauchery was quite shocking to my proper Catholic School upbringing. Plus…..tequila.)

Written by Jack Bruce (music) and Peter Brown (lyrics), Brown has said his lyrics were inspired by one of Bruce’s early bands, The Graham Bond Organisation, which Brown described as “a mixture of pioneers and outlaws.” He may have gotten that impression from the fights (sometimes on-stage and physical) between bassist Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. Bruce and Baker must have made up their differences to some extent because they later formed Cream with Eric Clapton. When Cream broke up in 1968, Bruce released his first solo album in 1969, “Songs for a Tailor,” on which “Theme For An Imaginary Western” debuted. Mountain performed the song  at Woodstock in 1969, and a year later, featured it on their album, “Climbing.”

Because Mountain’s version is better known (and my favorite), that video comes first. The second is a gem: Jack Bruce, accompanied only by piano.


Theme for an Imaginary Western
When the wagons leave the city
for the forest and further on
Painted wagons of the morning
dusty roads where they have gone
Sometimes travelling through the darkness
met the summer coming home
Fallen faces by the wayside
looked as if they might have known

O the sun was in their eyes
and the desert that dries
In the country town
where the laughter sounds

O the dancing and the singing
O the music when they played
O the fires that they started
O the girls with no regret
Sometimes they found it
Sometimes they kept it
Often lost it on the way
Fought each other to possess it
Sometimes died in sight of day




Compiled from,  SongFacts and Wikipedia articles on Mountain, Jack Bruce, and “Theme For An Imaginary Western.”