"Rollin' Stone" is a blues song recorded by Muddy Waters in 1950. It is his interpretation of "Catfish Blues", a Delta blues that dates back to 1920s Mississippi. Although the single (with "Walkin' Blues" as the B-side) did not appear in the national record charts, it sold about 70,000 copies.
"Still a Fool", recorded by Muddy Waters a year later using the same arrangement and melody, reached number nine on the Billboard R&B chart. "Rollin' Stone" has been recorded by a variety of artists, and both Rolling Stone magazine and the rock group the Rolling Stones are named after the song.
|Single by Muddy Waters|
|Format||10-inch 78 rpm record|
|Recorded||Chicago, February 1950|
|Genre||Blues, electric blues|
|Songwriter(s)||Muddy Waters (credited)|
|Producer(s)||Leonard Chess, Phil Chess|
|Muddy Waters singles chronology|
I wished I was a catfish swimming down in the sea
I'd have some good woman fishing after me
Several other early songs also explored variations on the catfish and/or fishing theme. In 1941, Tommy McClennan and his sometime partner Robert Petway each recorded versions of the song. Petway's was the first to be titled "Catfish Blues" and is sometimes cited as the basis for Muddy Waters' "Rollin' Stone". However, according to one biographer "They'd been singing "Catfish Blues" for years in the Delta, but it never sounded like "Rollin' Stone".
"Rollin' Stone" has been identified (along with "Walkin' Blues", the single's B-side) as one of the first songs that Muddy Waters learned to play and an early favorite. The words refer to the traditional proverb, "A rolling stone gathers no moss".
Called "a brooding, minor-hued drone piece", "Rollin' Stone" is a mid- to slow-tempo blues notated in 4/4 time in the key of E. Although the instrumental section uses the IV and V chords, the vocal sections remain on the I chord, giving the song a modal quality often found in Delta blues songs. In addition to the traditional catfish verses, Waters added:
Well my mother told my father just before I was born
'I got a boy child comin', gonna be, gonna be a rollin' stone
Sho' enough he's a rollin' stone
Unlike most of his early recordings which have bass or other instrumental accompaniment, "Rollin' Stone" is a solo performance by Muddy Waters on vocal and electric guitar. It has "much empty space ... imbued with the power of a pause, of letting a note hang in the air, the anticipation of the next one".
Although "Rollin' Stone" sold enough for Muddy Waters to quit his day job, it did not appear in the record charts. In 1951, he used the guitar figure from "Rollin' Stone" for "Still a Fool". The song was more successful, reaching number nine in the Billboard R&B chart. Rather than a solo piece, Little Walter (second guitar) and Leonard Chess (bass drum) accompanied Muddy (vocal and guitar). Subsequent versions of "Rollin' Stone" or "Catfish Blues" often use some lyrics from "Still a Fool" (sometimes called "Two Trains Running" after the opening verse).
English blues rock group the Rolling Stones and the music magazine Rolling Stone took their names from the song. In 2000, the song was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award; in 2004, it was included at number 459 by Rolling Stone in its list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time".
In 1967, "Rollin' Stone" (and "Still a Fool") was used as part of Jimi Hendrix's "Catfish Blues", a homage to Muddy Waters, and included on the albums BBC Sessions and Blues (Hendrix's signature songs "Voodoo Chile" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" evolved from his "Catfish Blues"). Johnny Winter gave the song a similar treatment as part of "Tribute to Muddy" from his 1968 album The Progressive Blues Experiment. Taste in 1969 on their debut album released an arrangement of the song simply titled "Catfish." Humble Pie drew on the song for their 1971 albums Rock On and Performance Rockin' the Fillmore. In 1993, Paul Rodgers with Jeff Beck recorded it for Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters.