Why does Bob Dylan like “The Roving Gambler?”

By Tony Attwood

It is often stated that The Roving Gambler, a song which Bob has sung many times in concert, is a American folksong that originates in the first decade of the 20th century.  It has a wide of number of names beside “Roaming Gambler” – but all closely related, such as “The Gambler”, “Gambling Man.”

However there is a 19th English folk song “The Journeyman” or “The Roving Journeyman”, which exists in the Bodleian Library and which dates from sometime between 1818 and 1838.

The similarities are too great to be dismissed in my opinion.  Here’s one of Bob’s versions of the American approach.



Bob is noted as having played it for the first time on 1 May 1960 at the home of Karen Wallace in St Paul, with the last performance being at Newport RI on 3 August 2002.

Here are the classic lyrics – although obviously they do vary from place to place and over time.

I am a rovin' gambler, I've gambled all around
Wherever I meet with a deck of cards
I lay my money down
(I Lay my money down, lay my money down.)

I gambled up in Washington, gambled over in Spain
I'm on my way to Frisco town
To knock down my last game
(knock down my last game; knock down my last game)

I had not been in 'Frisco, many more days than three
I fell in love with a pretty little girl
And she fell in love with me
(Fell in love with me, fell in love with me.)

She took me in her parlor, she cooled me with a fan
She whispered low in her mama's ear
"I love this gamblin' man."
("Love this gamelin' man." "Love this gamblin' man.")

"Daughter, Oh! dear daughter, how could you treat me so?
And leave your dear old mother
And with a gambler go?"
(With a gambler go? with a gambler go?)

"Mother, Oh dear mother, I'll tell you if I can
If you ever see my face again
I'll be with the gamblin' man"
(be with the gamblin' man" be with the gamblin' man)


The earliest trace of it in America came with “The Gamboling Man” in “Delaney’s Song Book No. 23” around 1900 and was republished, although without the repetitions, in Carl Sandburg’s “American Song Bag” in New York in 1927.

Sandburg suggests this is a song performed by the minstrel shows and says, rather inaccurately “while gamblers may gambol and gambolers may gamble, the English version carries no deck of cards.”

By the second world war the song had become one of the roving soldier

I am a roving soldier,
I rove from town to town,
And when I see a table
So willingly I sit down.

There is even a Guerrilla version

I am a roving guerrilla,
I rove from town to town,
And whenever I spy a pretty little girl
So willingly I get down
So willingly I get down.

So we have one answer to why Bob Dylan likes it – it is a long lived song that has turned up in many places.   And it is unusual with the drawn out final line and the harmony opportunities that offers the performers.  The change of tempo is not unique to this song, but it is unusual, and seems to date back to some of the early performances.

And whatever else Bob does to the tune, that essential pause in the final line of each has to stay there.


Why does Dylan like –

This series contains reviews of the songs of other writers that Dylan admits he loves… along (where possible) with examples of Dylan performing the songs, in contrast with the originals.

  1. Why does Dylan like Van Morrison?
  2. Why does Dylan like John Prine?
  3. Why does Dylan like the Stanley Brothers’ “White Dove”?
  4. Why does Dylan like “Dark as a Dungeon”
  5. Why does Dylan like “Somebody Touched Me”
  6. Why does Dylan like “The End of Innocence”
  7. Why does Dylan like “The Golden Vanity”
  8. Why does Dylan like “Bony Moronie”?
  9. Why does Dylan like Cohen’s Hallelujah but not his own?
  10. Why does Dylan like “Boogie Woogie Country Girl”
  11. Why does Dylan like Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt & Wilco
  12. Why does Dylan like “Somebody Touched Me”
  13. Why does Dylan like “The End of Innocence”
  14. Why does Dylan like “The Golden Vanity”
  15. Why does Dylan like Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt & Wilco
  16. Why does Dylan like – Red Cadillac and a black moustache
  17. Why does Dylan like “We had it all”?
  18. Why does Dylan like 1952 Black Lightening?
  19. Why does Dylan like “Ball and Biscuits”?
  20. Why does Dylan like “I aint got no home”?
  21.  “Uncloudy Day”? A bolt straight from the heavens.
  22.  “The World’s Gone Wrong” – it’s the blues turned upside down.
  23.  “Spanish is the Loving Tongue”
  24.  – Roscoe Holcomb
  25.  “Let it be me”?
  26. Bill Monroe
  27. “Mystery Train” by Junior Parker (and Elvis Presley)
  28. “Me and My chauffeur blues” – the foundations of Obviously 5 Believers
  29.  “Lucille” by Little Richard, and some Zappa too
  30.  Johnny Cash’s Train Of Love..,
  31.  Barbara Allen
  32.  “Friend of the Devil”?
  33.  “Not Fade Away”
  34. “Lonely Avenue” by Ray Charles?
  35.  “Lonesome Town”
  36.  “So Cold in China”?
  37. Why and how did “Cottonfields” change Bob Dylan’s life?
  38. Why does Dylan like “Freedom for the Stallion”?
  39. Halleluhjah I’m ready to go
  40. Why does Dylan like Leon Redbone
  41. Why does Bob Dylan so like this track taken from Hotel California?

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