“The Roving Gambler” had been a favorite in Minneapolis’s Dinkytown folk-song circles
since the late-1950s. It was first recorded commercially, as far as anyone knows, in 1930,
by a popular cowboy singer, Carson Robinson. Woody Guthrie’s sidekick Cisco Houston
also sang it, as did the Stanley Brothers, as did, years later, Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves,
Frankie Laine (“High Noon,” “Rawhide”), Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the actor Robert
Mitchum, and Arlo Guthrie, among dozens of others. Alan Lomax included a
transcription of “The Roving Gambler” in his definitive 1960 collection, Folk Songs of
North America. And by then the song was enjoying another sort of revival in the
American mass market. Tennessee Ernie Ford, of “Sixteen Tons” fame, hit the middle of
the pop charts with his “Roving Gambler” in 1956. Two years later, the rock ‘n’ rolling
Everly Brothers included a slow, reflective version on an acoustic album of old standards
called Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. And in early 1961, the commercially-successful
mainstream folk performers The Brothers Four, second in renown only to the Kingston
Trio, released a new album with yet another version of “The Roving Gambler,” this one
arranged by the group’s bass player Bob Flick.
I am a roving gambler, I gamble all around
Whenever I meet with a deck of cards I lay my money down.
I’ve gambled down in Washington, I’ve gambled over in Spain
I’m goin’ down to Georgia to gamble my last game.
I had not been in Washington not many more weeks than three
When I fell in love with a pretty little gal, she fell in love with me.
She took me to her parlor, she cooled me with her fan
She whispered low in her mother’s ear, “I love that gambling man.”
“Oh daughter, Oh dear daughter, how can you treat me so?
To leave your dear old mother, and with a gambler go?”
“Oh mother, Oh dear mother, you know I love you well
But the love I have for this gambling man, no human tongue can tell.”
“I would not marry a farmer, he’s always in the dirt
The man I want is a gambling man who wears a silken shirt.”
“I would not marry a railroad man, I’ll tell you the reason why
I never knew a railroad man wouldn’t tell his wife a lie.”
“I would not marry a cowboy, he’s always in the rain
The man I want is a gambling man who wears a golden chain.”