The Story Behind “Tumbling Dice” by The Rolling Stones and How Mick Jagger’s Housekeeper Got an Assist

In 1970, The Rolling Stones embodied the rock star lifestyle. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll were a way of life for the British quintet. However, their business affairs were a mess. Their manager put them in a situation they couldn’t escape. The band accused him of withholding royalties, stealing publishing, and not paying taxes. These factors led to a lengthy legal battle and an eventual split. The tax rate in the UK was so high that band members were looking for other places to live.

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After a brief farewell tour of England, guitarist Keith Richards and girlfriend Anita Pallenberg moved into Villa Nellcote, a 16-room mansion at Villefranche-sur-Mer in Southern France. Singer Mick Jagger married Bianca Macias in St. Tropez and moved to Paris. Bassist Bill Wyman moved to St Paul de Vence, a commune in France. Drummer Charlie Watts moved in with Richards and Pallenberg. Guitarist Mick Taylor had just joined the band in ’69, so he hadn’t yet earned enough money to have the same tax problems, but he went along for the ride. The band began working on material for their next album, Exile on Main St. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Tumbling Dice” by The Rolling Stones.

Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always tryin’ to waste me
Make me burn the candle right down
But, baby, baby, don’t need no jewels in my crown
‘Cause all you women is low down gamblers
Cheatin’ like I don’t know how
Baby, got no flavor, fever in the funk house now
This low down bitchin’ got my poor feet a itchin’
Don’t you know you know the duece is still wild


The band began jamming together at Villa Nellcote and exploring ideas. In 2010, Jagger told The Sun newspaper, “It started with a great riff from Keith, and we had it down as a completed song called ‘Good Time Women.’ That take is one of the bonus tracks on the new Exile package; it was quite fast and sounded great, but I wasn’t happy with the lyrics. Later, I got the title in my head, ‘Call me the tumbling dice,’ so I had the theme for it. I didn’t know anything about dice playing, but I knew lots of jargon used by dice players. I’d heard gamblers in casinos shouting it out. I asked my housekeeper if she played dice. She did, and she told me these terms. That was the inspiration.”

Baby, I can’t stay; you got to roll me
And call me the tumblin’ dice
Always in a hurry, I never stop to worry
Don’t you see the time flashin’ by
Honey got no money
I’m all sixes and sevens and nines
Say now, baby, I’m the rank outsider
You can be my partner in crime

Filling in the Holes

Richards looked at songwriting as a matter of looking for some unused turn of a phrase. He expounded on it in his 2010 memoir, Life, “You might have all of the music, a great riff, but sometimes the subject matter is missing. It only takes one guy sitting around a room, saying, ‘throwing craps last night …’ for a song to be born. Got to roll me. Songs are strange things. Little notes like that. If they stick, they stick. With most of the songs I’ve ever written, quite honestly, I’ve felt there’s an enormous gap here, waiting to be filled; this song should have been written hundreds of years ago. How did nobody pick up on that little space? Half the time, you’re looking for gaps that other people haven’t done. And you say, I don’t believe they’ve missed that f—ing hole! It’s so obvious. It was there staring you in the face! I pick out the holes.”

Baby, I can’t stay
You got to roll me and call me the tumblin’
Roll me and call me the tumblin’ dice
Now baby
Oh my, my, my, I’m the lone crap shooter
Playin’ the field ev’ry night
Baby, I can’t stay
You got to roll me and call me the tumblin’ dice (Call me the tumblin’)
Got to roll me (ya yes), got to roll me, got to roll me (Oh yeah)

One Last Step

The band finished the album in Los Angeles at Sunset Sound, adding pedal steel, upright bass, and background vocals. There was one final step before they signed off on a recording. They wanted to hear the song on a car radio. Remembered Richards, “I remember sitting in the parking lot of Tower Records or Gold Star Studios or driving up and down Sunset, listening at precisely the moment when our favorite DJ was teed up to play an unreleased track so that we could judge the mix. How did it sound on radio? Was it a single? We did it with ‘Tumbling Dice,’ ‘All Down the Line,’ and many others, called up a DJ at KRLA, and sent him a dub. Fingers burning from the last cut, and we’d just take the car out and listen to it. Wolfman Jack or one of several other DJs in LA would put it on, and we’d have a guy standing over him to take it back again.”

Got to roll me
Got to roll me (yeah)
Got to roll me (Keep on rolling)
Got to roll me (Keep on rolling)
Got to roll me (Keep on rolling)
Got to roll me
Call me the tumblin’ dice, yeah
Got to roll me
Got to roll me
Baby sweet as sugar (Got to roll me)
Yeah, my, my, my yeah (Got to roll me)
Now now now now (Got to roll me)
I went down, baby, oh
Got to roll me (hit me)
Baby, I’m down

Aging Like Fine Wine

Exile on Main St. did not sell well when it was first released. Over the years, however, it has elevated its status as one of the best albums in The Rolling Stones catalog. Linda Ronstadt covered “Tumbling Dice” in 1977, and it peaked at No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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