Charlie Poole

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Charlie Poole
Charlie Poole.jpg
Background information
Birth name Charles Cleveland Poole
Born March 22, 1892
Origin Spray, North Carolina, USA
Died May 21, 1931(1931-05-21) (aged 39)
Genres Country
Occupations Country artist
Instruments banjo
Years active 1918–1931
Notable instruments
banjo

Charlie Poole (March 22, 1892 – May 21, 1931) was an American old time banjo player and country musician and the leader of the North Carolina Ramblers, an American old-time string band that recorded many popular songs between 1925 to 1930.

Biography[edit]

Charlie was born in Spray, now part of Eden, Rockingham County, in the northern Piedmont region of North Carolina, near the Virginia border.

He learned banjo as a youth. Poole also played baseball, and his three-fingered playing technique was the result of a baseball accident. He bet that he could catch a baseball without a glove. Poole closed his hand too soon, the ball broke his thumb, and resulted in a permanent arch in his right hand.

Poole bought his first good banjo, an Orpheum No. 3 Special, with profits from his moonshine still. Later, he appeared in the 1929 catalog of the Gibson Company, promoting their banjo.

He spent much of his adult life working in textile mills.

The North Carolina Ramblers[edit]

Charlie Poole and his brother-in-law, fiddler Posey Rorer - whom he had met in West Virginia in 1917 and whose sister he married - formed a trio with guitarist Norman Woodlief called the North Carolina Ramblers. The group auditioned in New York for Columbia Records. After landing a contract, they recorded the highly successful "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues" on July 27, 1925. This song sold over 102,000 copies at a time when there were estimated to be only 600,000 phonographs in the Southern United States, according to Poole’s biographer and great nephew, Kinney Rorer. The band was paid $75 for the session, which would be approximately $1,012.68 in 2014 dollars (Consumer Price Index).

Poole played the banjo. The guitar was played by Norman Woodlief, and later by former railroad engineer Roy Harvey from West Virginia. Fiddlers in various recording sessions were Posey Rorer, Lonnie Austin and Odell Smith.

The North Carolina Ramblers, a banjo-guitar-fiddle trio with Poole's plain-spoken tenor voice in the lead, in great part created the musical templates for two giants: the bluegrass of Bill Monroe and, by extension, the lyrical aspects of the modern country music of Hank Williams. Bill C. Malone, in his important history of country music, "Country Music, U.S.A." says, "The Rambler sound was predictable: a bluesy fiddle lead, backed up by long, flowing, melodic guitar runs and the finger-style banjo picking of Poole. Predictable as it may be, it was nonetheless outstanding. No string band in early country music equaled the Ramblers' controlled, clean, well-patterned sound."[1]

For the next five years, Poole and the Ramblers were a very popular band. The band's distinctive sound remained consistent though several members came and left, including Posey Rorer and Norm Woodlief. In all, the band recorded over 60 songs for Columbia Records during the 1920s. These hits included: "Sweet Sunny South", "White House Blues", “He Rambled”, and “Take a Drink on Me”.

Poole was essentially a cover artist, who composed few, if any, of his recordings. Nevertheless, his dynamic renditions were popular with a broad audience in the Southeast. He is considered a primary source for old-time music revivalists and aficionados. Songs like "Bill Morgan And His Gal", "Milwaukee Blues", and "Leavin' Home", have been resurrected by banjo players. Poole developed a unique fingerpicking style, a blend of melody, arpeggio, and rhythm (as distinct from clawhammer/frailing and Scruggs' variations).

Aftermath[edit]

In addition to being a talented musician, Poole was a fast living and hard drinking man. He packed several lifetimes of hard and fast living into his 39 years. Textile mill worker, semi-pro ballplayer, and hell-raiser supreme, Poole won his place among the giants of American roots music with his pathfinding work on the banjo, and for heading the innovative North Carolina Ramblers. The original Ramblers played around Spray and Leaksville, North Carolina beginning in 1917. In 1925, the recordings they made for Columbia allowed them to escape life in the textile mills.

Poole's life ended after a 13-week drinking bender. He had been invited to Hollywood to play background music for a film. According to some reports, he was disheartened by the slump in record sales due to the Depression. Poole never made it to Hollywood. He died of a heart attack in May 1931.

The ultimate cause of Poole's death is unknown. He suffered heart failure after excessive drinking. After his last bout with drinking, Poole was examined by a local doctor in Eden, who administered an injection of some kind -possibly to bring him down from the alcohol. Poole died after the injection on the table, and there is speculation that the injection may have been a factor in his death.

Legacy[edit]

Poole’s music enjoyed a revival in the 1960s, and his renditions have been rerecorded by numerous artists, such as John Mellencamp with "White House Blues", The Chieftains and Grateful Dead with "Don’t Let the Deal Go Down", Holy Modal Rounders and Hot Tuna with "Hesitation Blues", and Joan Baez with "Sweet Sunny South". His recordings have also appeared on numerous compilations of old-time music. Since 1995, Poole's legacy has been carried on every year in Eden, North Carolina during the month of June when the Piedmont Folk Legacies, Inc, a non-profit organization, hosts the Charlie Poole Music Festival.

Columbia issued a three-CD box set of his music, entitled You Ain't Talkin' to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music in 2005. The album, produced by Henry "Hank" Sapoznik, was nominated for three Grammy awards. It chronicles the stompin' sides made for Columbia by Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers between 1925 and 1931, including such important songs as "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down" (the first country mega-hit), "Can I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight, Mister?", "Old and Only In the Way" (the title of which was used by Jerry Garcia to name his 1970s bluegrass band with David Grisman, Old and In the Way), and "White House Blues", adapted by John Mellencamp, who in 2004 updated the politically charged lyrics and changed the title to "To Washington". In addition to 43 of Poole's original recordings, the package features performances by other early roots music players and singers, including Fred Van Eps, Arthur Collins, Billy Murray, Floyd Country Ramblers, Uncle Dave Macon and The Red Fox Chasers.

The original liner notes, by Peter Stampfel, state, "Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers recorded an incredible number of songs that are personal favorites of mine. Poole is, in fact, one of the great musicians of the century. No doubt about it." The album's cover art was created by Robert Crumb, the celebrated illustrator and an old-time music afficiando.

Kinney Rorrer penned a biography of Charlie Poole, entitled Ramblin’ Blues: The Life and Songs of Charlie Poole in 1982. Rorrer, a descendant of Poole's fiddler Posey Rorer, is the banjo player for the old-time music group The New North Carolina Ramblers.

Production of a documentary on Poole's life, tentatively titled North Carolina Rambler, was announced in 2007 by producer-director-cinematographer George Goehl. However, no word on the film's progress is available.

A double-CD album paying tribute to Poole was released by singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III in August 2009. The album, entitled High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project, features 30 tracks, including new versions of songs originally recorded by Poole, as well as tunes composed by Wainwright and producer Dick Connette on the artist's life and times; it was awarded the Grammy for 'Best Traditional Folk Album' at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards.

Original discography[edit]

Charlie Poole and His North Carolina Ramblers[edit]

Matrix Title Record # Recording date
140786 "The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee" Columbia 15043-D Jul 27, 1925
140787 "I'm the Man That Rode the Mule 'Round the World" Columbia 15043-D Jul 27, 1925
140788 "Can I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight Mister?" Columbia 15038-D Jul 27, 1925
140789 "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues" Columbia 15038-D Jul 27, 1925
142627 "Flying Clouds" Columbia 15106-D Sep 16, 1926
142631 "Wild Horse" Columbia 15279-D Sep 16, 1926
142632 "Forks of Sandy" Columbia 15106-D Sep 16, 1926
142633 "Mountain Reel" Columbia 15279-D Sep 16, 1926
142637 "Good-Bye Booze" Columbia 15138-D Sep 17, 1926
142638 "Monkey On A String" Columbia 15099-D Sep 17, 1926
142641 "Too Young To Marry" Columbia15127-D Sep 18, 1926
142642 "Ragtime Annie" Columbia 15127-D Sep 18, 1926
142643 "Little Dog Waltz" Unissued Sep 18, 1926
142644 "A Kiss Waltz" Unissued Sep 18, 1926
142645 "Leaving Home" Columbia 15116-D Sep 18, 1926
142646 "Budded Rose" Columbia 15138-D Sep 18, 1926
142657 "There'll Come A Time" Columbia 15116-D Sep 20, 1926
142658 "White House Blues" Columbia 15099-D Sep 20, 1926
142659 "The Highway Man" Columbia 15160-D Sep 20, 1926
142660 "Hungry Hash House" Columbia 15160-D Sep 20, 1926
144509 "If I Lose I Don't Care" Columbia 15215-D Jul 25, 1927
144510 "On the Battle Fields of Belgium" Unissued Jul 25, 1927
144511 "You Ain't Talkin' To Me" Columbia 15193-D Jul 25, 1927
144512 "Coon From Tennessee" Columbia 15215-D Jul 25, 1927
144513 "When I Left My Good Old Home" Unissued Jul 25, 1927
144514 "The Letter That Never Came" Columbia 15179-D Jul 25, 1927
144515 "Take A Drink On Me" Columbia 15193-D Jul 25, 1927
144516 "Falling By the Wayside" Columbia 15179-D Jul 25, 1927
144517 "Down In Georgia" Unissued Jul 25, 1927
144518 "Sunset March" Columbia 15184-D Jul 26, 1927
144519 "Teasin' Fritz" Unissued Jul 26, 1927
144521 "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Medley" Columbia 15184-D Jul 26, 1927
146767 "A Young Boy Left His Home One Day" Columbia 15584-D Jul 23, 1928
146768 "My Wife Went Away and Left Me" Columbia 15584-D Jul 23, 1928
146769 "I Cannot Call Her Mother" Columbia 15307-D Jul 23, 1928
146770 "I Once Loved A Sailor" Columbia 15385-D Jul 23, 1928
146771 "Husband and Wife Were Angry One Night" Columbia 15342-D Jul 23, 1928
146772 "Hangman, Hangman, Slack the Rope" Columbia 15385-D Jul 23, 1928
146773 "Ramblin' Blues" Columbia 15286-D Jul 23, 1928
146774 "Took My Gal A-Walking" Columbia 15672-D Jul 23, 1928
146775 "What Is Home Without Babies" Columbia 15307-D Jul 23, 1928
146776 "Jealous Mary" Columbia 15342-D Jul 23, 1928
146778 "Old and Only In the Way" Columbia 15672-D Jul 23, 1928
146779 "Shootin' Creek" Columbia 15286-D Jul 23, 1928
148469 "Bill Mason" Columbia 15407-D May 6, 1929
148470 "Goodbye Mary Dear" Columbia 15456-D May 6, 1929
148471 "Leaving Dear Old Ireland" Columbia 15425-D May 6, 1929
148472 "Baltimore Fire" Columbia 15509-D May 6, 1929
148474 "The Wayward Boy" Columbia 15456-D May 7, 1929
148475 "Sweet Sunny South" Columbia 15425-D May 7, 1929
148476 "He Rambled" Columbia 15407-D May 7, 1929
148477 "The Mother's Plea For Her Son" Columbia 15509-D May 7, 1929
2913 "San Antonio" Broadway 8288 May 9, 1929
149900 "Sweet Sixteen" Columbia 15519-D Jan 23, 1930
149901 "My Gypsy Girl" Columbia 15519-D Jan 23, 1930
149902 "The Only Girl I Ever Loved" Columbia 15711-D Jan 23, 1930
149904 "Write Letter To My Mother" Columbia 15711-D Jan 23, 1930
149906 "If the River Was Whiskey" Columbia 15545-D Jan 23, 1930
149907 "It's Movin' Day" Columbia 15545-D Jan 23, 1930
149908 "Southern Medley" Columbia 15615-D Jan 23, 1930
149909 "Honeysuckle" Columbia 15615-D Jan 23, 1930
150773 "Goodbye Sweet Liza Jane" Columbia 15601-D Sep 9, 1930
150774 "Look Before You Leap" Columbia 15601-D Sep 9, 1930
150775 "One Moonlit Night" Columbia 15688-D Sep 9, 1930
150777 "Just Keep Waiting Till the Good Times Come" Columbia 15636-D Sep 9, 1930
150779 "Milwaukee Blues" Columbia 15688-D Sep 9, 1930
150780 "Where the Whippoorwill Is Whispering Goodnight" Columbia 15636-D Sep 9, 1930

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Country Music, U.S.A.", Bill C. Malone, University of Texas Press, 2002

External links[edit]