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. 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 Woodlieff 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 Rorrer. The band was paid $75 for the session, which would be approximately $950.20 in 2011 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 equalled the Ramblers' controlled, clean, well-patterned sound." 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 Woodlieff. 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). 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. 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. Read more on Last.fm.
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