Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers were one of the most popular string bands of the 1920s and had a great influence on the development of bluegrass and modern country music. Poole is greatly responsible for popularizing the banjo and created a unique three-finger playing style.
Poole was born in Randolph County, North Carolina, and spent much of his adult life working in textile mills. When not working in mills, he would travel from town to town across the country to play music. He ended up settling in Spray, North Carolina, in 1918 and married Lou Emma Rorer two years later. Lou Emma’s brother, Posey Rorer, would team up with Poole and Norman Woodlieff to create the original North Carolina Ramblers. In 1925, they left Spray and traveled to New York to audition for Columbia Records. Their first recording session produced “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.” This record went on to become a mega-hit and is still considered a country standard to this day, recorded by numerous artists over the years.
The personnel of the Ramblers eventually changed, with Roy Harvey replacing Woodlieff on guitar and Lonnie Austin replacing Rorer on fiddle. One thing that never changed, however, due to Poole’s enormous talent as a bandleader and innovator, was the distinct “chamber quality” sound of their music. The songs they played were a mixture of minstrel tunes, Victorian ballads, and old-time instrumentals, but all recreated as modern music.
When the Depression hit in 1930, Poole’s career began to fade, and he found himself back working in the textile mill he had left behind for stardom. As a result, his long-suffering problem with alcohol became even more apparent. After receiving an offer in 1931 from Hollywood to provide music for a film, he went on a multi-week bender and died of heart failure before he could make the trip. For an in-depth look at the life of this musical pioneer, read his biography, “Ramblin’ Blues: The Life and Songs of Charlie Poole” by Kinney Rorrer.