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Take A Drink On Me
Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers

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About the video

Charlie Poole & the North Carolina Ramblers were one of the most popular string
bands of the 1920s. If they didn't have the foot-stomping exuberance of their
chief competitors, Georgia's Skillet Lickers, they offered a debonair precision
that was equally infectious. Infused with ragtime and pop, their music almost
seemed to swing at times (even though the use of that word to describe music
was still several years in the future). Poole strongly influenced later banjo
players, including those who would become the creators of bluegrass.

Poole was born in Randolph County, NC, and spent much of his adult life
working in textile mills. He learned banjo as a youth and also played baseball.
(He may have adopted his three-finger playing style, a version of classical banjo
technique, due to a baseball accident involving his thumb.) When not working in
mills, he would travel from town to town across the country, playing the banjo
and taking what work he could get. He ended up settling in Spray, NC, in 1918
and married two years later. He and his brother-in-law, fiddler Posey Rorer,
would often play together with other local musicians, and out of these
performances grew a distinct group called the North Carolina Ramblers. Poole
and Rorer teamed up with guitarist Norm Woodlieff in 1925, and the trio
auditioned in New York for Columbia Records. They were accepted and cut four
songs; all were successful, including the bluesy "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down."
That became a bluegrass and country standard, and Poole and the Ramblers
were soon a popular string band. The band's unusual sound remained
consistent through several changes in personnel. As vocalist, Poole sang with a
plain, uninflected style that complemented his complex banjo picking. Often, and
perhaps intentionally, Poole obscured parts of the lyrics when he sang; record
buyers sometimes purchased Ramblers recordings simply so that they could try
to parse out what he was saying. The songs they sang were a mixture of minstrel
songs, Victorian ballads, and humorous burlesques often delivered with Poole's
straight-faced, dry wit. Several more songs' paths to popularity in the country
tradition led through Poole's band, including "Sweet Sunny South" and "White
House Blues," and his catalog is full of unexpected charmers like "If the River
Was Whiskey," which deftly weaves that Irish tale of drunkenness with the
then-up-to-the-minute "Hesitation Blues" (also known as "Sittin' on Top of the
World"). Through the rest of the 1920s, the Ramblers recorded close to 70 sides
for Columbia.

Like many country performers to follow, Poole lived a fast life; he was a
hard-drinking man, rowdy and reckless. Poole was significant as one of the first
country artists to gain widespread popularity through recordings, and when the
Depression slowed record sales dramatically, he was hard hit. Around 1930 his
self-confidence began to wane with his popularity, and he began drinking even
more heavily. Scheduled to appear in a film in 1931, he unfortunately went on a
bender and died of heart failure before he could get to Hollywood. After his
death, Rorer (who had left the band in 1929) and guitarist Roy Harvey (who'd
replaced Woodlieff around the same time) began leading the North Carolina
Ramblers. (The group continued to record and perform for a quite a few years
afterward.) Poole's music enjoyed renewed popularity during the folk revival of
the '60s, and several reissue LPs followed. His complete recordings were issued
on CD by the County label in the 1990s, Kinney Rorrer wrote and published a
biography of the great bandleader and banjo player, and Poole received the full
Columbia/Legacy treatment in 2005 with the three-disc box-set treasure, You
Ain't Talkin' to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music.