You Ain't Talking to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music

You Ain't Talking to Me: Charlie Poole and the Roots of Country Music

by Charlie Poole
As wild in his personal life as he was disciplined in his professional endeavors, Charlie Poole left a legacy that influenced artists ranging from early country pioneers such as Uncle Dave Macon to innovators such as Earl Scruggs to contemporary roots-based artists on the order of


As wild in his personal life as he was disciplined in his professional endeavors, Charlie Poole left a legacy that influenced artists ranging from early country pioneers such as Uncle Dave Macon to innovators such as Earl Scruggs to contemporary roots-based artists on the order of Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia (whose acoustic group Old & in the Way took its name from a Poole song). Almost single-handedly, Poole rescued the banjo from string band antiquity, exploring its sonic possibilities to a degree unimagined before his time. This three-CD collection features the bedrock of his legacy, in a single disc devoted to the enduring recordings Poole made with his North Carolina Ramblers (a guitar-fiddle-banjo trio) and the Highlanders, between July 1925 and September 1930 (virtually his entire recorded output; a heavy drinker, Poole died in 1931, at age 39, following a "suicidal thirteen-week bender," according to Poole authority Henry Sapoznik, who compiled, produced, and wrote this set's informative liner notes). Playing country blues, old-time string band tunes, and dialect (or "coon") songs, Poole forged a canon that includes "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues" (a Dylan favorite) and "White House Blues" (which became "Cannon Ball Blues" when appropriated by A. P. Carter and was later retooled for modern times by John Mellencamp). Discs 2 and 3 feature songs recorded by Poole and the same songs as recorded by artists who either preceded Poole and influenced him (such as the mega-popular minstrel artist Arthur Collins, who dominated the pop charts in the late 1800s and early 1900s) or followed and were inspired by him (such as Uncle Dave Macon and Gid Tanner). It's a vibrant history lesson in both the development of a certain strain of country music and in the stylistic approaches that were handed down and then transformed over the course of several generations. With an evocative cover drawing of Poole by Robert Crumb, a cigar box–like package, profuse illustrations, and admirable audio restoration of recordings compiled from 78s and cylinders, this collection does right by Charlie Poole, the music he made, and the history he altered.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Steve Leggett
First, a word about what You Ain't Talkin' to Me is not: it is not a box set of Charlie Poole's complete recorded work. He recorded some 110 songs for the Columbia, Paramount, and Brunswick labels between 1925 and 1931, and 43 of those tracks are collected here, with the balance of this three-disc set given over to sides by Poole's stylistic predecessors and contemporaries. Creating a feel for Poole's life and milieu is the goal here, and presenting musical evidence to place him as the clear grandfather of both bluegrass and modern country is the not-so-hidden agenda. Poole was never an overwhelming banjo player, but his three-finger picking style certainly carries trace elements of what would become bluegrass some 20 years later (when a banjo whiz named Earl Scruggs joined Bill Monroe's band in 1946). Poole wasn't a particularly strong singer, either, but his rambling, gambling persona and flamboyant stage antics (and frequent multi-week alcoholic benders) provide convincing evidence that Poole was outlaw country five decades before the term was even born. Poole's real genius -- since he didn't write songs -- was his ability to take folk tunes, pop songs, fiddle reels, blues fragments, and church hymns and reconfigure them into autobiographical statements by dropping or importing a verse, adding a stray line here and there, changing the title, and eventually delivering fresh, stripped-down versions of familiar songs that now seemed entirely Poole's. What You Ain't Talkin' to Me does best is document how this process worked, and after a first disc of acknowledged Poole classics ("Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues," "White House Blues," "If the River Was Whiskey," "Ramblin' Blues"), the second and third discs present Poole songs alongside their antecedents in what is essentially a workshop in how pop folk is created in a mechanized age. On disc three, for example, you hear Arthur Collins' 1902 version of "Oh! Didn't He Ramble" as a heavily stylized and orchestrated bit of vaudeville. In Poole's hands, stripped down and shaped into a sinewy, sexy, and bluesy ensemble piece for banjo, guitar, and fiddle, it became the self-referential "He Rambled" in 1929. Similarly, Eddie Morton's civil and orchestrated "You Ain't Talking to Me" from 1909 becomes an ominous barroom boast in Poole's version, released as "You Ain't Talkin' to Me" in 1927. This ability to create new possibilities from old choices is what has driven American music from the very beginning, and Poole's talent for making it all seem like personal autobiography makes him very much a modernist, only a short leap away from an artist like Hank Williams. Doubters need only listen to Poole's "If I Lose, I Don't Care," which leads off the third disc, to clearly see the kind of DNA that went into modern country. As a glimpse of Poole's life and times, and a look behind the curtains at the adaptive nature of his creative process, this attractive set (it comes in a small cigar box with a R. Crumb illustration of Poole on the lid and includes a 60-page book insert) does a super job, but listeners should be aware that it is hardly comprehensive. Those interested in a more extensive sampling of Poole's work should check out JSP's four-disc box, Charlie Poole With the North Carolina Ramblers and the Highlanders, which features 96 of his 110 known recordings.

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Disc 1

  1. Shootin' Creek
  2. Baltimore Fire
  3. Leaving Home
  4. There'll Come a Time
  5. White House Blues
  6. The Highwayman
  7. Hungry Hash House
  8. The Letter That Never Came
  9. Take a Drink on Me
  10. Husband and Wife Were Angry One Night
  11. Ramblin' Blues
  12. Took My Gal A-Walkin'
  13. Old and Only in the Way
  14. Don't Let Your Deal Go Down Blues
  15. Bill Mason
  16. A Kiss Waltz
  17. Flop Eared Mule
  18. A Trip to New York, Pt. 1
  19. Sweet Sixteen
  20. Write a Letter to My Mother
  21. If the River Was Whiskey
  22. Mother's Last Farewell Kiss
  23. Milwaukee Blues
  24. Where the Whippoorwill Is Whispering Good-Night

Disc 2

  1. The Girl I Left in Sunny Tennessee
  2. Sunny Tennessee
  3. Bulldog Down in Sunny Tennessee
  4. Moving Day
  5. It's Movin' Day
  6. Home Sweet, Home
  7. I'm the Man That Rode the Mule 'Round the World
  8. Man That Rode the Mule Around the World
  9. Lynchburg Town
  10. Going Down to Lynchburg Town/Don't Let Your Deal Go Down
  11. Some One
  12. Monkey on a String
  13. Monkey on a String
  14. Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight Mister
  15. May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister
  16. Married Life Blues
  17. The Infanta March
  18. Sunset March
  19. I'll Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms
  20. Goodbye Eliza Jane
  21. Good-Bye Sweet Liza Jane
  22. Good-Bye Booze
  23. Goodbye Booze
  24. You Ain't Talking to Me
  25. You Ain't Talkin' to Me

Disc 3

  1. If I Lose, I Don't Care
  2. The Battleship of Maine
  3. Budded Rose
  4. Standing by a Window
  5. Uncle Dave's Beloved Solo
  6. Come Take a Trip in My Airship
  7. I Once Loved a Sailor
  8. Dixie Medley
  9. My Wife, She Has Gone and Left Me
  10. My Wife Went Away and Left Me
  11. Baby Rose
  12. Just Keep Waiting Till the Good Time Comes
  13. Shuffle Feet, Shuffle
  14. Coon from Tennessee
  15. Coon from Tennessee
  16. On the Banks of the Kaney
  17. Dixie Medley
  18. Southern Medley
  19. The Man That Wrote Home Sweet Home Never Was a Married Man
  20. Sweet Sunny South
  21. Take Me Back to the Sweet Sunny South
  22. Oh! Didn't He Ramble
  23. He Rambled

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Charlie Poole   Primary Artist,Banjo,Vocals
Uncle Dave Macon   Banjo,Vocals
Sam McNeil   Banjo
DeWitt Jenkins   Banjo
Charlie Parker   Banjo,Vocals
Fred Van Eps   Banjo
Buster Carter   Banjo,Vocals
Paul Miles   Banjo
Doc Walsh   Banjo,Vocals
Francis Jenkins   Banjo
Arthur Wells   Banjo
Dacosta Woltz   Banjo
R.D. Hundley   Banjo
Leon Cofer   Banjo,Vocals
John Patterson   Banjo,Vocals
Harold Hall   Banjo
Fisher Hendley   Banjo
Sam Moore   Banjo,Harmonica
Marshall Small   Banjo
Gid Tanner   Fiddle,Vocals
Homer "Pappy" Sherrill   Fiddle
Posey Rorer   Fiddle
Guy Brooks   Fiddle,Vocals
Lonnie Austin   Fiddle
Banks McNeil   Fiddle
Charley La Prade   Fiddle
Benny Jarrell   Fiddle,Vocals
Odell Smith   Fiddle
Paul Cofer   Fiddle,Vocals
Robert Dewey Cooper   Fiddle
Bernice "Bernie" Coleman   Fiddle,Vocals
Henry Hall   Fiddle
Percy Setliff   Fiddle
Roy Harvey   Guitar
Clarence Hall   Guitar
Fate Norris   Guitar,Vocals
Preston Young   Guitar,Harmony Vocals
A.P. Thompson   Guitar,Vocals
Henry Whitter   Guitar
Ben Evans   Guitar,Vocals
Leonard Stokes   Guitar,Vocals
Joseph Alfred Stegall   Guitar
Mack Woolbright   Guitar,Vocals
John Willie Boone   Guitar,Vocals
Sid Harkreader   Guitar,Vocals
Norman Woodlief   Guitar
Clyde Robbins   Guitar
Thomas Franklin Cooper   Guitar
Lonnie Griffith   Guitar
Walter Boone   Harmonica,Harmony Vocals
Lucy Terry   Piano
Carl Freed   Piano
Arthur Collins   Vocals
Kelly Harrell   Vocals
Cal Stewart   Vocals
Billy Murray   Vocals
Eddie Morton   Vocals
Bob Cranford   Harmony Vocals
Earnest Branch   Banjo,Vocals
Larry Nolen   Guitar

Technical Credits

Henry Sapoznik   Producer,Liner Notes,Annotation
Kinney Rorrer   Liner Notes
Frank Carbonari   Graphic Design
Howard Fritzson   Art Direction
Michelle Holme   Art Direction
Tom Choi   Packaging Manager
Robert Crumb   Cover Art
Michael Brooks   Archival Consultant
Andreas Meyer   Restoration Sound Engineer
Christopher [1] C. King   Remastering Audio Restoration

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