One day in the late 1920s a group of musicians pulled their old car up to a dusty country store in Virginia. The leader of the group was a brown-haired, jug-eared man in his mid-thirties who looked like he could handle himself in a fight. As his mates wandered around the store, he walked over to a row of watermelons. “Say, fella,” he said to the storekeeper. “How much are those cucumbers?” The old storekeeper snorted back that those things were watermelons. “Sorry,” said the jug-eared man. “My mistake. I’m from down in North Carolina, and we usually have cucumbers that are bigger than these things.” The joker then had the temerity to ask where in blazes he could get a drink of good liquor. That was enough for this Prohibition-era storekeeper; he ordered the whole gang out of his store. As he turned to leave, the jug-eared man quipped, “Well, being as I’m Charlie Poole, I thought I might get a drink around here.” “Yeah?” shot back the storeman. “If you’re Charlie Poole, I’m Henry Ford!”
This stopped the young man for a moment. Then he stalked out to the car, dug out a banjo case, opened it, and began to play and sing. The storekeeper’s jaw dropped. No doubt about that voice, that banjo style, that song: Charlie Poole. Red-faced, he ducked into the back room and returned with a half-gallon of prime moonshine. The jug was passed, fences were mended, and songs were sung, and Charlie Poole and his friends—who called themselves the North Carolina Ramblers—wound up staying for a week, enjoying the storekeeper’s hospitality and adding five more ounces to an already heavy legend.
Even today, people around the Southeast still tell yarns about Charlie Poole, and artists from Grandpa Jones to Ricky Skaggs to Bill Monroe still sing his songs. He was one of the first really successful country singers to work with a full string band; he was a sophisticated banjo player whose work set the foundation for later bluegrass; he was a skilled songwriter and arranger of older folk songs who produced