20 “White House Blues” by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers


April 12, 2009 by gadaya

Charlie Poole’s World

From all the pionneer “hilbilly” musicians and singers  whose recordings in the twenties and thirties established the roots of American country and folk music, Charlie Poole is the most well remembered and his legacy on further developements of the music is important. With his band, The North carolina Ramblers, they took the best of the country and the city popular music of their time and blend it together in an unique style that influenced many others back then and ever since. in their recordings, you can hear echoes of rural string band music, Tin Pan Alley popular songs, “coon songs” of the ministrel shows, Irish accents, melted in a tight combination of fiddle-guitar-banjo with Poole’s strong vocals over it. That plus his dexterity on the banjo, played in a pre-Earl Scruggs three-finger style, made their music very unique. Certainly, Poole’s reputation as a hard-living, hard-drinking man and his prematury death at age 39 helped also to forge his “legend”. charlie_poole300

-The best way to enter “Charlie Poole’s world” is by buying the excellent box-set “You ain’t talkin to me-Charlie Poole and the roots of country music” issued by Columbia-Legacy a few years ago. In addition to Charlie Poole’s best recordings, are featured many other recordings who influenced his music and other versions of Poole’s records by other string bands. The liner notes by Henry Sapoznik are excellent and the packaging is very cool. (Robert Crumb did the artwork). You can have a glimpse of it here.

-On this page, read Charlie Poole’s biography

-And here, you’ll have the lyrics for many Poole’s songs.

-I compiled 25 tracks that i love selected from the JSP box-set reissue of Poole’s complete recordings that i own. But i plan to buy also  the box-set descibed above because from what i heard, the sound is much better than on the JSP reissue and it offers also many rare records not available anywhere.


1.The Girl I Left In Sunny Tennessee

2.I’m The Man That Rode The Mule Around The World

3.Can I Sleep In Your Barn Tonight Mistercpoolncramblers1927

4.Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues

5.Goodbye Booze

6.Budded Rose

7.There’ll Come A Time

8.White House Blues

9.The Highwayman

10.Hungry Hash House

11.If I Lose, I Don’t Carecpoole_kinneyrorrerl

12.You Ain’t Talkin’ To Me

13.Falling By The Wayside

14.Take A Drink On Me

15.George Collins

16.Ramblin’ Blues

17.Shootin’ Creek

18.Bill Mason

19.Baltimore Fire

20.Sweet Sunny South

21.He Rambled

22.Tennessee Blues

23.If The River Was Whiskey

24.Goodbye Sweet Liza Jane

25.Milwaukee Blues



The White House Blues Variations

After “Charles Giteau” here’s another folk ballad that deals with the assassination of a president, this time, William McKinley, 25th president of the United States, killed by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, in 1901. For the details of this event, go here. It seems that the ballad originated with afro-americans “songsters” and, like “Stackalee”, was a kind of proto-Blues with a melody and a verse structure very alike another murder Blues ballad, “Delia’s gone”. In fact, all this songs, Delia, White House Blues, The Cannon Ball, Railroad Bill, even Stackalee and Frankie had very similar melodies in their primary forms, as they entered the oral tradition at the same time, the turn of the century and were all associated with black singers. Later, white musicians began to take those songs in their repertoire, like White House Blues, who became, thanks to Bill Monroe, a bluegrass standard.

-You can go here, to read more about the sources of this song.503px-mckinleyczol_following_day

-in his book “Long Steel Rail”, Norm Cohen tells about the writer D.H Lawrence, who used to sing a version of “White House Blues”. A friend of Lawrence recalled that in 1915, as he was singing several Negro Spirituals, he also “…set our brains jingling with an american ballad on the murder of president McKinley with words of brutal jocularity sung to an air of of lilting sweetness…”

A few words on my selected tracks: “Zolgotz” is the title that Bascom Lamar Lunsford gave to his version of “White House Blues”, refering to the name of the murderer. He recorded this track for the Library of Congress in 1949. The New Lost City Ramblers’s version is in fact a parody that was written during the Depression and mock President Hoover. Ernest Stoneman’s version is titled “Road to Whashington” and sounds a lot like the Charlie Poole’s version. He recorded the song twice, the first version being called “Unlucky road to Whashington”. The Greenbriar Boys’s version was learned from a Riley Puckett record. Peter Stampfel of The Holy Modal Rounders does a unique performance in his unique weird string-band style. On the wonderful website “Digital Library of Appalachia” i was happy to find two afro-american versions of the song, bringing it to his roots. One is by banjo player Big Sweet Lewis Hairston with Leonard Bowles on fiddle ( this is really black string-band music at his best), the other one by Howard Twine on the electric guitar. British guitarist John Renbourn made a really nice version of the song, turning it into an introspective ballad with nice minor chords on the guitar. I’ve included also two versions of “Cannon Ball Blues” by The Carter Family, as the melody and the verses are strongly related. The first one was sung by A.P Carter and the other was sung by Maybelle during a “Friends of old-time music” concert in the sixties.


1.Zolgotz ,Bascom Lamar Lunford, from “Songs and Ballads of American History and of the Assassination of Presidents”

2.White House Blues, Big Sweet Lewis Hairston & Leonard Bowles, from Digital Library of Appalachia800px-william_mckinley_assassinat1

3.The Road To Washington, Ernest V. Stoneman, from “The Unsung Father Of Country Music”

4.The Cannon Ball,The Carter Family , from a Jsp box set

5.White House Blues, Tom, Brad & Alice, from “Carve That Possum”

6.White House Blues, Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys, from “Live Recordings 1956-1969: Off the Record Volume 1”

7.McKinley , The Greenbriar Boys, from “Best of the Vanguard Years”

8.White House Blues, John Renbourn, from “Faro Annie”

9.White House Blues, New Lost City Ramblers, from “Songs From The Depression”

10.White House Blues, Janice Trail, from “Digital Library of Appalachia”

11.New White House Blues,Peter Stampfel, from “The Jig Is Up”

12.White House Blues, Howard Twine, from “Digital Library of Appalachia”

13.He’s Solid Gone, Maybelle Carter, from “Friends Of Old Time Music “

14.White House Blues, Haywood Blevins, from Digital Library of Appalachia




5 thoughts on “20 “White House Blues” by Charlie Poole & The North Carolina Ramblers

  1. Thanks for posting this stuff–this place is becoming one of my favorite blogs. All the best.

  2. Jason S says:

    Thanks for this great post. White House Blues/Cannonball Blues is one of my favorite songs. I’ve been trying to find different versions of it — this post is a real gold mine. Thank you so much!

  3. […] killed President Mc Kinley in 1901, the song is a variant of “White House Blues”, see my post on the song here), “Charles Guiteau” (Guiteau shot President Garfield in”1881″, see my post […]

  4. […] variations of the songs here. Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "0"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

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