There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The Charlie Poole box set You Ain’t Talkin’ To Me was one of the last projects of Sony executive Josh Rosenthal before he left to strike out on his own. Rosenthal’s label, Tompkins Square, just released I’m Going Down to North Carolina: The Complete Recordings of The Red Fox Chasers (1928–31). No member of the Red Fox Chasers, an extremely talented group that often crossed paths with Poole’s North Carolina Ramblers, led as colorful a life as Poole, but the musicians, who all hailed from northwest North Carolina, made some amazing music in a short period of time. .
The band’s best-known number was a tale of highway tragedy, “Wreck on the Mountain Road,” but the band had more than disaster songs in its repertoire. “The Arkansas Traveler” is a fast, rollicking instrumental that showcases Guy Brooks’ dexterous fiddle playing. “Girl I Loved in Sunny Tennessee” is a plaintive tale of unrealized romance that Poole also recorded.
The Red Fox Chasers were at their best, though, when they sang about man at his worst. “Naomi Wise” is a haunting song about the intentional drowning of a pregnant teenage girl, and “Otto Wood” tells the tale of the reckless outlaw who was gunned down by North Carolina policemen. The British Isles folk standard “Devilish Mary” allowed the Red Fox Chasers to humorously lament a failed marriage: “We hadn’t been married ’bout two weeks/She got as mean as the devil/Every time I looked at her/She hit me in the head with a shovel.”
Some of the highlights of the compilation are the multipart “Makin’ Licker in North Carolina,” wherein the Red Fox Chasers dissuade a pair of revenuers from arresting them and trick agents into passing the bottle while the band plays “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down,” “Lonesome Road Blues,” and, fittingly, “Pass Around the Bottle.”
Unfortunately the parishioners of Brooks’ Baptist church didn’t see the humor—in a later liquor skit called “Virginia Bootleggers,” they force him to resign as preacher, in an ethanol-inspired predicament that both Poole and Wainwright could also relate to.