Story on Poe’s passing by Fauquier Times-Democrat’s Don Del Rosso.
On Thursday night, January 12, 2012, Ronnie Poe, 79, of Amissville, went to be with his Lord and Savior. He was holding court, as he had for well over 40 years, at his weekly bluegrass jam in his garage and workshop behind his house, surrounded by those who loved and admired him.
Ronnie was a banjo player. He and his Gibson Mastertone played with some of the best musicians in this part of the country. He recorded several albums with John Ashby and his band, The Freestate Ramblers. For many years, he headed his own band, The Shenandoah Travelers.
I think I started going to Ronnie’s Thursday night jams sometime in the 1970’s, but they had been going on long before that. Ronnie introduced me to a lot of good music, repaired my cars and trucks at Old Towne Texaco or Old Towne Auto Service, and helped me fix a dozen different old riding lawn mowers, and was a good friend through it all.
About 10 or 12 years ago, he asked me to join his band. I was more than a little surprised. I told him I didn’t think I was good enough. I will never forget his response. “Don’t cut yourself short, son. If I didn’t think you were good enough, I wouldn’t ask you.”
It was always a fun time playing music with Ronnie. But, he was serious about his music. He would say, “You got to keep your mind in your music.” Of all the people he played music with, some were great musicians and some of us, not so great. But he didn’t mind. He wanted you to do the best you could, and he supported you in that effort and he was ever encouraging.
One of the first “big” shows I played with Ronnie was on the stage of the old Fauquier High School. We were opening for Larry Sparks. There was a good crowd in attendance, but they were somewhat subdued. There was polite applause, but nothing to write home about. We did a tune called, “Spanish Grass.” Ronnie kicked it off, then someone else took a break, and then it was my turn.
After my break, the audience applauded and some of my friends in attendance hooped and hollered a bit. The tune was still going on, and I turned to Ronnie, who was on my right side. He looked at me, and I grinned a bit, perhaps a bit too much. He leaned over to me and said, “Brady, you ain’t getting any more money.”
Besides his skills as a musician and mechanic, he was also a good woodworker and furniture maker. Much of the furniture in his home, he made himself. He liked to work with black walnut, and anytime I would come across some, I would share it with him. Several months ago, he was making something and needed another piece or two of walnut. I went through my stash and picked out some and took it to him. As I wandered around his workshop, I came across a handmade, black walnut cradle. It was used, and a bit worn, but still strong and substantial and sturdy. I knew he had made it.
I told him I wanted to buy it. He said it wasn’t for sale. Then he looked at me rather sheepishly and said, “Brady, are you having a baby? If you’re having a baby, you can have it.”
I said, no, I wasn’t having a baby, but my daughter was expecting her first child in February. He said, “Well, take it on, then. You are welcome to it.”
I tried to pay him for it, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He helped me load it in the car.
There are so many stories to tell about Ronnie. He had pet names for a lot of people, especially those he liked. He used to call R.B. Frazier, “King.” When R.B., a wonderful fiddle player, would join some of the Thursday night sessions, often after they were well underway, Ronnie would stop and say, “All rise. The King is here.” In recent years, he had taken to using the same name for Kevin Roop, either for his masterful banjo playing or because he had started studying the fiddle. Donnie Bailey, who many of us call “Beetle,” was “Bird” to Ronnie, for the Stelling banjo he played with an inlaid cardinal on the headstock.
Ronnie never spoke ill of anyone. Even if he was just telling a story about someone, he would say, “Now, I don’t mean any disrespect.” I told him about my father’s comment about my guitar playing. My dad preferred the guitar be played primarily on the bass strings. He used to say to me, “Play it on the big strings, son.” When I told Ronnie that, he laughed heartily. Often, when I would take a break on a tune or the song was over, Ronnie would look over to me and say, “Play it on the big strings, son.” And then he would quickly add, “Now, I don’t mean any disrespect.”
Ronnie Poe leaves an open, empty space in the hearts of a lot of people. We do not get to pick the time and place of our departure from this world. If we had that choice, I suspect most of us would choose to leave this place surrounded by our loving family. I believe Ronnie’s second choice would have been with that Gibson Mastertone strapped around his neck, surrounded by the friends and music he loved so dearly.
To Ronnie’s family and friends, we share your tremendous loss. You will be in our hearts and prayers. To Ronnie, I say, Godspeed, old friend. Thursday nights will never be the same.
Get in line, brother, if you want to go home
Down on your knees, righting that wrong,
Then you’ll be singing this old time song,
Get in line, brother, if you want to go home.