Sam Poplin’s grandfather was an old-time fiddle player in his seventies when Sam first started stealing a lick on his fiddle while the old man was out at work. Sam kept on trying to learnRedwing as his grandfather had played it and soon he had traded a hard-earned ten dollars for a fiddle of his own. His grandfather began to take Sam’s interest in music seriously and sat down with him to teach him the old tunes like Arkansas Traveler, Hook and Line, and Old Jimmy Sutton.
While still a youngster in his hometown of Albemarle, Sam learned to read music and play a bit of clarinet in the local mill brass band. But the fiddle landed Sam his first musical job with Fisher Hendley’s Carolina Tar Heels. At seventeen Poplin travelled to New York with Hendley’s group, broadcasting over the radio by day and playing in a New York club by night. By the time he returned to North Carolina, he had recorded square dance tunes for Brunswick and had begun writing songs of his own.
In the early 1930s, Poplin divided his time between music and carpentry work with his father in Albemarle. Around 1934 he appeared with Fred Russell’s Hillbillies on the WBT Crazy Water Crystals Barn Dance. When the Russell’s Hillbillies job played out, Poplin returned to Albemarle. There Fisher Hendley called on him again, this time for a fiddling job in Greenville, South Carolina with the Aristocratic Pigs.
In 1938, Fisher Hendley moved to WIS in Columbia and Poplin pulled out of the group shortly afterward to front his own band. He formed a four member group and approached the Allen brothers of Columbia, auditioning for them in their Adluh flour mill and convincing them to sponsor his band on WIS. Sam Poplin and his Adluh Musical Millers proved so popular that Royal Crown Cola sponsored the band for a second daily show on WIS as the Royal Crown Rangers. While at WIS, Poplin’s group toured extensively through the Carolinas. Booked for most every night in the week, their show combined Poplin’s popular songs and trick fiddling with acrobatics, comedy, magic and even a dog show.
When military service and the tire shortage broke up Poplin’s music and comedy group in the early 1940s, he left show business for a time and entered the shipyards. After the war, he resettled in Albemarle, buying a small farm and working as a machinist at Badin’s aluminum plant.
He soon took up music again, playing fiddle with Curly Williams and the Georgia Peach Pickers at the Barn in ‘Venice, California in 1945. There they shared the stage with Spade Cooley and his band and Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. Back in Carolina by 1946, he joined the WBT family of musicians. At WBT Poplin appeared with Claude Casey and the Sage Dusters and the Briarhopper Unit Number Two, who toured with the car and trailer from Poplin’s Columbia days.
Poplin’s mechanical skills vied with his musical interests and eventually he turned to his engineering talents for his livelihood. From an engineering job at Queens College, he got into the clock business. He retired in 1980, but is still called on today to repair and set up grandfather clocks. Although Poplin’s major interest these days is composing, his talent for fiddle playing remains undiminished.
— from George Holt, ed., The Charlotte Country Music Story (Spirit Square Arts Center and North Carolina Arts Council, 1985)
Check out the musicians who took part in the Charlotte Country Music Story concerts:
- Briarhoppers and Charles Crutchfield
- Joe and Janette Carter
- Claude Casey
- Tommy Faile
- George Hamilton IV
- Snuffy Jenkins and Homer “Pappy” Sherrill
- Johnson Family Singers and Betty Johnson
- Fred Kirby
- Roy Lear
- Wade Mainer
- Bill Monroe
- Zeke and Wiley Morris
- Sam Poplin
- Red Clay Ramblers
- Arthur Smith
- Tennessee Ramblers with Cecil Campbell and Harry Blair
- Charlotte/Rock Hill Recordings available on CD (36 page pdf)