Roy Harvey Biography

Roy Cecil Harvey, 24 March 1892, Monroe County, West Virginia, USA, d. 11 July 1958, USA. Harvey loved music and learned to play guitar as a child, but a greater love for trains led to his working for the Virginian Railway. By 1923, he was working as an engineer, when a dispute caused a strike and his participation in it cost him his post. While working in a music shop in Beckley, he met Charlie Poole and their friendship led to Harvey becoming the guitarist with Poole’s North Carolina Ramblers. From September 1926-30, he played on all Poole’s Columbia Records recordings. He also recorded solo numbers and duets with Poole, Posey Rorer and noted yodeller Earl Shirkey (b. 1900, d. 1951), as well as guitar duets with Leonard Copeland. Harvey’s repertoire was considerable and varied from ballads such as his self-penned ‘The Virginian Strike Of ’23’ (written about the event that lost him his job) and old standards such as ‘Mary Dear’, to the comedy numbers ‘Where The Roses Bloom For The Bootlegger’ (with sales around 72, 500, one of Columbia’s top-selling records in 1928) and ‘The Bootlegger’s Dream Of Home’. He also played guitar when fiddler Jess Johnston (b. 1898, d. 1952) recorded the first version of ‘Guitar Rag’ ever recorded by white musicians, for Gennett (it was later popularized as ‘Steel Guitar Rag’ by Leon McAuliffe). In May 1931, Poole died and Harvey and Johnston, with Ernest Branch (banjo) and Bernice Coleman (fiddle), recorded as the West Virginia Ramblers, including an early version of ‘Footprints In The Snow’. Harvey made his last recordings later that year for OKeh Records, the recordings being released as Branch And Coleman. In the late 30s, still saddened by Poole’s death, Harvey grew more distant from music and joined the Beckley police. In 1942, he returned to his first love when, after relocating to Florida, he became an engineer for the Florida East Coast Railway. Early in 1958, he retired from the railroad and from music after giving his beloved Gibson to a friend in Daytona Beach. He died of cancer in 1958 and was buried at New Smyrna Beach. Rated as one of the ‘smoothest of the old time guitarists’, his recorded legacy can be found on Document’s 4-CD set.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.