The acoustic guitar playing of Rod Poole is among the most mesmerizing to enter human heads over the past two decades. Although he started picking in 1972 in a traditional rock / blues vein, by the time the pastel and florescent colors of the '80s began to burn their brightest in the mainstream, Rod dove headfirst into the dimly-lit underground free-improvisation scene, largely inspired by the icon of the genre, Derek Bailey. As the next decade revved up, Rod befriended microtonal composer Kraig Grady and added several frets to his Martin acoustic guitar to employ an obscure pure tuning system known as Just Intonation, which can support many more notes per octave than the standard 12-tone scale common to Western music.
In the mid '90s, Rod released two CDs in this style called The Death Adder and December 96, both of which were solo affairs chock-full of austere, crystalline beauty. He then formed the Rod Poole Trio (known in a live setting as Voice of the Bowed Guitar) with Joseph Hammer and Douglas Williford, who released Iasis; and another group with Nels Cline and Jim McAuley at the dawn of the new millennium called the Acoustic Guitar Trio, who released a self-titled CD. Both units simply produced some of the most hypnotic acoustic drone music to be found anywhere.
I was lucky enough to get splashed by water from Rod's pool on two occasions at the Smell. The first time was in 1998 at the venue's original location on Lankershim in North Hollywood. As a small crowd gathered in the narrow, confined space, Rod sat solid at the infinite center and fingerpicked his heart out, flanked by Joseph and Douglas with bows in hand, who sawed the evening into a stunning, droning standstill.
Sometime around 2002, after the Smell moved to downtown Los Angeles, I caught Rod again in a solo setting as he deftly released his swirling arpeggios and otherworldly overtones into the ever-expanding ether. The fact that only a small crowd was present to witness such rare musical beauty mirrored the current puzzling state of humanity. The ultimate proof of this fact arrived on May 13, 2007, when, during a slight traffic mishap at Mel's Drive-In in Los Angeles, Rod was murdered by a violent psychopath. His body may be gone, but Rod Poole's adventurous spirit will live on through his truly transporting music.
Public Impact: Although Rod Poole is not a household name, his playing has cut its own unique path through the tiny, bramble-filled realm of microtonal guitar music. And his influence out there in the thickets is only likely to grow as time marches forward.