Appalachia, Beaver Creek, Big Sandy River, Bill Necessary, Carter Caves State Park, Curly Wellman, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddler, fiddling, Floyd County, Fraley Family Festival, Grayson, history, Huntington, J P Fraley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Levisa Fork, Lynn Davis, Mingo County, Molly O Day, Molly O'Day, Mona Hager, music, Nashville, Paintsville, Prestonsburg, Snake Chapman, Tug Fork, U.S. South, Ugee Postalwait, West Virginia, Williamson, writers, writing
A few months later, I met Lawrence Haley at the Fraley Family Festival at Carter Caves State Park near Grayson, Kentucky. Lawrence and I spoke with Bill Necessary, a musician who saw Ed and Ella all over the Big Sandy Valley when he was about twenty years old. He said they rode a train up Levisa Fork to Paintsville, the seat of government for Johnson County, where they spent the day playing music at the courthouse. From there, they continued by train to Prestonsburg, county seat of Floyd County. At times, they went into the nearby coal camps of Beaver Creek and played at theatres. From Prestonsburg, they took the train to Pikeville, the county seat of Pike County, and then continued over to the Tug River around Williamson, county seat of Mingo County, West Virginia.
“Aw, they took in the whole dern country up through there,” Bill said. “By the time they made that circuit, why it’d be time for them to come again. I guess they’d tour a couple of weeks. By God, I just followed them around, son.”
Lawrence didn’t remember going to all of those places with Ed but did remember staying with Molly O’Day’s family around Williamson. Bill said Molly’s widow Lynn Davis was still living around Huntington, West Virginia.
Bill said Ed always wore a long overcoat — “rain or shine” — and even played in it. He never sang or entered contests.
“He was pretty up to date on music at that time,” Bill said. “His notes were real clear, boy.”
Back in Nashville, I worked really hard trying to figure out Ed’s bowing. There was a lot of contradictory information to consider. Snake Chapman said he bowed short strokes, indicating a lot of sawstrokes and pronounced note separation. J.P. Fraley, Slim Clere, Lawrence and Mona said that he favored the long bow approach and only used short strokes when necessary, like for hoedowns. Preacher Gore, Ugee Postalwait and Curly Wellman spoke about how smooth his fiddling was, which kind of hinted at him being a long bow fiddler. All were probably accurate in some respect. It seemed plain to me that one reason why there were so many contrasting and sometimes completely opposite accounts of how or even what Ed played was that everyone I’d talked to witnessed him playing at different times and places during his musical evolution. All along the way, he was experimenting, looking for that “right combination” or playing the style needed to create the sounds popular in a certain area. Even what I could actually hear on his home recordings was really just a glimpse into the world of his fiddling as it existed at that moment toward the end of his lifetime.