Appalachia, Ashland, blind, Clark Kessinger, Doc Holbrook, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Georgia Slim Rutland, history, John Hartford, Kentucky, mandolin, music, Slim Clere
The cassette player was giving Slim fits. I used the opportunity to ask him more about Ed. His answers came swift and sure, leaving little room for doubt.
Me: What kind of strings did Ed Haley use?
Slim: Believe it or not — gut. He used an aluminum-wound A, an aluminum-wound gut D and a silver-wound G. Professional stuff.
Me: Did Ed use a flat bridge or a round bridge?
Slim: I would say a round bridge.
Me: Did he ever talk about who he learned from or any of that?
Slim: No, but I think Clark Kessinger stole some of his stuff.
Me: When Ed played, was it loud?
Slim: He played very soft. He wasn’t rough.
I could hear Slim’s wife talking — she was helping him with the cassette player. Slim told her I was on the other end of the line and she got on the telephone and said, “Are you the one that does the riverboat things? I have seen you on Ralph Emery’s show. I have enjoyed you tremendously because you’re different.” That flattered me, of course, but I had more questions for Slim, who was still battling the tape player.
Me: Did you ever hear Ed sing?
Slim: No, but I’ve heard people say that he could play a guitar well.
Me: Was he easy to get to know?
Slim: He was a very congenial guy. You’d go around where he was playing, he’d hand you his fiddle. “Here,” he’d say. In other words, he was a very cordial guy.
Me: Did you ever see him play away from his wife?
Slim: He always had that woman with him. And when she played with him it seemed like she was straining to keep her eyes closed. She did not have a happy look on her, I remember that. But she played a Taterbug mandolin; they had a good tone.
I asked Slim where he first met Ed and he said, “I knew him a long, long time – maybe 25 years. Down in Ashland, Kentucky. Well, I know exactly where he used to live down there. He lived in a little old four-room house that had a bunch of steps going up on the porch there. And he used to sit out there on the porch and rock and fiddle. I think it was a kind of open rocker. I don’t think the chair had those high handrails on them. It didn’t matter to him. He relaxed that way, see.”
I asked Slim to describe how Ed looked.
“His hair was a kind of a dark brown, I believe,” he said. “He was fair complected and his hands were as soft as a rag. He had a little hand — and his fingers were pointed. It seems to me like his eyes were pretty well blanked out. He didn’t wear glasses, like most blind men do. And his wife didn’t either. He didn’t have too much action. Being blind, he didn’t have any personality or anything like that. You almost had to close your eyes to appreciate the guy. He always had that woman with him. She kept good time. Of course, she didn’t make any runs or nothing. And he had a son that was a good guitar player but he was ashamed to play with Ed and his mother because they were blind.”
Slim remembered Doc Holbrook, although he didn’t necessarily equate him as Ed’s good friend.
“Doc Holbrook is the one that loaned Clark Kessinger a fiddle to play on. See, there was years and years that Clark never did own a fiddle. And when Doc Holbrook wanted his fiddle back, Clark got mad at him for taking his fiddle away from him. Doc said, ‘You’ve had it all this time. Had a chance to buy it and never would.'” I wondered if this was the same fiddle that Ed had given Doc but Slim didn’t know about any of that.
Slim confirmed that Ed was acquainted with Georgia Slim Rutland, the popular radio fiddler. “Yeah, I bumped into Georgia Slim in Macon, Georgia in a contest in 1937 and I was telling him what a great country this was up here and when I came back up here, here he was.” I had heard that Georgia Slim moved to Ashland just to hear Ed Haley and Slim sort of agreed. “Well, he was down there a while. I remember I told him about Ed Haley myself.”