accordion, Bernie Adams, blind, Clifford Belcher, Ed Belcher, Ed Haley, Ewell Mullins, fiddle, guitar, harmonica, history, Hoover Fork, Inez, John Adams, John Hartford, Johnny Adams, Johnny Hager, Kentucky, Liza Mullins, Milt Haley, music, Peter Mullins, Robert Martin, Turley Adams, Violet Adams, West Fork
Satisfied with our stop on West Fork, Lawrence and I said our farewells to the Kirks and went to see Turley and Violet Adams on Trace Fork. After some small talk about new developments, Turley told us about his uncle Johnny Hager and father Johnny C. Adams traveling with Ed in the early days. He said Uncle Johnny was the one who got Haley to take his music on the road, while his father just traveled around with them.
“They left here playing music together,” Turley said. “My father just helped them take care of their musical instruments — carried it around and stuff — but they done the music. He would sing with somebody but he never did sing by hisself. And Ed Belcher, I think, played with them then. He could play anything but played a guitar mostly.”
So where all did they travel to?
“They played up at Logan on the radio at one time,” Turley said. “They had a program on up there, Ed Belcher did. Oh man, that’s been back in the thirties. Maybe ’36, ’35. I was just a little bitty boy. I just heard these tales — I don’t know them for sure.”
I asked about Johnny Hager.
“I was just a great old big boy the last time I seen Johnny Hager,” Turley said. “He came to our house, stayed around a little while and left. He was kindly a small fella. My dad was, too. Ed would make two of ary one of them. He was a great big feller, Ed was. Now Ewell Mullins, they was all buddies. Now Johnny Hager and Ed could play music. I heard an old guy on television one day talking about how him and Ed used to play in front of a church somewhere together. Yeah, he called him ‘Blind Fiddling Ed Haley.’ Said he’s just a real good friend to him. But he lives in Inez, Kentucky, that feller does.”
I said, “Well, isn’t Inez where Milt is supposed to be from?”
Turley said, “Milt, now my dad just could remember him. He said he was a hard-working fellow and when he’d come in home he’d just tell them boys, ‘Right now, we got to have a fight and get everything settled and we’ll be all right.’ They liked to fight. I guess that was Ed and he had how many more — two more?”
I said, “You mean Ed had brothers?” and Turley said, “I think he did. I believe my dad said he had a brother and one of them got in a fight one time and he bit Milt’s ear off right in the yard right down there. Now, they was Milt’s boys. I guess Ed is Milt’s boy, ain’t he?”
Lawrence said he’d never heard of his father ever having any brothers or sisters, but it sure was a strange coincidence that we heard a story about “Milt’s ear” right after hearing Bob Adkins’ account of Green and “the nick.” Maybe Milt had the nick — which would’ve reversed their roles in Bob’s story of their final days.
So Ed had brothers?
“Far as I know, they was two or three more of them from the tales they told, you know,” Turley said. “Uncle Peter and Aunt Liza used to tell it. Said every time they come home — Milt and them boys — said he’d just fight with all of them at one time. Have a good time. Say, ‘Now we’re friends.’ Back then, that’s what they believed in.”
This was a major development.
“I just heard these tales,” Turley said. “I don’t know how true they are. About Milt coming home and say, ‘Now, we’ll straighten ‘er out right now and we won’t have no more problems while I’m here.’ That’s the way he run his family, you know. That old woman said, ‘I’ll agree to that. That’s the way it ought to be done.’ I don’t guess she could do anything with them boys.”
Hoping for clues about Ed’s “brothers,” I asked if any of the old gravestones in the cemetery behind Turley’s had any writing on them. Unfortunately, Violet said all the markers had rolled down the hill in recent years and the land had leveled out to where it didn’t even resemble a cemetery. All she knew about the cemetery was that there was a “big grave” in it at one time that belonged to a woman with the last name of Priest (she was the only person buried there who her mother-in-law had actually known).
Turley said he last heard Ed play the fiddle at Clifford Belcher’s tavern on Harts Creek where he played for money and drinks. Violet remembered him playing music all night at her father’s home on Hoover Fork with Robert Martin (her great-uncle) and Bernie Adams. She described Bernie as a “real skinny” bachelor who sang “a little bit but not much” and who “was a real good guitar player, but he never would hardly play.”
“He’d get to drinking and he’d play but if he wasn’t drinking he wouldn’t play,” she said.
Turley said Bernie could also play the banjo, harmonica, fiddle and accordion.