Bernard Postalwait, Edden Hammons, fiddler, French Carpenter, history, Jack McElwain, music, Osner Cheneson, Ward Jarvis, West Virginia, Wilson Douglas, writing
Wilson tried to give me an idea of what kind of tunes Ed played — or rather didn’t play.
“He wasn’t a hornpipe fiddler,” he said. “He might’ve been, but if he was he never did play them around me. And if you mentioned tunes like ‘Orange Blossom Special’ and the ‘Fire on the Mountain’ and ‘Boil the Cabbage Down’, why he just might give you a cussing. No, he didn’t like a tune like the ‘Fire on the Mountain’. I think he hated it because Natchee the Indian played it all the time. And if you asked him to play the ‘Sourwood Mountain’ or something like that, you got in trouble. He would smart you off. And if you asked him to play some of what he called ‘two string tunes’ if he wasn’t a feeling good why he’d just cuss you out. But if he felt good, he’d just laugh and say, ‘Well, I’ll play the damn thing. There’s not much to it, but I’ll do it.’ But, however, if somebody throwed a quarter in the cup, you know, by god he’d play that tune. You could figure on him playing it a good seven minutes anyway.”
Wilson said Ed seldom re-tuned his fiddle for cross-key tunes.
“In a tune in cross-key, all he did was change his notes,” he said. “He used to tell me, he said, ‘Wilson, I change my fingers instead of my notes.’ Now, I do a little bit of that, but I think them cross-key tunes — really I wouldn’t have never told him that — but I don’t think they sound right unless they’re tuned in the proper tuning. But he would get French Carpenter to play the cross-key tunes for him. I can remember that, you know. And Carpenter would say, ‘Well now Ed, you play them.’ Well Ed would say, ‘I can’t. I just don’t have the bow to play a lot of them cross-key tunes.’ So he’d set and listen to French Carpenter. However, French wasn’t in no class with him, but what French did, he was good, you know.”
I said, “So, he learned a lot of tunes from French Carpenter?” and Wilson said, “Oh, yeah. Well, I was with French Carpenter for a long time.”
I asked Wilson if he remembered any other people around Calhoun County who played with Ed.
“Most of the time, it was just him and his wife,” he said. “She was a mandolin player. But then he had a fella over here in Calhoun County, a fellow by the name of Bernard Postalwait. He was one of the best guitar players, I guess, that ever was, but he was very withdrawn. He was really a ‘second Riley Puckett,’ and Ed wouldn’t have anybody else. Ed’d get him to follow his hoedowns you know, and then occasionally they would both find too much to drink somewhere and they’d wind up someplace else.”
How about banjo players?
“Oh yeah. An old guy by the name of Osner Cheneson, he’d play a lot with Ed. He was a claw-hammer banjo player from Calhoun County.”
Wilson knew about other old fiddlers from other parts of West Virginia. When I mentioned the name Jack McElwain, he said, “Oh god, yeah. Now, he was right up there next to Ed Haley. Some of them Hammonses in Pocahontas County, now they knew of Ed and they liked Ed’s fiddling. Old Edden Hammons, he was a top fiddler in Pocahontas County. It was older stuff, but now the man could fiddle.”
How about Senate Cottrell?
“Yeah, well, he wasn’t that good, I never thought. But now there was another fiddler over there in Roane County, Ward Jarvis. He was good, too. Ed Haley liked his fiddling. He wasn’t as good as Ed, but he played a good fiddle.”