I kept in close touch with Lawrence, who Pat said always perked up at my calls. His comments about his father’s music were very helpful. At times, I felt as if I might be talking to Ed.
“I guess Pop learned any time he was sitting around jamming. Anytime he was just sitting around making music with a bunch of friends, they was practicing and learning new pieces. How it would sound this a way and how it would sound that a way. You try different styles and things or you just try for speed. I’ve watched Bill Monroe and some of his stuff and it seems like that’s part of his aim is to see how fast he can play sometimes. Well, that might have been my dad’s. I know in that piece of music, ‘Forked Deer’, I think there’s a certain spot in it Pop changes his speed right there at the last a little bit. And I guess that’s the way most fiddlers do to see if people can keep up with them.”
I said to Lawrence, “Well, you know, a lot of that fiddling and everything, it was a competition. I bet if somebody came along that thought they could beat your dad, I bet your dad threw them a few loops to let them know who’s boss.”
“Yeah, I guess he did. He’d probably set and help somebody. Say, ‘Now you’d better do it this way,’ or something. If he liked who he was with, that’s the way he’d be. He’d play with them, and if the guitar player wasn’t doing it right… I’ve heard him a lot of times when Ralph — him and Mom would be a playing — he’d tell Ralph to change chord ‘so-and-so.’ And Ralph finally got to the point where he could chord it properly, but then he wanted to make those runs between chords. Pop would tell him how to get to a certain place, or what chord to be at. He’d tell him to change chords, so I guess he told everybody that if they wasn’t getting to where they should be at the right times. He’d let them know, if he wanted to teach anybody. If he played with you for a little while and saw that you weren’t going to make it, he’d probably tell you, ‘You just might as well put it up.’ That’s the way I think about my dad. I’m maybe like Clyde: I didn’t know him enough really to know what kind of a man he was. A lot of my knowledge of him is hearsay, too.”
As soon as I got back from California, I got on the phone with Lawrence and told him all about meeting Clyde. He took issue with some of the things his brother had told me. As for what Clyde said about him holding the fiddle down at his lap: “Well, he might have done it. I’ll tell you, if he did, he wasn’t playing the fiddle like he should. He wasn’t a fiddler then. He was just making music, probably at a square dance. They fed him too much liquor or something and he was about to pass out on them. That’s the way I’d look at that ’cause Pop had a lot of pride in his music. I don’t think he’d done that intentionally. He wasn’t no show-off with the fiddle. He might show some enthusiasm when he was playing a piece exceptionally good. He was enjoying his own talents right then.”
Lawrence got back on the subject of what Clyde had told me about Ed’s drinking and abuse.
“If he tells you that my dad made him drink or caused him to be a drunkard or an alcoholic, then Clyde was fibbing to you ’cause Clyde did that on his own. He might not have been around it as much if he hadn’t went with my dad, but he did it on his own. I don’t think Pop would have given him… Like he said, he’s sitting there at the table up on Horse Branch feeding it to him while Mom was sitting there across the table from him — I don’t think he done that. Maybe he might have been different with some of us, but he never struck me or never offered me anything to drink like that.”
I asked Lawrence how his health was holding up and he said, “Well, since I’ve talked to you, I been on the backside. My intestinal system ain’t working right and nobody seems to know anything about it. I don’t know whether I’m ever gonna get over this, John. Seems like I get to go forward for a day or two and then drop back for three or four. It wears you down after a while.”
He paused: “Other than that, I’m getting along all right.”
I told Lawrence I was planning to come see him in Ashland in the next few months — that maybe we could run around and he’d start feeling better.
“Okay,” he said, “I don’t think I’m gonna be able, John. You’re just gonna have to take Pat with you or one of the kids.” He laughed. “Take one of them along instead of me because I haven’t got the strength really. They’ve just drugged me right on down to where I can walk through the house and I’m ready to lay down. Right now, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just be that way. I’ll just stay in a rested position as much as I can and just lay like I’m in a hospital bed and see if that don’t help me. Just pure rest.’ So, I’m gonna give that about another week, then I’m gonna find me a specialist I reckon and find out what’s the matter with me.”
While on tour in California, I visited Clyde Haley at what he kept reminding me was his “hospital.” Clyde, I noticed, had his mother’s nose and those piercing blue eyes that Pat Haley told me about. We were allowed some privacy in a sun-drenched courtyard, where he encouraged me to “ask away” about his father. At first, his memories were fuzzy, but when I played the fiddle for him, he got very excited — “You’re playing my dad’s tunes!” — and started calling out the names of songs, places, and people. He told me quite a bit about Ed, although the historical accuracy of our conversation deteriorated fairly quickly. Clyde said his father played with the fiddle positioned at his groin — a remarkably different location than anywhere I’d seen before. He also said that when Ed played for a long time at dances, he straightened his right leg and rested his left forearm and the fiddle on his left leg, which he propped up on a chair. He held my fiddle to better show me what he meant, but it looked so bizarre that I just wasn’t sure about it.
Talking with Clyde was great in that he offered a completely different slant on Ed’s character and personality than what Lawrence gave me. He was very adamant about Ed being an angry, abusive drunk, and even went so far as to blame his failures in life on him. He said the first time he ever tasted moonshine, Ed slipped it to him at the dinner table and he got so drunk that he fell off of his stool. Ella bent over to help him up and smelled alcohol on his breath. “Moonshine whiskey,” she said to Ed. “What are you trying to do, kill him?”
Later that night, I got back on the phone with Grace Marcum. I just had to know more about Josie Cline.
“She was a little round-faced woman…a little short, chubby woman,” Grace said. “And she wore her hair twisted up on top of her head, a little roll, you know, in a pin. Seem to me like she was blue-eyed, as good as I can remember. Josie Cline’s been dead for years. She collected bridge toll on this here… Well, it’s a free bridge now. They freed it, but when it was first built, they let Josie collect the toll. And she lived there in that little house, her and her husband. Her husband was a paralyzed man, and he couldn’t talk. I don’t know what happened to him.”
I asked Grace if Josie was supposed to be Ed’s older or younger sister and she said, “I guess she was an older sister. She was a funny old woman. She could make anybody laugh. Fine person.”
I asked her again about Josie being a fiddler and she said, “Oh yeah, her and Mont both.”
“Her and her brother Mont.”
So she had another brother?
“Oh yeah. Seemed to me like — Mont Spaulding. He wore colored glasses. He wasn’t very tall.”
How could Josie be a sister to Ed and Mont Spaulding when everyone all had different last names? Was she a half-sister?
“Well, she could’ve been, yeah,” Grace said. “But I know they was awful close. Yeah, they had a time. Mont was a pretty good fiddler, and Josie was, too. I couldn’t say which one was the best, but now they played at square dances and everything. Yeah, my dad hired them to play a many a Saturday night down there at the hotel.”
I asked Grace how often Ed came through the area and she said, “Oh, I don’t know. You know, I was just a small girl, and I couldn’t tell you nothing like that ‘cause my father had a grocery store on this side of the railroad — between the railroad and the county road — and I worked there with Dad. He put us all to work. Raised a big family of us, so we all worked, you know, we all helped out.”
After hanging up with Grace, I formulated a theory that maybe Milt Haley had Josie Cline by another woman before coming to Harts and marrying Ed’s mother. It was just a hunch, like the “Emma Jane Hager-Emma Jean Haley” thing. I also wondered if Grace hadn’t partially confused Ed with Mont Spaulding or if Ed was in fact a boyfriend to the widowed Josie.