A few days later, I called Abe Keibler, “last of the old Keibler fiddlers” in the Portsmouth area. The Keiblers had been top fiddlers in that part of the country according to Roger Cooper.
“I didn’t play with him, but I heard him play all the time,” Abe said of Ed. “That was back in the twenties when I was a hearing him. I’m 86. I was about eighteen or nineteen year old the first time I heard him. I saw him at Greenup, the county seat of Greenup County, on Labor Days and Fourth of July. He was on the courthouse ground playing around there. I remember one time he was playing on one side of the courthouse and they was a church group started up right behind him and he just stopped right then. He said, ‘I ain’t got nothing again’ the church, but this fiddling don’t go with church.’ And he went around on the other side away from them, you know. He was a nice old fella.”
I asked Abe to describe Ed and he said, “He dressed comely like. He had to wear a suit of clothes. He wore a hat. He was blind, I guess, about all his life. He knowed your voice if he’d ever talked to you. I remember one time a doctor up there came around and asked Ed to play ‘Turkey in the Straw’ and he said, ‘Hello, Doc! I ain’t seen you in a long time.’ Yeah, he was a good old man. He had the fiddle under his chin and held the bow back down there on the end. He was all over that neck a playing. And if you asked him to play a tune – I don’t care, maybe half a dozen – he’d play what you asked for. His wife played the mandolin and sung with him. They sung a lot of them old tunes back there. ‘Big Rock Candy Mountain’ was his main tune – he sung and played it on the fiddle. He played them old-time fiddle tunes. He mostly played down in the standard and in the ‘C’. He played ‘Sally Goodin’ and all them old tunes back there. ‘Turkey in the Straw’. He played some hornpipes, like ‘Big Indian Hornpipe’ and ‘Grey Eagle’.”
I had a lot of detailed questions for Abe about things Ed might have said when he was playing on the street, but he said Ed never got time to talk much.
“When I was around him, they was a crowd there and they kept him busy,” he said. “Quick as he could play one, somebody else had one in. They just kept him a playing all the time. He’d have a big crowd around him. Over there at New Boston, he had big crowds over there. He lived in Catlettsburg but he come down to New Boston when the mill was a running full and played there on them waiting stations and a lot of them mill-men come out there and they give him lots of money. He always had a cup on the neck of his fiddle and they dropped dollars. Back there then, why, they’d just throw their money in to him – five dollars, tens, and everything – and they was big money there then. He made a lot of money back in them days.”