Later that evening, back in Ashland, Lawrence and I talked about Haley’s tunes. Ed told him all about “Bonaparte’s Retreat”.
“When the French first went in, they was pushing the Russians pretty hard,” Lawrence said. “The high string going in. The Russians were retreating. When they got to a certain point, the cannons started booming and the Russians started turning the tide on them. Part of the highs, I guess, was the French Napoleon troops coming out in a hurry and the Russians right behind them and then they’d be a spell of like an old dirge or something, like they was coming out defeated. They was slacking off on ’em and letting them retreat back out of there. They knew they wasn’t gonna make it on account of the weather. Just gonna let them freeze to death. Then they’d boom the cannon and push them a little bit faster. Then the dirge come up again. That’s the way Pop kinda explained it to me. He’d say, ‘Now you listen to these cannons boom. The Russians are getting ready to turn the tide on Napoleon’s troops’.”
Lawrence had no idea where Ed heard that story.
“Same way with ‘Lost Indian’,” he said. “It seemed like, the way he explained it, this old Indian would look at something and see a far off peak that he recognized and he’d be happy and hooping and hollering and trying to get over to it and then whenever he’d get over there he would find out it wasn’t the place he thought it was. And he’d sit down and kind of reminisce, I guess, and feel bad towards his self because he wasn’t where he thought he was at so he could get home. He’d stand up and look around again and maybe see another peak or familiar point as being close to his tribe and he’d go to it with a little bit of enthusiasm and glee because he thought he’s getting home and it’d turn out the same way. He wasn’t getting no where. He was still a ‘lost Indian’.”
Charlotte Spaulding, Grace’s daughter, guided Lawrence, Pat, and I to see 81-year-old Babe Hale. I told him about my interest in Ed’s life and he started talking about his Aunt Josie. I showed him one picture of Ed and he said, “That looks just like her almost.” I pulled out Ed’s picture from Parkersburg Landing and he said, “Looks more like Uncle Mont.” I was pretty sure that there was some kind of family connection between Ed and Mont and Josie, especially when Babe said his brother George Hale had went by the nickname of “Milt.” Maybe Josie and Mont were somehow Milt Haley’s children by a previous marriage.
“Josie’s mom and dad are buried down here at Grey Eagle,” Babe said. “He was killed in a raft. You know, they used to take logs down the river. They’s big rafts, trees tied together. And he was killed that way. He was killed on a raft.”
Babe told me more about Josie Cline — some very peculiar details.
“Josie collected toll up there, and when I’d go across, I had to pay, too. It didn’t make any difference to her: she’s gonna get three cents some way or other. But she was really manly. She wore men’s shoes and everything.”
So she wore a long dress all the time?
“Oh yeah,” Babe said. “She was really an old-fashioned woman.”
Charlotte said, “She looked like a man, didn’t she, Babe?”
I asked Babe what tunes she and Mont played and he said, “Oh, God, ‘Sourwood Mountain’ and everything. No, they could really knock it off now, both of them.”
We went to Grace’s briefly before heading back to Ashland. I was under the impression that Grace might have confused Ed with Mont Spaulding, although she had claimed to know about Ed’s banjo-picking friend, Johnny Hager.
“Yeah, he played the banjo with her,” she had said. “He was a little man. He was with them. They was two or three people traveled with them.”
The next day, Lawrence, Pat, and I drove up the Tug Fork to see 80-year-old Grace Marcum in Kermit, West Virginia. I was hoping for more information on the Muncy family, who may have been connected genealogically to Haley. It was a long drive through Wayne County up the Big Sandy Valley on Route 52. There was nothing. Then we came to Fort Gay, West Virginia, an interestingly-named town at the mouth of the Tug Fork. A little further south was some of the emptiest country I have ever seen — just the Tug and occasionally the old N&W Railroad. We finally reached the village of Crum, then crossed into Mingo County and to the old railroad town of Kermit. It was completely dead, with just a shell of a strip of old businesses. Across the river was Warfield, Kentucky.
Once we located Grace, I asked her if she had ever heard of Milt Haley.
“They called him ‘Milty,’ didn’t they?” she said. “Yeah, that’s what I heard him called.”
What about Ed Haley?
“He used to play the fiddle for us down there at the square dance,” Grace said. “Daddy built a big hotel and he’d have square dances downstairs in that big dining room. He used to play the fiddle for us down there. Him and Josie Cline and her brother Mont Spaulding was awful good friends. We’d give them twenty-five dollars a night, my daddy. They played at Warfield a lot. Across the river there. Some of her people lived there, some of Josie’s people. I don’t know who it was.”
At that point, Lawrence said, “We used to ride the N&W out of Kenova up the Tug Fork here up to Williamson and all through there. And he’d play music at some of the hotels and at the courthouse and places like that up at Williamson. Coming back, he’d usually stop here and see these Muncys and we’d stay, maybe, overnight with them.”
Grace seemed to know exactly who Lawrence was talking about.
“That was Rush and Loosh and Old Man Sammy. Yeah, I can remember. Dad sold the store out to Uncle Sammy, and he run the business there a long time. Dad got paint poison, and we liked to lost him. Rush lived in Kenova for years, but his wife died and he come up here and stayed with Loosh. Rush was the oldest one.”
Lawrence said, “Well, that’s what my dad used to do for a living was to go around and play during court days. He might stay in Williamson as long as they had a court session a going. And then come back through here and stop and see — I didn’t know that they’s his kinfolk — the Muncys was any kin to him. I’ve heard him talk about Mont Spaulding.”
So wait a minute. Ed played music with someone named Mont Spaulding and Josie Cline?
“Yeah, well, Ed come in ever once in a while, but Ed was getting pretty old,” Grace said. “And he stayed with Josie and them. Wherever they played, he went with ’em. Pretty nice old man. Well, him and Loosh Muncy and Rush Muncy was close. Now, they didn’t only play for Dad. They played for other people. Let’s see, Thursday night and Saturday night down here, and then they’d go to Borderland and play up there on Thursday and Friday nights. They made it good. Let’s see, Mont Spaulding, and a Haley and Josie Cline. Them three was the ones that… I paid them off myself. I know.”
The next morning, Lawrence and I went to see Dr. Paul Holbrook, son of Ed’s close friend, Dr. H.H. Holbrook of Greenup, Kentucky. Paul hadn’t located the silver cup Ed was supposed to have given his father for delivering Mona in 1930, but did have three very important Wilcox-Gay records his father made of Ed on a “tin machine” in Greenup. On one of the records, Ed played “Fifteen Days in Georgia” and “Wake Up Susan”. On another was Ed’s version of “Over the Waves”, with some Dinah Shore recordings on the flip side. There was also a recording of Doc playing “Ragtime Anna” on December 27, 1941 (supposedly using the fiddle Ed had given him). Paul allowed me to borrow these three records, which I found to be unbelievably scratchy.
Later that day, Lawrence told me more about his mother’s background. He said Ella came from the Trumbos, a somewhat affluent family headquartered in Morehead, Kentucky. Morehead, Lawrence reminded me, was a small college town located thirty miles west of Ashland. Ella’s father William Trumbo — who Lawrence called “Paw” — was an active participant in the early events of the famous Martin-Tolliver feud (a.k.a., the Rowan County War), while her aunt was married to one of the feud’s chief participants, John Martin.
“That’s the feud Larry always talked about until you came along,” Pat said to me. “Mom’s father and apparently her uncle was involved in that.”
Pat and Lawrence knew something about the Trumbos.
“William Trumbo was a large landowner down there on Triplett’s Creek,” Pat said. “That’s where the Trumbos are buried — on the hill behind Triplett’s Creek. We’ve been there. The graves have fallen stones for markers. It was hard for us to get down and inspect them very well to see dates and things.”
Pat told me a little something about Ella’s brother Allie, as well as Texas Anna, who Pat called “Sissy”.
“Sissy. Mom’s sister, had a son, Bill Busby,” Pat said. “I never met Bill Busby but apparently he had a speech impediment and a hearing impediment. And then she was with a man when I came over here in 1949. He was a paper hanger.”
Later that night, Lawrence, Pat and I looked through a box of family photographs. Most were “modern” pictures featuring side burns, bellbottoms, or trendy 80s sweaters, but there were a few treasures. Early in our dig, I came across an old postcard with Ed, Ella, and Ralph pictured on it. Toward the bottom of the box was a small, dark picture of Ed in between Ella and someone named Margaret Arms. Lawrence said Margaret was Ed’s cousin, originally from around Paintsville, Kentucky, “or somewhere,” who ran a barbershop on Court Street in Cincinnati. Mona later told me that Margaret used the last name of Thomas because she was married to or lived with a man by that name. Margaret used to give her jewelry.
At the bottom of the cardboard box, under the flaps, was a dark, faded picture of Ed and Ella sitting on the street with their instruments. The photo was small and blurred, but I could make out that Ed wore some kind of a billed cap and was getting ready to play a tune.
“Pop looks like he might have been getting ready to play a piece and was letting my mother know without coming right out and saying what piece of music he was gonna play,” Lawrence said of the picture. “He was maybe hitting a lick with the fiddle bow, sort of like a ‘tune-up lick’ or two.”
Lawrence pointed to his mother, who had her right arm behind the mandolin, and said, “They kept a cup on the street in front of them or some kind of place where people could put change and my mother would take that up and she would put it behind her mandolin and count the take for their piece of music. And that’s what she’s doing right there.”
In the photograph, Ed obviously had the fiddle placed against his chest, and it appeared as if he held the bow as far to the end of the frog as possible. I practiced the hold in front of the mirror in the living room, then showed it to Lawrence, who said, “That’s it. That looks right.” I could tell right away this bow hold allowed for greater leverage in playing close to the frog as well as for pulling an extremely long bow. It was very similar to a bow hold I’d learned as a boy from Gene Goforth and Benny Martin, but the emphasis was never as far back as Ed was holding it. In fact, when I first saw this picture I even thought Ed might be holding it by the “frog screw.”
Later in the day, Pat told me more about the Haley family when we were away from Lawrence.
“I only knew Larry three months before we were married,” she said. “I knew he had a sister that he didn’t like to talk about. He talked mainly about his brother Ralph and Jack. I had no idea that Clyde was in San Quentin. And about a week before Beverly was born, I was ironing at 1040 Greenup and his face was looking at me through the window and I screamed bloody murder. Clyde’s got a funny laugh and he laughed. He didn’t know me. Larry was gone taking a class at the time. And Clyde came in and all of his luggage had EDWARDS on it. It was stolen and he was giving things away out of it. Then Larry told me about Clyde — that he was scitzofrenic. But he was a very intelligent man. I guess he did a lot of reading. He had a brain and he could work it, too, when he wanted to. He could always find a job when nobody else could. Then Noah came home from the service that Christmas. Beverly was about three weeks, four weeks old. And Noah came in his uniform and from the very beginning him and I disliked each other. I don’t know why. I irritated him and he irritated me. And then we moved right after that to 2144 Greenup Avenue.”
Pat said Ella — who she called “Mom” — was great, that she was very emotional with her children.
“Mom always regretted leaving the kids somewhere when she and Pop were off playing music together,” she said. “Larry’s told me that Noah didn’t like it at Harts and he would go down to the mouth of the hollow a ways from where Uncle Peter and Aunt Liza lived and he would sit and cry wanting his mother to come back. Where Larry and Jack could play — and half the time I would assume Clyde was in trouble — Noah would cry for his momma. It must have been very heart-wrenching for her. And I know she hated to leave Larry because even Mona will tell you: he was her favorite. She loved her boy Ralph more than anything and Larry came next.”
What about Ed? How did he treat the children?
“I’m sure Pop had genuine feelings for his kids but he didn’t know how to express it,” Pat said. “I remember Larry telling me about Pop rocking him because he had such terrible ear-aches and Pop took him to the doctor to get ear medicine and then when he took him home he rocked him. And that’s the only memory of his dad showing him any love. And Mona doesn’t have anything like that.”
How did Ed treat you?
“Pop was always very nice to me,” Pat said. “The only problem Pop and I had was his chewing tobacco and spitting it around toilets. And he was kinda dirty. The boys would have to make him bath. But my mother-in-law, she was always sad the way Mona behaved and the sad part is she never got to see Mona settle down. And Mona regrets that now, too. But Mom had three sons that had been good to her — that was Ralph, Jack, and Lawrence. Noah was never bad to Mom — he thought the world of his Mom — but Noah was much like Pop: he didn’t know how to express his feelings.”
Pat told me a little more about Clyde’s deviancies at the end of Ed’s life.
“Mom had this radio in her bedroom and this Electrolux sweeper and Clyde came through my bedroom, got that sweeper, and took Mom’s radio and was picked up on Greenup Avenue at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to sell those things,” she said. “That must have been the week before his daddy died because he was in jail when his daddy died and we could not get him out of jail to attend his daddy’s funeral.”
Later when Ella was sick in bed Clyde stole money from beneath her pillow.
“He was in prison in Michigan when his mother died,” Pat said. “And Larry tried to get him home for that but he would’ve had to’ve paid the way for two guards to bring him home and he just couldn’t afford it. And he was in Michigan for quite some time.”
The next day, Steve and I told Lawrence about our visit with Wilson. He listened with great interest to every detail, ever the guardian of his father’s legacy. When I mentioned something about Ed running around with Doc White, he said he was well aware of his father carrying on some in that part of the country. He remembered Ed goofing around with a gun one time at Laury’s and accidentally shooting himself. Luckily, it was loaded with blanks.
“That ended some of his foolishness,” he said.
Taking a little inspiration from our stories of Ed’s experience with Laury Hicks, Lawrence fetched a letter from his widow, Minnie, dated March 4, 1953. By that time, Minnie had remarried and moved to Eddy, Montana. It read:
Dear Ella and all Lawrence family and little Ralph. I arrived Home the 1 Day of Mar. at 6:30 pm. Hope you are much better. also Hope the rest are all well. Did Ralph get in? tell him I would of loved to seen him. I would of loved to seen Lawrence. he sure Has a lovely wife and children. Shirley told all of them at Home that Little Girl was the Prettiest and Smartest little Girl he ever Saw. Well Ella I so glad I found you. I do wish you were here with me. You would get Stout and you would love it so much. Well I will see you all in the future if we all live and I am going to arrange so you and I can travel Some places to visit a little. but Vanie is not well. he had the Flue. Well Ella if you get this OK I will send you Some Money in your next Letter so love to you all. I love all of you. Your old faithful pal. Minnie
That evening, we all gathered in Wilson’s kitchen and played music. It was clear in watching Wilson play that his style was different from Ed’s, but he knew all kinds of great tunes: “Abe’s Retreat”, “Coo Coo’s Nest”, “Fourteen Days in Georgia”, “Walkin’ in the Parlor”, “Boatin’ Up Sandy”, and “Brushy Run”. He had a real sense of humor. When I played “Stony Point”, he just kinda looked at me laughing, then said, “John, that ain’t ‘Stony Point’. Can I kid you a little? Now, Ed Haley wouldn’t like that.”
Every now and then, between tunes, Wilson told me more little things about Ed. He said Ed wouldn’t change his style for anyone and hated when someone asked him to play fast. He said Ed used to tell him to sometimes play it “lazy” and slow a piece down for different effects, such as at the end of “Birdie”. Wilson remembered that he played “Billy in the Lowground” with a double wind-up.
Wilson really bragged on Ed’s version of “Forked Deer”.
“Anybody that tried to play ‘Forked Deer’ with Ed Haley had to be crazy,” he said. “Oh god, he’d put that B-flat in there and he’d have a little grin on his face. He didn’t laugh very much. I’d watch that fiddle like a hawk. I’d watch them notes but god they were fast. And he;d play that ‘Sweet Sixteen’…”
Now, what was “Sweet Sixteen”?
“Well now, that’s got three titles,” Wilson said. “‘Too Young to Marry’, ‘Chinky Pin’, and all that. Ed said most people just smothered it to death on the bass, but he didn’t. Him and Clark Kessinger both played it about the same. Now John, he just used two notes on that bass.”
Wilson said Ed played “Callahan” in the key of A, then said, “And he played ‘Charleston Number One’ but he called it ‘Goin’ to Charleston’. I tell you where he got it from. He borrowed it from them old Possum Hunters in Nashville way back in ’37 and ’38.”
Wilson said Ed also got a lot of tunes from French Carpenter, the last of the old-time Carpenter fiddlers (and Wilson’s distant cousin) in central West Virginia. Ed used to spend a week or two at a time with French listening to him play cross-key tunes, like “Camp Chase”.
“There was one thing about Carpenter,” Wilson said. “Now Ed Haley was a better fiddler all around, but what Carpenter played he was good. He didn’t have no inferiority complex. He done a good job playing in front of Ed Haley. He’d say, ‘Well, now Ed, if you want to hear me, fine. I’ll give you what I’ve got.'”
I asked Wilson if Ed played “Shelvin’ Rock” and he said, “He liked it, but he never did play it. He liked to get French to play it. He’d sit, you know, and grin. He’d say, ‘By god, you got the bow, Carpenter, to play that tune.'”
Ed and French played “Devil in Georgia”, although Haley called it “Deer Walk”.
Over the next few hours, Wilson played me a lot of tunes, many of which he’d heard Ed play. The tunes had strange names, some familiar but most not: “Elzic’s Farewell”, “Little Rose”, “Mouth of Old Stinson”, “Old Aunt Jenny With Her Nightcap On”, “Run Here Granny”, and “What Are We Gonna Do With the Baby-O” (in the key of E).
There were other tunes that he only remembered Ed playing, like “Bostony”, “Brickyard Joe”, “Dusty Miller”, “Jimmy in the Swamp”, “Katy Hill”, “Lost Indian”, “Old Joe”, “Pumpkin Ridge”, “Snowbird on the Ashbank”, “Sweet Georgia Brown”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and “Waynesboro Reel”.
Wilson thought Ed fiddled “Red-Haired Boy” in the key of A, “Mississippi Sawyer” in G, and “Coo Coo’s Nest” in A or G, and said he played “Running Up the Stairs” so well “it’d make a person cry.”
Wilson remembered that Ed had some strange titles for his tunes. He said he used to call some tune with a common name “Dance Around Molly”, then added, “And he played another tune, I never could get it in my mind. Ed called it ‘Raccoon in a Pine Top’. I’ll be danged if he wouldn’t break that bass out — it’d sound like ‘Over the Waves’ or something.”
Wilson said, “You know, John, if I had a lot of time, like a week, I could tell you a lot of things about Ed Haley. When you get old, all that stuff comes to you, then you forget it.”
Hoping to pull something from his memory, I played tunes I knew from long ago and asked, “Did Ed play anything like this?”
He came up with something almost every time.
Ed also played “Fine Times at Our House” but called it “George Booker”, which is interesting in that the old-time Texas fiddlers also call it that.
I told Wilson what Lawrence Haley had said about Ed loving Scott Joplin and ragtime. He thought for a moment, then said, “Well, he may’ve done it, but now, he stayed with hoedowns all the time I heard him. Course he’s afraid to play anything else: them old people didn’t know what that kind of music was.”
In other words, he played what they wanted to hear.
“Absolutely. And he made money by it. And he played straight. He didn’t fancy it up no way. He didn’t want you to change a tune one note. He wanted it like it was. He said, ‘Cut it off at the stump like it is.'”
I said, “He didn’t take tunes and add stuff to it?” and Wilson said, “If he thought it was appropriate he would. The man had enough skill, he could play anything he wanted to.”
Steve and I hung around with Wilson until late that night, talking more about Ed’s music and playing tunes. We eventually pried ourselves away and headed back to Lawrence’s in Ashland.
About that time, we loaded up in my car and headed to the old Hicks homeplace in Calhoun County. On the way, we stopped at a plain brick building situated at the mouth of Stinson Creek. Wilson said it was the location of an old tavern called “Copperhead Junction” — one of the roughest places around in Ed’s time.
“I would’ve rather went to Vietnam than in there,” Wilson said.
Ugee Postalwait later told me that it was called the “Bloody Bucket” — a scene of excessive drinking, fighting, and shootings — and partly inspired a tune Ed played called “The Mouth of Stinson”.
“Tom Carpenter and French played that,” Wilson said. “John McCune was supposed to have composed it. They said John wouldn’t work a lick at nothing. All he ever did was fiddle. In the old days when they were logging that country they had a picnic at the mouth of Stinson. Old Harmon Carpenter was there that day. They had some musicians there. One of these fellows was a Hamrick and one was a Cheneth. They was loggers, lumberjacks, bull of the woods — strong men. They got to wrestling. I don’t know if they were drinking or not. They weighed over 200 pounds apiece. They wrestled three or four hours; finally they just quit. The next day this Cheneth got sick — evidently pulled something inside. That night he died. It was a sad time. That’s how the ‘Mouth of Stinson’ started.”
The Laury Hicks place was just a short distance away from Stinson. It was so overgrown and snaky-looking that we had to settle for just staring at it up the hill from the road. Just up through the weeds, we knew, was the family cemetery where Ed had played at Laury’s grave in the winter of 1937.
“Laury Hicks was a good rough fiddler,” Wilson said. “The first time Ed come over there nobody could take Hicks on the ‘Blackberry Blossom’ or the ‘Arkansas Traveler’. Ed said, ‘Wilson, I heard that feller fiddling when I come up the road. By God, I thought I was up against it. I thought I’d done come to the wrong place. But after he played them two tunes, I seen I was all right.'”
Hearing that was a little surprising based on what I’d heard from Ugee Postalwait about Ed and Laury playing tunes together almost note for note.
But Wilson was sure about it.
“John, it’d sound like shit. Now that’d be just like me playing against Ed Haley. That’d be the biggest joke in the world.”
From there, Wilson, Kim, Steve and I went to a nearby hollow and talked on the porch with ninety-six-year-old Ivy (Postalwait) Helmick, a tiny, skinny lady with silver hair and a black cat planted on her lap. Her daughter Maxine remembered Ed coming around and keeping everyone up playing music.
We drove on down the road and turned up Wilson’s Branch to visit Jesse Hicks, Laury’s daughter-in-law who lived in a nice wooden house. We sat with her on the porch for a few minutes before a man stopped and hollered at us from his car in the road. He said he was Jarvis Hicks, Jesse’s grandson, and it was clear that he was wondering who all the strangers were hanging out on his grandmother’s porch. We walked down and told him who we were and what we were doing and said he’d heard that Ed and his great-grandfather Hicks made a deal that whoever lived longer would sit on the other’s coffin and play the fiddle. Jarvis got out of his car at that point, mentioning something about having one of Ed’s records (a “great big record on fast speed”), which sounded suspiciously like Parkersburg Landing. Unfortunately, I never got to find out because he seemed unwilling to let us listen to it. After some small talk, he said he was in a hurry to “go eat an elk from Wyoming,” and raced away.
Wilson’s memories seemed to be flowing, so I tried not to interrupt him with questions.
“You know, Ed would talk to me after he figured out I was gonna try to play the fiddle,” he said. “He’d say, ‘Now, play your fiddle with some soul about it. Don’t start these trembling notes. That’s for some violinist in Germany.’ And another thing he would do, you can’t fiddle with the other man’s tricks. There’d be some little old chicken fiddlers around and come over and play about like I do. They’d rear back. Ed would listen at it and never criticize them and then when he started to play he would drop them to the floor. The man would come down on the fingerboard, playing half way down on that neck. It was so clear I couldn’t get over it. But the bow was as smooth. It must have been an imported bow. That danged bow was six inches longer than any bow I ever saw. But I didn’t want to ask him about it. You couldn’t interrogate him no way. And don’t ask him to show you how to play a tune. He didn’t show nobody nothing.”
I asked Wilson if Ed ever heard Bill Monroe and he said, “He talked about all them guys. Now John don’t get me wrong. He said Monroe was a pretty good singer. He said pretty good. Well I’d say Monroe was a A-1 singer, but I wasn’t gonna disagree with Ed. He liked the Carter family. And he said, ‘That old A.P. Carter and Mother Maybelle and them they got the soul about it.’ And he said, ‘Wilson, you know I don’t trust none of them Nashville people. I don’t wanna get involved with them.’ He said, ‘They’ll knife you. They’ll play your tunes, then walk somewhere and make a lot of money out of it.'”
What about banjo-pickers, like Earl Scruggs?
“Oh, no. By god, you’d push the wrong button. He didn’t like Scruggs. No, he liked the clawhammer banjo. He said they could get in and they could get out where it belongs. But I didn’t say nothing. I claimed the Fifth Amendment. I liked both of them, but I wasn’t gonna tell him nothing. I learned Ed Haley. I knowed when to talk and when not to talk. Now he’d cuss you out, don’t you think he wouldn’t.”
Wilson said he only heard Ed compliment a few Nashville musicians over the years. He said Georgia Slim Rutland, who stayed a lot with him in Ashland during the winter of 1937-38, was great on “Southern tunes” and couldn’t be beaten on “Billy in the Lowground”. He felt that Arthur Smith was “hell on them Blues,” complemented his versions of “Bonaparte’s Retreat” and “Katy Hill”, and even played his “Blackberry Blossom”.
“And now he did say a little something about Chubby Wise,” Wilson said. “He liked a few of Wise’s tunes, but he didn’t go in excess about it. But now that was it. Them Possum Hunters and them Fruit Jar Drinkers, he couldn’t stand them.”
Wilson said Ed hung out with his buddies for a month or so, then made plans to head back down to Ashland or to Logan County.
“About a week before he’d get ready to go to Logan, we’d say, ‘Now Ed, stay another week. They is some big farmers coming out of Roane County, and you can make a little money there’,” Wilson said. “And that Postalwait, a week or two before he knew about when Ed was gonna leave, he’d [give Ed] some homebrew — and ah God it’d knock your hat off. Bernard would say, ‘Now Ed, hang on a few days, now. We’ll help you get some more money.’ Aw, he’d cuss around, ‘Well, I’ll stay another week, and that’s it.’ When that homebrew’d work off, Postalwait would bring him just a little bit about noon that day before the session. By God, he’d just lick his lips, you know, and he’d say, ‘That’s fine,’ but he’d never let him get none before the session. Well he’d stay that week and we’d tell all the aristocrats that had money. Some of them old retired ladies, they liked to hear him and they would bring a little money.”
“Well, he’d leave over there maybe with sixty or seventy dollars,” Wilson said. “Then he’d head for Logan and the coalfields, and they would begin to make money, stay up there two or three weeks. Back to Ashland, and then in the fall, he’d come back to Calhoun County. Let everybody build up a little, you know? And if they was nobody down there to meet him, he’d catch that what we call the ‘mail hack’ — a man that carried the mail with a little buggy and a team of horses. Everybody hollered, ‘Well where’re you gonna be?’ ‘I’m over at Hicks’, boys!’ That danged house was full. The yard was full. Minnie Hicks’d have a big pot of beans and three gallon of coffee. And it was just about every night.”
Wilson had really specific memories of Ed playing at Laury Hicks’ house.
“He’d sit there in an old split-backed chair, by god, and never miss a note,” he said. “And his endurance never slowed up. He patted his feet a little bit, but not in excess. Any time Haley was just sitting around, his fingers constantly moved all the time just like he was playing the fiddle. And there was no fine tuners. The man didn’t have a chin rest — he didn’t have no use for a chin rest.”
What kind of strings did he use?
“John, in them days, there were no super sensitive strings,” Wilson said. “It was the old Bird, and the old Gibson, and them Black Diamonds. They cost twenty-five cents. And he played them strings and them white bone keys and that old fiddle. And I tried to remember what kind of fiddle he had but it didn’t matter much whether it was any good or not. He could make it play. Now John, another thing I want to mention to ya. Now, Ed Haley’s bridge was almost flat. He didn’t have much roll in his bridge.”
Wilson said Ed didn’t have a lot of rosin on his fiddle because he didn’t use much on his bow.
What was he like?
“You couldn’t punch the wrong button,” Wilson said. “He didn’t want you to ask him about any ‘Orange Blossom Special’ or ‘Boil the Cabbage Down’. You had to be real careful. We didn’t talk a lot, but he took a liking to me. I picked up enough nerve to ask him why he didn’t go onto WSM way back there in ’37 and ’38. ‘Well,’ he said,’‘I don’t like them people. I don’t trust them. And another thing, they’ve got no soul about their music.’ And if you mentioned Natchee the Indian, you punched the wrong button. Ah, there’s so much stuff about him — I don’t want to leave nothing out. I remember this one night in particular it was about 3:30 in the morning. Some lady come in there. She was about half-stooped on that homebrew. Said, ‘Ed, I wanna hear the ‘Old Spinning Wheel in the Parlor’.” He said, ‘Damn the ‘Old Spinning Wheel in the Parlor’. I’m tired. I’m quitting.’ That’s the way he was.”