Ashland, Catlettsburg, Curly Wellman, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddling, Fort Gay, Great Depression, guitar, history, Horse Branch, John Hartford, Kentucky, Keystone, life, Logan County, Louisa, Madison, Man, music, Ralph Haley, Red Jacket, Wayne, Wayne County, West Virginia, writing
In the spring of 1996, I made my way back to Ashland where I dropped in on Curly Wellman. Curly was an old guitarist in town who grew up watching Ed Haley on Horse Branch. I hadn’t visited him since a trip with Lawrence Haley some four years earlier. Unlike last time, he was quick to comment on Ed’s poverty.
“Now this story about Ed Haley, this was during the thirties — right after the Great Depression started,” Curly said. “And of course all they had coming was, I guess, just a blind pension, which wouldn’t have been much. They had to play on the corners with the tin cups. Those people, they had to struggle for life. The winter months on Ed Haley and his family were very hard. My grandfather — he came down here with money out of the big timber country up around Louisa, Ft. Gay, Wayne — and he run a little grocery store. Well, he was fortunate enough and had money enough to be able to carry these type of people through the winter months when they couldn’t make money. And as quick as spring come and they went to work every one come right in and paid him ever dime they owed. And the Haley family a lot of winters survived under his care. A lot of times, clothes we would outgrow would be taken to the Haleys because Mother thought so much of them. They had a hard struggle to raise those children but they were good people and the kids all turned out good as far as I know.”
I asked Curly to tell me about playing the guitar with Ed on Horse Branch.
“I was just a beginner and my aunt was teaching me,” he said. “The Haleys lived just across the street from us and down maybe a couple of houses. In the evenings, there was nothing else to do; no radio, no television, no nothing like that. Well, Ed would get out on the porch and Ralph and the mother and they’d start playing. I was learning to play a little bit, so I’d sit in with the guitar. I was just a very mediocre guitar player at that time. I was so rank that he’d have to tell me when he was going into a minor. I’d say, ‘I don’t know that,’ and Ralph would say, ‘Get right in there and play it anyhow.’ Them little kids would get out there and jump up and down and dance. Quick as people heard music, they’d start coming down the hollow and off’n the hillsides and gather up. They even had horse and buggies to stop and real old model cars would stop. People would open up their windows and their doors that lived up high where I was at — they’d get out on their porch till they could hear it all.”
Later, when Curly got better on the guitar, he played with Ed at the Boyd County Courthouse in Catlettsburg. Ed sat on a wooden bench with his hat turned up on the ground.
“You could throw a dime or nickel or quarter in his hat and you could tell by the way he grinned he knew the amount that went in the hat,” Curly said. “He could tell by the way it hit.”
I asked if Ed ever talked between tunes and he said, “He told little stories behind the tunes, like where it came from. He’d say, ‘Here’s an old tune I learned in Red Jacket, West Virginia,’ or, ‘Here’s an old tune I heard down in Logan County.’ And he used to talk about Madison, West Virginia, a lot. And another town I’d hear him talk about was Man, West Virginia. Keystone, it’s right in that area, too.”