Ashland, Atlanta, Bert Layne, Bill Day, Blackberry Blossom, blind, Clayton McMichen, Dill Pickle Rag, Ed Haley, Ed Morrison, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddlers, Gary, Goodnight Waltz, Grand Ole Opry, history, Indiana, Jesse Stuart, John Carson, Kentucky, Lowe Stokes, mandolin, music, Ohio, Over the Waves, Portsmouth, Riley Puckett, Slim Clere, South Charleston, South Shore, Sweet Bunch of Daisies, Theron Hale, Vanderbilt University, Wednesday Night Waltz, West Virginia, World War I, WSM
The next day, after a few hours of sleep at Wilson’s house, Brandon and I drove to see fiddler Slim Clere in South Charleston, West Virginia. Slim was born in Ashland around the time of the First World War and knew a lot about Ed. We were parked behind his two-story house and were unloading our “gear” when he appeared out of a back door and led us inside his house (past some type of home recording studio) and up a flight of stairs. We sat down in the living room where we met his wife, a vivacious middle-aged woman who fetched several scrapbooks at Slim’s request. We flipped through the pages while Slim told us about some of his early experiences.
“I knew Jesse Stuart in 1934,” he said. “He lived at South Shore, Kentucky, across the river from Portsmouth, Ohio. He went to Vanderbilt. I believe he did play football. He used to date Theron Hale’s daughter that used to be at WSM at the Grand Ole Opry. I thought maybe he might marry her but he didn’t. Well anyway, I went away. I left my home and went to Atlanta. Well I went to Gary, Indiana, and everywhere, and worked with Bert Layne and Riley Puckett and some of those old-timers. I knew old Fiddlin’ John Carson. I never did meet Lowe Stokes. He lost an arm in a hunting accident. At one time he was a better fiddle player than McMichen. But Mac come out of it. He really could play. I patterned a lot of my style after him.”
Slim pointed to a picture of himself in his youth and said, “That’s back when I had hair and teeth.”
I was anxious to talk about Ed, so I asked Slim if he could remember the first time he ever saw him.
“I grew up knowing him,” Slim said. “He used to come down to the Ashland Park there every Sunday and sit around and fiddle for nickels and dimes on a park bench and I’d sit on there and watch him play.”
Slim said Ed Haley, Ed Morrison, and Bill Day were his primary influences during his younger days in Ashland.
“He was hot stuff,” Slim said of Haley.
He described Ed as a “loner” but said his wife was always with him.
“The old lady chorded a taterbug mandolin,” he said.
Ed played on a little yellow fiddle, which he wouldn’t let anyone “get a hold of,” and kept a cup between his legs for money. Down at his feet on the ground was his old wooden case, “made like a coffin.”
How much would you have to put in the cup to get him to play a tune?
“Didn’t matter,” Slim said.
Could he tell how much you dropped into the cup?
“He’d know just to the tee what it was,” he said. “He could tell the difference between a penny and a dime.”
Would the length of how long he played the tune depend on how much you dropped in the cup?
“No, he liked to play.”
Slim and I got our fiddles out and played a lot of tunes — or parts of tunes — back and forth for about a half an hour. I wanted to know all about Ed’s technique and repertoire. Slim said he “cradled” his fiddle against his chest (“all the old-timers used to do that”) and held the bow way out on the end with his “thumb on the underneath part of the frog.” He moved very little when playing.
“The only action he had was in that arm…and it was smooth as a top,” Slim said. “He fingered his stuff out. He didn’t bow them out. He played slow and beautiful and got the melody out of it. Now, he could play stuff like ‘Dill Pickle Rag’ where you had to cross them strings and that ‘Blackberry Blossom’ was one of his favorites. He played ‘Goodnight Waltz’, ‘Wednesday Night Waltz’. I don’t think ‘The Waltz You Saved For Me’ had been invented yet. He played ‘Over the Waves’ and ‘Sweet Bunch of Daisies’. He didn’t double-stop it, though.”