American Revolution, Anderson Blair, Anderson Dempsey, Appalachia, Blair, Blair Mountain, Chlorina Blair, civil war, Democratic Party, Edward Baisden, Frances Baisden, genealogy, genelaogy, Harrison Blair, history, Jean Schmidt Baisden, Joe Blair, John Blair, John McCoy, Joseph Baisden, Joseph Blair, Laurel Fork, Logan County, Lucinda Osborne, Mahulda Blair, Marquis de Lafayette, Mary Chafin, Mingo County, Moses Parsley, Polly Baisden, Powells Valley, Republican Party, Rhoda Blair, sheriff, Solomon Baisden, Susan Bennett, Thomas Copley, West Virginia, Williamson
From the Logan Banner of Logan, WV, comes this bit of history about Harrison Blair, an early sheriff in Logan County, WV:
Harrison Blair Was First Democrat Sheriff In Logan
Son of Namesake Of Town Of Blair Served Shortly After Civil War; Democrats Held Office Continuously Until 1924
John Blair, namesake of the little mining town which nestles at the foot of Blair Mountain on the headwaters of Laurel Fork, was the father of Logan county’s first Democratic sheriff.
He was a native of Powells Valley in Virginia and first settled just above the present site of Williamson. He married Polly Baisden and later settled near his father-in-law, Jean Schmidt Baisden, at the Mouth of Laurel.
Blair died in 1860 after rearing a family of three sons and three daughters. His son, Harrison, was Logan county’s first Democratic sheriff after the Civil War.
Harrison was married twice. He first married a Miss Johnson and later a Miss Chafin. His brothers Anderson and Joe married McCoy sisters and made their home near their brother and father on Laurel Fork.
Jean Schmidt Baisden, father-in-law to John Blair, was one of the first settlers at the Mouth of Laurel. He came with Lafayette to America and served under him during the Revolution.
After the war he located at Richmond, Va., and then moved to Reeds Island, New York, where he married a Miss Burnham. At the beginning of the 19th century he moved to the mouth of Laurel and reared a family.
He had three sons and two daughters. His sons were Joseph, who married Lucinda Osborne; Solomon, who married Mary Chafin; and Edward, who married Susan Bennett.
His daughters were Polly, who married Harrison Blair; and Frances, who married Thomas Copley.
John Blair’s daughters were Mahulda, who married Anderson Dempsey; Chlorina, who married John McCoy; and Rhoda, who married Moses Parsley.
The Blairs and Baisdens are a well-known family on the Laurel Fork side of Blair Mountain, though few have crossed the divide and settled on the Guyan river watershed.
Early county history has it that the Blairs were active politically in the county following the Civil War, but no definite facts can be found of individuals holding any official position other than Harrison, who was the first of a long line of Democratic sheriffs, which ruled the county up until 1924, when the Republicans broke the power of Democrats and began their regime which ended in 1932.
Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 4 May 1937.
A.A. Lilly, American Legion, Appalachia, Beckley, Braeholm, C.C. Lanham, Calvert Estill, Casey M. Jones, Charleston, Emmett Scaggs, First Methodist Church, G.R. Claypool, Guyandotte Valley, Harrisville, Henry D. Hatfield, Herbert Hoover, history, Hugh Ike Shott, Huntington, John M. Mitchell, John W. Davis, Kentucky, Logan, Logan Banner, Logan County, Lundale, M.Z. White, Naaman Jackson, Peach Creek, photos, Point Pleasant, politics, Princeton, Republican Party, Ripley, Teddy Roosevelt Jr., W.C. Lybarger, W.C. Price, W.G. Conley, W.J. Fields, Welch, West Virginia, Williamson, Woman's Christian Temperance Union, World War I, YMCA
On October 17, 1928, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. visited Logan, WV, and gave a speech to approximately 10,000 people. The Logan Banner offered plenty of coverage for the event:
War-Time Buddies to Greet Col. Roosevelt
After His Meeting Here Wednesday Night–General Conley Will Also Speak at Open-Air Meeting That Night–Whale of Rally Assured
Every ex-service man in Logan county is urged to meet Col. Theodore Roosevelt when he comes here to deliver a campaign address in front of the Court House next Wednesday night. A reception in honor of the distinguished son of a distinguished sire will be held in Republican headquarters on the fifth floor of the White & Browning building after the political meeting is ended. There he will be greeted by his war “buddies” and every soldier, sailor and marine who served in the World War, regardless of political affiliations, is asked to be present.
Col. Roosevelt is billed three speeches on Tuesday. He is expected to speak at Welch in the afternoon and at Princeton at 5 p.m. and at Beckley that night. He is in great demand and Logan Republicans are elated over the definite promise from state headquarters that he is coming here.
General W.G. Conley, Republican nominee for Governor, will accompany or join Col. Roosevelt here and both will speak at the Wednesday night meeting. It is probable, too, that Dr. H.D. Hatfield and A.A. Lilly, former attorney general, will be here at the same time. General Lilly is billed for a speech at Braeholm on Monday night.
Logan (WV) Banner, 12 October 1928
Col. Roosevelt and General Conley Speak in Logan Tomorrow Night
Open-Air Rally at Court House Expected to Attract Delegations From All Sections of County–Service Men to Hold Reception for Col. Roosevelt After Speaking Is Ended
With the coming of Theodore Roosevelt and General W.C. Conley tomorrow for what is expected to be a memorable night meeting, the speaking campaign in this county may reach a climax. They will be the chief speakers at an open-air meeting in front of the Court House. It is probable that Governor Gore will come also and in that event he may serve as chairman of the meeting.
A.A. Lilly, former attorney general and Hugh Ike Shott, Republican nominee for congress, who addressed a huge gathering at Braeholm and Lundale last night, will speak at Peach Creek tonight; Senator Jackson and E.F. Scaggs also spoke at last night’s gatherings. Mr. Shott will remain in the county up to Wednesday night.
Governor W.J. Fields of Kentucky will address a Democratic meeting in the court room tonight.
Widespread interest has been aroused in the Roosevelt-Conley meeting and delegations are looked for from every section of the county. Ex-service men are to turn out in force to meet and greet the distinguished soldier-son of the beloved soldier-president of the same name. A reception to which all ex-service men are invited will be held on the fifth floor of the White & Browning building after the big meeting is concluded. Roosevelt’s war record, his activity in helping to organize the American Legion, and his fondness for those who served with him have endeared him to World War men everywhere.
A prohibition rally sponsored by the W.C.T.U. will be held at the Court House at 7:30 Friday p.m. Everyone is urged to come. The speakers for this occasion have not been announced.
Col. Roosevelt Center of Interest of Biggest Crowd Ever Seen Here
Republicans Stage Rally Eclipsing Any of the Past in Guyan Valley, With Attentive, Enthusiastic Crowd Estimated At Around 10,000 Mark
GEN. CONLEY AND OTHERS TAKE PART
Ex-Service Men Add Zest to Ovation for Gallant Soldier Son of Beloved T.R.–Rev. Mr. Lanham Is Chairman–Flowers For Teddy
Before the largest crowd ever assembled in Logan county, Col. Theodore Roosevelt, eldest son of the late president, made an eloquent and elaborate appeal in front of the Court House Wednesday night for the election of Hoover and Curtis on November 6.
His oratory, his Rooseveltian grimaces, his deep-furrowed smiles, his warm and radiant fellowship, and genuine camaraderie in meeting and greeting ex-service men, won the hearts of all. And how game he was! Exhausted by his effort to make himself heard to the far corners of the crowd confronting him and really surrounding him, following a strenuous ordeal of many days, traveling at night and speaking several times a day, he had difficulty making his way from the platform back through the crowd and into the Court House corridor. To several companions he hoarsely confided, “I’m a wreck!” Nevertheless, he tried to shake every hand and exchange a friendly greeting with those who swarmed about him. His exit was marked by a renewal of the ovation that greeted him when he, General W.G. Conley, Senator M.Z. White, County Chairman and Mrs. G.R. Claypool, Casey M. Jones, Calvert Estill and others in the party wormed their way through the crowd to the platform erected at the foot of the steps on the side of the Court House.
After the meeting the distinguished visitor was whisked to Republican headquarters where ex-service men in large numbers held a reception in his honor. Again and again he was “dee-lighted” and thrilled to find some “buddy” who had belonged to some military unit with whose history Roosevelt is familiar. Then he would cry out to his pal Casey Jones, Charleston newspaperman and bosom friend for more than a decade,” What do you know about it, Casey, here’s an old pal that served with” so-and-so company or regiment.
Not only ex-service men but more than one professional man of Logan, miners and others whispered to him, or yelled out to his wake, “We’ll be voting for you some time, Teddy!”
Hits the Line Hard
After the reception the Colonel returned to Charleston, to make ready for a busy schedule yesterday. He was billed for speeches at Harrisville, Ripley and Pt. Pleasant, and had arranged to get back to Charleston last night and to speak both at Beckley and Welch today. All day yesterday here whenever the matter of his visit was discussed in any group the prediction was advanced that he was too terribly exhausted to adhere to his schedule. And his Logan friends are sincerely concerned about him. However, he will return to New York at the end of the week.
Wednesday night’s rally will be remembered for years, say political observers, not only because of its size but also because of its direct bearing on a momentous contest for supremacy.
Most estimates of the attendance hover around the 10,000 mark. John M. Mitchell, court bailiff, who has been familiar with political activities in this county for half a century, said it exceeded twice over any crowd he had ever seen in the county. Others say the only meeting ever held here worthy of comparison was that addressed by Senator Pat Harrison in the 1924 campaign. To the writer the crowd seemed more than half as large as that which heard John W. Davis in Huntington in 1924. That crowd was estimated at 25,000, but that was an obvious exaggeration–a characteristic of the estimates of political assemblages.
The Folks Were There
Cloudy weather and a light rain that set in at the hour when the meeting was scheduled to start doubtless kept away a considerable number and caused scores to leave. On the outer edges it was impossible to hear the speakers and so there was a steady going and coming of persons wishing to see and hear. windows in about half a dozen buildings were occupied, small boys were atop the Old Stone building, and there was a good-sized crowd clustered on and about the platform, steps, windows, portico and corridors of the Court House.
Roosevelt has a good voice but it was put to a terrific test here, considering what he had undergone recently. His voice is better than his father’s was and he is more humorous, but the only striking resemblance between the two as public speakers is that grinning grimace that once seen can never be forgotten. In his speech he did not delve exhaustively into any one issue or phase of the campaign but he gave a comprehensive review of the issues and personalities that Republicans generally assume to be involved in this campaign. As for Tammany he panned it as it has never been panned before hereabouts. He recalled, too, that his grandfather had fought the greedy Tiger: “My father fought it; I am fighting it, and if it lives 20 years longer, I expect and hope my son Teddy III will be fighting it.”
Rev. Lanham Presides
It was after 8 o’clock when the speakers arrived–more than half an hour late–whereas all available seats and many vantage points had been occupied for nearly if not fully two hours. At the home of Mr. and Mrs. G.R. Claypool they had been entertained at dinner–or supper, as Teddy and most of us call it. Besides the Colonel and General Conley there were six other guests: Hugh Ike Shott, Republican nominee for representative in Congress; Senator M.Z. White, Williamson; C.M. Jones, publicity man and side for Mr. Conley; Calvert N. Estill, Charleston correspondent for the Ogden chain of newspapers, and Senator Naaman Jackson.
Rev. C.C. Lanham, pastor of the First Methodist Church, who has been a leader in the fight to avert any backward step on prohibition, was chairman of the meeting. He filled the role with tact and good judgment and introduced the various speakers in happy style.
General Conley was the first speaker, but sensing the crowd’s desire to hear the Colonel he cut short his remarks. He did not take up state or national issues but after a word of congratulation to those who had sponsored such an immense turnout he withdrew.
Flowers For Colonel
Next a pretty little surprise was sprung. Mrs. W.C. Price, of Huntington, who is taking the lead in organizing the Republican women of the county, was introduced. Turning to Col. Roosevelt, after bringing a basket full of beautiful flowers into view, she told him of the esteem in which he is held by the women and presented the flowers in behalf of the woman’s Republican Club as a token of appreciation of his services in this campaign and of his zeal in promoting the public welfare. His face wreathed in wrinkles and aglow, he replied: “I accept with thanks. And I would much rather stand high in the esteem of women than of men. They are more important. I know, for I am married.”
The chairman then introduced W.C. Lybarger, secretary of the railway Y.M.C.A. at Peach Creek, who in turn introduced Col. Roosevelt. He paid the visitor a splendid tribute for his valor on the battlefields of France, touched the high points of his political career, and said he had a leading part in organizing the American Legion.
At the outset Roosevelt sketched the character and growth of the orphaned Hoover and gave some intimate glimpses into the habits of living and of thought, of his working and his industry and resourcefulness in solving problems of public and playing, of his zeal in tackling concern. Between these two men there is a close friendship, and there was no mistaking Roosevelt’s whole-hearted admiration for the farm boy of Iowa who has risen to a position of pre-eminence in the minds and hearts of his countrymen and even of the folk of many other lands.
Logan (WV) Banner, 19 October 1928
Appalachia, Beaver Creek, Big Sandy River, Bill Necessary, Carter Caves State Park, Curly Wellman, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddler, fiddling, Floyd County, Fraley Family Festival, Grayson, history, Huntington, J P Fraley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Levisa Fork, Lynn Davis, Mingo County, Molly O Day, Molly O'Day, Mona Hager, music, Nashville, Paintsville, Prestonsburg, Snake Chapman, Tug Fork, U.S. South, Ugee Postalwait, West Virginia, Williamson, writers, writing
A few months later, I met Lawrence Haley at the Fraley Family Festival at Carter Caves State Park near Grayson, Kentucky. Lawrence and I spoke with Bill Necessary, a musician who saw Ed and Ella all over the Big Sandy Valley when he was about twenty years old. He said they rode a train up Levisa Fork to Paintsville, the seat of government for Johnson County, where they spent the day playing music at the courthouse. From there, they continued by train to Prestonsburg, county seat of Floyd County. At times, they went into the nearby coal camps of Beaver Creek and played at theatres. From Prestonsburg, they took the train to Pikeville, the county seat of Pike County, and then continued over to the Tug River around Williamson, county seat of Mingo County, West Virginia.
“Aw, they took in the whole dern country up through there,” Bill said. “By the time they made that circuit, why it’d be time for them to come again. I guess they’d tour a couple of weeks. By God, I just followed them around, son.”
Lawrence didn’t remember going to all of those places with Ed but did remember staying with Molly O’Day’s family around Williamson. Bill said Molly’s widow Lynn Davis was still living around Huntington, West Virginia.
Bill said Ed always wore a long overcoat — “rain or shine” — and even played in it. He never sang or entered contests.
“He was pretty up to date on music at that time,” Bill said. “His notes were real clear, boy.”
Back in Nashville, I worked really hard trying to figure out Ed’s bowing. There was a lot of contradictory information to consider. Snake Chapman said he bowed short strokes, indicating a lot of sawstrokes and pronounced note separation. J.P. Fraley, Slim Clere, Lawrence and Mona said that he favored the long bow approach and only used short strokes when necessary, like for hoedowns. Preacher Gore, Ugee Postalwait and Curly Wellman spoke about how smooth his fiddling was, which kind of hinted at him being a long bow fiddler. All were probably accurate in some respect. It seemed plain to me that one reason why there were so many contrasting and sometimes completely opposite accounts of how or even what Ed played was that everyone I’d talked to witnessed him playing at different times and places during his musical evolution. All along the way, he was experimenting, looking for that “right combination” or playing the style needed to create the sounds popular in a certain area. Even what I could actually hear on his home recordings was really just a glimpse into the world of his fiddling as it existed at that moment toward the end of his lifetime.
Appalachia, Art Stamper, Arthur Smith, Ashland, Big Sandy River, Billy Lyons, Blackberry Blossom, blind, Charles Wolfe, Clark Kessinger, Clayton McMichen, Duke Williamson, Ed Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Fox in the Mud, Frazier Moss, Fred Way, Ft. Gay, Grand Ole Opry, history, Huntington, Joe Williamson, John Hartford, Kentucky, Kermit, Kirk McGee, Levisa Fork, Louisa, Mark Howard, Matewan, Mississippi River, Molly O'Day, music, Nashville, Natchee the Indian, Ohio River, Old Sledge, Packet Directory, Paintsville, Parkersburg Landing, Pikeville, Prestonsburg, Red Apple Rag, River Steamboats and Steamboat Men, Robert Owens, Roy Acuff, Sam McGee, Skeets Williamson, Snake Chapman, square dances, St. Louis, Stacker Lee, Stackolee, steamboats, Tennessee Valley Boys, Tri-State Jamboree, Trouble Among the Yearlings, Tug Fork, West Virginia, Williamson, WSAZ
Back in Nashville, I was knee-deep in Haley’s music, devoting more time to it than I care to admit. I talked so much about it that my friends began to tease me. Mark Howard, who was producing my albums at the time, joked that if Ed’s recordings were of better quality, I might not like them so much. As my obsession with Haley’s music grew, so did my interest in his life. For a long time, my only source was the liner notes for Parkersburg Landing, which I had almost committed to memory. Then came Frazier Moss, a fiddling buddy in town, who presented me with a cassette tape of Snake Chapman, an old-time fiddler from the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy in eastern Kentucky. On the tape, Snake said he’d heard Haley play the “old original” version of “Blackberry Blossom” after he “came in on the boats” at Williamson, West Virginia.
This was making for a great story. I was already enthralled by Haley’s fiddling…but to think of him riding on “the boats.” It was the marriage of my two loves. I immediately immersed myself in books like Captain Fred Way’s Packet Directory 1848-1983: Passenger Steamboats of the Mississippi River System Since the Advent of Photography in Mid-Continent America (1983) to see which boats ran in the Big Sandy Valley during Haley’s lifetime. Most of the boats were wooden-hulled, lightweight batwings – much smaller than the ones that plied the Mississippi River in my St. Louis youth – but they were exciting fixtures in the Big Sandy Valley culture.
“I have seen these boats coming down the river like they were shot out of a cannon, turning these bends, missing great limbs hanging over the stream from huge trees, and finally shooting out of the Big Sandy into the Ohio so fast that often they would be nearly a mile below the wharf boat before they could be stopped,” Captain Robert Owens wrote in Captain Mace’s River Steamboats and Steamboat Men (1944). “They carried full capacity loads of sorghum, chickens and eggs. These days were times of great prosperity around the mouth of Sandy. Today, great cities have sprung up on the Tug and Levisa forks. The railroad runs on both sides, and the great activity that these old-time steamboats caused has all disappeared.”
During the next few weeks, I scoured through my steamboat photograph collection and assembled pictures of Big Sandy boats, drunk with images of Haley riding on any one of them, maybe stopping to play at Louisa, Paintsville, Prestonsburg and Pikeville, Kentucky on the Levisa Fork or on the Tug Fork at Ft. Gay, Kermit, Williamson, and Matewan, West Virginia.
Finally, I resolved to call Snake Chapman and ask him about his memories. It was a nervous moment – for the first time, I was contacting someone with personal memories of Ed Haley. Snake, I soon discovered, was a little confused about exactly who I was and why I was so interested in Haley’s life and then, just like that, he began to offer his memories of Ed Haley.
“Yeah, he’s one of the influences that started me a fiddling back years ago,” Snake said, his memories slowly trickling out. “I used to go over to Molly O’Day’s home – her name was Laverne Williamson – and me and her and her two brothers, Skeets and Duke, used to play for square dances when we first started playing the fiddle. And Uncle Ed, he’d come up there to old man Joe Williamson’s home – that’s Molly’s dad – and he just played a lot for us and then us boys would play for him, me and Cecil would, and he’d show us a lot of things with the bow.”
Molly O’Day, I knew, was regarded by many as the most famous female vocalist in country music in the 1940s; she had retired at a young age in order to dedicate her life to the church.
“And he’s the one that told me all he could about old-time fiddling,” Snake continued. “He said, ‘Son, you’re gonna make a good fiddler, but it takes about ten years to do it.'”
I told Snake about reading in the Parkersburg Landing liner notes how Haley reportedly wished that “someone might pattern after” him after his death and he totally disagreed. He said, “I could have copied Uncle Ed – his type of playing – but I didn’t want to do it because he told me not to. He told me not to ever copy after anyone. Said, ‘Just play what you feel and when you get good, you’re as good as anybody else.’ That was his advice.”
I didn’t really know what to make of that comment. I mean, was Haley serious? Was he speaking from personal experience or was it just something he told to a beginning fiddler for encouragement?
After that, my conversation with Snake consisted of me asking questions – everything from how much Haley weighed to all the intricate details of his fiddling. I wondered, for instance, if Ed held the bow at the end or toward the middle, if he played with the fiddle under his chin, and if he ever tried to play words in his tunes. I wanted to know all of these things so that I could just inhabit them, not realizing that later on what were perceived as trivial details would often become major items of interest.
Snake answered my questions precisely: he said Haley held the bow “up a little in the middle, not plumb on the end” and usually played with the fiddle at his chest – “just down ordinarily.” He also said Haley “single-noted” most of his bow strokes, played frequently in cross-key, hated vibrato and used a lot of “sliding notes.” He seldom got out of first position, only occasionally “going down and getting some notes” that he wanted to “bring in the tune” and he definitely tried to play words in his music.
“The old fiddlers through the mountains here – and I guess it’s that way everywhere – they tried to make the fiddle say the words of the old tunes,” Snake said.
“Uncle Ed, he was a kind of a fast fiddler,” he went on. “Most old-time fiddlers are slow fiddlers, but he played snappy fiddling, kindly like I do. Ah, he could do anything with a fiddle, Uncle Ed could. He could play a tune and he could throw everything in the world in it if he wanted to or he could just play it out straight as it should be. If you could just hear him in person because those tapes didn’t do him justice. None of them didn’t. To me, he was one of the greatest old-time fiddlers of all time. He was telling me, when I was young, he said, ‘Well, I could make a fiddle tune any time I want to,’ but he said he just knowed so many tunes he didn’t care about making any more. He played a variety of tunes that a lot of people didn’t play, and a lot of people couldn’t play. He knew so many tunes he wouldn’t play one tune too long.”
I asked Snake about Haley’s repertoire and he said, “He played an old tune called ‘Old Sledge’ and it was one of his good ones. He played tunes like ‘Trouble Among the Yearlings’, but when he was gonna play it he called it ‘Fox in the Mud’. He made that up himself. One of the favorite tunes of mine he played was the old-time way of playing ‘Blackberry Blossom’ and he played it in G-minor. Ed could really play it good. They was somebody else that made the tune. Uncle Ed told me who it was – Garfield. He said he was a standing fiddling near a big blackberry patch and it was in bloom at the mouth of the hollow one time and this fella Garfield played this tune and he asked this fella Garfield what the name of the tune was. He said, ‘Well, I ain’t named it, yet,’ and he turned around and spit in that blackberry patch with a big bunch of ambeer and said, ‘We’ll just call it ‘Blackberry Blossom’.”
“Yeah, Uncle Ed, he had tales behind every one of them like that, but that’s where he said he got the name of it. He said he named it there…spitting in the blackberry blossom.”
Snake only remembered Haley singing “Stacker Lee”, a tune I’d heard him fiddle and sing simultaneously on Parkersburg Landing:
Oh Stacker Lee went to town with a .44 in his hand.
He looked around for old Billy Lyons. Gonna kill him if he can.
All about his John B. Stetson hat.
Stacker Lee entered a bar room, called up a glass of beer.
He looked around for old Billy Lyons, said, “What’re you a doin’ here?
This is Stacker Lee. That bad man Stacker Lee.”
Old Billy Lyons said, “Stacker Lee, please don’t take my life.
Got a half a dozen children and one sweet loving wife
Looking for my honey on the next train.”
“Well God bless your children. I will take care of your wife.
You’ve stole my John B. Stetson hat, and I’m gonna take your life.”
All about that broad-rimmed Stetson hat.
Old Billy Lyons said, “Mother, great God don’t weep and cry.”
Oh Billy Lyons said, “Mother, I’m bound to die.”
All about that broad-rimmed Stetson hat.
Stacker Lee’s mother said, “Son, what have you done?”
“I’ve murdered a man in the first degree and Mother I’m bound to be hung.”
All about that John B. Stetson hat.
Oh Stacker Lee said, “Jailor, jailor, I can’t sleep.
Old Billy Lyons around my bedside does creep.”
All about that John B. Stetson hat.
Stacker Lee said, “Judge, have a little pity on me.
Got one gray-haired mother dear left to weep for me.”
All about that broad-rimmed Stetson hat.
That judge said, “Old Stacker Lee, gonna have a little pity on you.”
I’m gonna give you twenty-five years in the penitentiary.”
All about that John B. Stetson hat.
It was one awful cold and rainy day
When they laid old Billy Lyons away
In Tennessee. In Tennessee.
Snake said Haley used to play on the streets of Williamson, West Virginia where he remembered him catching money in a tin cup. In earlier years, he supposedly played on the Ohio River and Big Sandy boats and probably participated in the old fiddlers’ contests, which Snake’s father said was held on boat landings. These impromptu contests were very informal and usually audience-judged, meaning whoever got the most applause was considered the winner. Sometimes, fiddlers would just play and whoever drew the biggest crowd was considered the winner.
I asked Snake if he ever heard Ed talk about Clark Kessinger and he said, “Skeets was telling me Ed didn’t like Clark at all. He said, ‘That damned old son-of-a-gun stands around and tries to pick up everything he can pick up from you.’ And he did. Clark tried to pick up everything from Uncle Ed. He was a good fiddler, too.”
Snake said Clayton McMichen (the famous Skillet Licker) was Haley’s favorite fiddler, although he said he knew just how to beat him. This made me think of the line from Parkersburg Landing, “In regard to his own fiddling, Haley was not particularly vain, although he was aware that he could put ‘slurs and insults’ into a tune in a manner that set him apart from all other fiddlers.” (I wasn’t exactly sure he meant by slurs and insults.)
Snake could tell that I was really into Haley.
“Try to come see me and we’ll make you as welcome as we possibly can,” he said. “I tell you, my wife is poorly sick, and I have a little trouble with my heart. I’m 71. Doctors don’t want me to play over two or three hours at a time, but I always like to meet other people and play with them. I wouldn’t have no way of putting you up, but you can come any time.”
Just before hanging up, I asked Snake if he had any Haley recordings. He said Skeets Williamson had given him some tapes a few years back and “was to bring more, but he died two years ago of cancer.” Haley had a son in Ashland, Kentucky, he said, who might have more recordings. “I don’t know whether he’s got any of Uncle Ed’s stuff or not. See, most of them old tapes they made, they made them on wire recordings, and I don’t know if he’s got any more of his stuff than what I’ve got or not.”
I told Snake I would drive up and see him in the spring but ended up calling him a week later to ask him if he knew any of Ed’s early influences. He said Ed never talked about those things. “No sir, he never did tell me. He never did say. Evidently, he learned from somebody, but I never did hear him say who he learned from.” I felt pretty sure that he picked up tunes from the radio. “Ed liked to listen to the radio, preferring soap operas and mystery chillers, but also in order to hear new fiddle tunes,” the Parkersburg Landing liner notes read. “A good piece would cause him to slap his leg with excitement.” I asked Snake if he remembered Haley ever listening to fiddlers on the radio and he said, “I don’t know. He must have from the way he talked, because he didn’t like Arthur Smith and he liked Clayton McMichen.”
What about pop tunes? Did he play any of those?
“He played ragtime pretty good in some tunes,” Snake said. “Really you can listen to him play and he slides a little bit of ragtime off in his old-time fiddling – and I never did hear him play a waltz in all the time I ever heard him play. He’d play slow songs that sound old lonesome sounds.”
Snake quickly got into specifics, mentioning how Haley only carried one fiddle around with him. He said, “He could tune right quick, you know. He didn’t have tuners. He just had the keys.”
Did fiddlers tune low back in those days?
“I’d say they did. They didn’t have any such thing as a pitch-pipe, so they had to tune just to whatever they liked to play.”
Haley was the exception.
“Well, it seemed like to me he tuned in standard pitch, I’m not sure. But from hearing his fiddling – like we hear on those tapes we play now – I believe he musta had a pitch-pipe at that time.”
I wondered if Haley spent a lot of time messing around with his fiddle, like adjusting the sound post, and Snake said, “No, I never did see him do that. He might have did it at home but when he was out playing he already had it set up the way he wanted to play.”
Surprisingly, Snake didn’t recall Haley playing for dances. “I don’t think he did because I never did know of him playing for a dance. He was mostly just for somebody to listen to, and what he did mostly was to make money for a living playing on the street corner. I seen him at a fiddling contest or two – that was back before I learned to play the fiddle. That’s when I heard him play ‘Trouble Among the Yearlings’. He won the fiddling contest.”
What about playing with other fiddlers?
“Well, around in this area here he was so much better than all the other fiddle players, they all just laid their fiddles down and let him play. The old fiddlers through here, they wasn’t what I’d call too good fiddlers. We had one or two in the Pikeville area over through there that played a pretty good fiddle. Art Stamper’s dad, he was a good old-time fiddler, and so was Kenny Baker’s dad.”
After hanging up with Snake, I gave a lot of thought to Haley reportedly not liking Arthur Smith. His dislike for Smith was documented on Parkersburg Landing, which stated plainly: “Another fiddler he didn’t care for was Arthur Smith. An Arthur Smith record would send him into an outrage, probably because of Smith’s notoriously uncertain sense of pitch. Cecil Williamson remembers being severely lectured for attempting to play like ‘that fellow Smith.'”
Haley probably first heard Smith over the radio on the Grand Ole Opry, where he debuted in December of 1927. Almost right away, he became a radio star, putting fiddlers all over the country under his spell. His popularity continued to skyrocket throughout the 1930s, during his collaboration with Sam and Kirk McGee. In the late thirties, Haley had a perfect chance to meet Smith, who traveled through southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky with the Tennessee Valley Boys. While unlikely, Haley may have met him at fiddling contests during the Depression. “In the thirties, Haley occasionally went to fiddle contests to earn money,” according to Parkersburg Landing. At that same time, Smith was participating in well-publicized (usually staged) contests with Clark Kessinger, Clayton McMichen and Natchee the Indian. Haley, however, tended to avoid any contest featuring Natchee the Indian, who “dressed in buckskins and kept his hair very long” and was generally a “personification of modern tendencies toward show fiddling.”
In the early 1940s, Haley had a perfect opportunity to meet Smith, who appeared regularly on WSAZ’s “Tri-State Jamboree” in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington is located several miles up the Ohio River from Ashland, Kentucky and is West Virginia’s second largest city.
In the end, Haley’s reported low opinion of Smith’s fiddling was interesting. Arthur Smith was one of the most influential fiddlers in American history. Roy Acuff regarded him as the “king of the fiddlers,” while Dr. Wolfe referred to him as the “one figure” who “looms like a giant over Southern fiddling.” Haley even had one of his tunes – “Red Apple Rag” – in his repertoire. Maybe he got a lot of requests for Smith tunes on the street and had to learn them. Who knows how many of his tunes Haley actually played, or if his motives for playing them were genuine?