Almost Heaven Dulcimer Club, Appalachia, Appalachian Heritage Day, authors, Bobby Taylor, books, Carter Taylor Seaton, Confederate Army, Cooney Ricketts Chapter, culture, fiddler, fiddlers, fiddling, Hatfield-McCoy CVB, Hippie Homesteaders, history, Ken Hechler, Laura Treacy Bentley, Logan, Logan County Commission, Looking for Ireland, M. Lynne Squires, photos, Rebel in the Red Jeep, Southern Coalition for the Arts, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Urban Appalachia, Vandalia Award, West Virginia
Appalachian Heritage Day occurred on August 25, 2019 in Logan, WV. The event featured authors, scholars, guest speakers, information tables, a genealogy workshop, a writers’ workshop, numerous old-time and bluegrass music workshops, and an all-day concert. Special thanks to the Logan County Commission, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, the Hatfield-McCoy CVB, and the Southern Coalition for the Arts for sponsoring the event. For more information, follow this link to the event website: https://appalachianheritageday.weebly.com/
Ashland, Bobby Taylor, Brandon Kirk, Ed Haley, Ed Haley Fiddle Contest, fiddling, Good Old Country Town Where I Was Born, Green McCoy, Harold Postalwait, history, J P Fraley, Jimmy McCoy, John Hartford, Kentucky, Mona Haley, music, Ugee Postalwait, writing
In September, Brandon and I met in Ashland for the “Second Annual Ed Haley Memorial Fiddle Festival.” Before the contest, we talked with Mona, who’d written down the words to three of Ed’s old songs on yellow notebook paper. It was the first time I’d seen any lyrics for “Good Old Country Town Where I Was Born”:
Oh, the days are sad and the nights are long
And the whole wide world is going wrong
And it’s all because I’m far away from home.
When I bow my head and close my eyes
It’s then I stop and realize:
Oh, what a fool I was to ever roam.
There’s a long, long trail a winding
To a land that’s fair and bright.
It’s a trail I’m always finding
When I go to sleep at night.
I dream of climbing up the hills
Where I used to hear those whippoorwills
In the good old country town where I was born.
I tried to figure out just what it’s all about,
Why I ever left home.
I got a notion in my head
The old hometown was most too dead.
I learned a thing or two
As you’re a bound to do
When you’re a roaming around.
I made up my mind right now
I’d soon be homeward bound.
Oh the sun shines brighter every day
And the breezes blow your blues away
In the good old country town I’m longing for.
It’s a place where clothes don’t make the man
And they mean it when they shake your hand
And a stranger won’t be turned from any door.
It’s a land of milk and honey
Where the folks are on the square.
Though they don’t have lots of money
You’re always welcome there.
I know I’m just a small town guy
But I’m going back to live and die
In the good old country town where I was born.
When I get off at the station
And I see those happy smiles,
I can tell the whole creation
I would walk a thousand miles
Just to be back there where the skies are blue
And to know my friends are always true
In that good old country town where I was born.
That afternoon, everyone headed to the contest, which was held in a downtown auditorium. There were a lot of familiar faces. J.P. Fraley and Bobby Taylor were judges. Contest organizers seated the Haley family at the front of the crowd. Mixed among the family were Brandon, Ugee Postalwait, Harold Postalwait, and Jimmy McCoy, a great-grandson of Green McCoy.
Ashland, banjo, Bobby Taylor, Brandon Kirk, Charleston, Clyde Haley, Cultural Center, Deborah Basham, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Forked Deer, Green McCoy, Grey Eagle, history, Jack Haley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, life, mandolin, Michigan, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, music, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, Ralph Haley, Ralph Mullins, Rounder Records, San Quentin, Scott Haley, Smithsonian Institution, Steve Haley, West Virginia, writing
Around that time, Brandon and I received confirmation from Doug Owsley at the Smithsonian that he was interested in exhuming the Haley-McCoy grave. Doug gave us instructions on what we needed to do before his office could actually become involved — most importantly, to get permission from the state authorities, as well as from Milt’s and Green’s descendants. We felt pretty good about our chances of getting support from the family but weren’t sure what to expect from “officials.” For some guidance in that department, we called Bobby Taylor and Deborah Basham at the Cultural Center in Charleston, who told us all about exhumation law and codes in West Virginia. They felt, considering the interest of the Smithsonian, that we would have no trouble on the bureaucratic end of things.
Meanwhile, Rounder Records was in the final stages of releasing a two-CD set of Ed’s recordings called Forked Deer. The sound quality was incredible on the re-masters although to the uninitiated ear some of the music still sounded like it was coming from behind a waterfall in a cellophane factory. In addition to Forked Deer, Rounder was slated to release two more CDs of Ed’s music under the title of Grey Eagle in the near future.
I was very excited about all of these tunes getting out because I had fantasies of some “young Turk” fiddler getting a hold of them and really doing some damage.
In July, I called Pat Haley to tell her about the CDs, but we ended up talking more about her memories of Ed.
“I know when we lived in 1040 Greenup — when I first came over here — Pop would play very little. Only if he was drinking and maybe Mona would get him to play. I never knew of Pop ever playing sober. I didn’t hear Pop play too much but then his drinking days were just about over. But Mom would play. They had a mandolin and might have been a banjo and Mom would play a little bit. I didn’t know their brother, Ralph. He passed away, I believe, in ’46 or ’47 and I didn’t come into the family until ’48 — when I met Larry — but we married in ’49.”
Pat and I talked more about Ed’s 1951 death.
“Larry and I lived with Mom and Pop on 2144 Greenup Avenue and little Ralph lived with us,” she said. “Clyde had just come home from San Quentin, and a couple of months before Pop died Patsy was due to have Scott and so she moved into the house with us. Her and Jack had the front living room as their bedroom so that Patsy could be close to the hospital. Scott was born January 4th. My Stephen was born January 27th. We were all in the same house when Pop died. But about three days before Pop died, Clyde decided to rob his mother and came in in the middle of the night and stole her sweeper and radio while we were sleeping and he was picked up by the police and he was in jail when his daddy died. He didn’t get to come to his daddy’s funeral. His mother’s either, actually. He was in a Michigan prison when his momma died.”
Around five o’clock that evening, Bobby Taylor drove over to Lawrence’s from Dunbar, West Virginia. Bobby was a Clark Kessinger protege and friend to Wilson Douglas. We gathered in the kitchen where Bobby got acquainted with Lawrence. He told about the first time he heard Clark Kessinger speak of Ed Haley.
“I was setting there and I was like a sixteen-year-old boy just hanging on his every word. I remember it just as well as if it was yesterday. I asked him who the best fiddler was that he ever heard in his life and he said Eck Robertson was really great on about four pieces. He said Ed Haley was the best fiddler he ever heard because Ed Haley played them all great. And Lefty Shafer’s dad, Von Shafer always thought the two fiddlers who were the best he had ever heard — and he said he wouldn’t turn his hand over for the difference — was Sam Jarvis and Ed Haley.”
Lawrence said, “Well, I’ve heard Pop talk about Jarvis.”
At that point, Bobby showed Lawrence how he thought Sam Jarvis had played — “a lot like Haley: smooth and even” — then said, “But Haley had a little bit more bow motion than Jarvis did.” He played a little bit for Lawrence, showing him what he thought were some of Ed’s “licks.” Lawrence tapped his fingers on the table a few times, then laughed and said, “John, watch him. He can teach you pretty well how my dad played.” He really liked Bobby’s fiddling, which made perfect sense. He had patterned after Kessinger, who patterned after Ed.
For the next hour or so, Bobby and I played a mess of tunes. Bobby’s favorite Haley tune was “Dunbar”, which he’d learned many years ago from the Parkersburg Landing album. For the most part, Lawrence watched us quietly, only periodically commenting on notes or bowing when something sounded or looked familiar. After I played my version of “Shortnin’ Bread”, Lawrence said it sure sounded like one of his father’s tunes. When Bobby played “Soldier’s Joy” he said, “Well, that’s about the way my dad played it. I mean, the notes.”
We seemed to be off on Ed’s bowing, because Lawrence kept reminding us, “Pop ran the bow from one end of the bow to the other.”
Bobby told him, “That’s the way I do if you catch me about two o’clock in the morning warmed up. I use the entire stroke of the bow.”
Occasionally, Bobby would mention old fiddlers around Charleston — Kessinger, Jarvis, Shafer. He seemed to be a big fan of Mike Humphreys, a Depression-era fiddler who turned down an offer by Bill Monroe to become a Bluegrass Boy in 1943 and spent the next twenty years competing in contests against Clark Kessinger. Lawrence said all he remembered about Ed’s trips to Charleston was that a fellow named Ruffner usually guided him around town and that Kessinger was always there watching, listening and trying to copy his father’s style. He must have been really good at it because Ugee Postalwait had said Kessinger “was as near like Ed as any fiddler I ever heard.”
Just before I headed back to Nashville, Lawrence agreed to let me borrow all of Ed’s home recordings and copy them using the latest technology. Considering how Lawrence guarded them through the years, I felt his loaning of them was an overwhelming expression of trust. In a few days, I excitedly took them to Bruce Nemerov at the Center for Popular Culture in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. As Bruce “did his thing,” Lawrence, Steve, and I talked about maybe having them cleaned up and released commercially. Lawrence liked the idea of giving any profits from such a project to the Kentucky School for the Blind.
I told Wilson about working on Ed’s long bow and the Scotch snap — about the little stops between notes — and he said, “Right, right. That’s hesitation in the notes. That is correct. He talked about ‘chopped notes.’ That’s a quick note. But you know, what I liked about Haley, whenever he would settle down and fiddle… I like to hear a fiddle drive a straight, hard, flat note. A clear note. This skipping over the notes, I don’t go for that. And Haley didn’t do that. Every note he got was clear, or he would make a ‘chopped note,’ he called it, and the hesitation was with the — well the hand was quicker’n the eye. He could make a quick hesitation with the bow.”
I was very impressed with Wilson’s memory of such details, which improved with each passing minute. Apparently, Bobby Taylor was right: after he thought about something for a while his memories became sharp as a knife.
Wilson said, “But now I didn’t tell you about the kind of strings he played, did I? He played the old Blue Bird. They quit making them back in ’42 or ’43. They was a steel string, something like a Black Diamond. I believe they’s a little better toned. They wasn’t so sharp. And they cost one quarter in them days, for I bought one as a kid. Now that was the string that Ed Haley played. He liked these solid bone keys in his fiddle, white bone keys. And I always thought about where he got that dang fiddle bow, but it must’ve been four-and-a-half foot long. I never will forget it: that’s the longest fiddle bow I ever saw. I’ve thought about that many a times. It looked to me like it was six inches longer than any other kind of bow, and he played it from one end to the other.”
I said, “You don’t reckon it was just the way he was pulling it that made it look long, do you?”
“No, it was long,” Wilson answered. “You know, a boy sixteen years old don’t miss nothing for he’s eager to learn, you see? I know a fiddler over here in Webster County, and he’s good, too. He’s a top fiddler. And me and him talked about that, and he said, ‘Ed Haley pulled the longest fiddle bow I ever saw.’ And he said his notes was plain. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ Now the frog on that bow was some kind of a bone, if that means anything. White bone.”
Wilson really bragged on Ed’s repertoire.
“Now the man, John, what amazed me, he would play all night and maybe not play the same tune twice,” he said. “And he told me, said, ‘I know over a thousand fiddle tunes.’ Old Ed played ‘Callahan’ out of this world. I can’t remember the key. I wasn’t far enough along. But now, Ed sometimes would put that B-flat in the ‘Forked Deer’ and sometimes he wouldn’t. He would run that B-flat in there if he was showing off, you know. He played the ‘Paddy on the Pike’ in standard tuning. ‘Paddy on the Handcar’, Ed played that cross-key. Two different tunes. And he played ‘Poplar Bluff’ and the ‘Hole in the Poplar’ and all that kind of stuff.”
After talking with Mrs. Rutland, I called Bobby Taylor, a fiddling acquaintance and all-around nice guy in Dunbar, West Virginia. Bobby was a protégé of Clark Kessinger, the famous Charleston fiddler who regarded Haley as the best fiddler he ever heard. I told him about spending months trying to unlock the secrets behind Ed’s bowing before concluding that he played a long bow using the Scotch snap to get smoothness and note separation. Bobby agreed, telling how Clark Kessinger did the same kind of thing in “Sweet Sixteen” — “real fast and almost no bow. He would shuffle with his fingers.”
Bobby didn’t think that Ed used that one bow style for every tune, though.
“From what I could hear of Ed Haley’s fiddling, he done almost any type of style with the bow,” he said. “And I could hear his styles changing from one tune to the next and the way he would phrase. Like when I fiddle, it just depends on what mood I’m in and what style I want to play in. But Haley had to be what Kessinger would call a ‘down-bower,’ because Kessinger hated a ‘bow pusher.’ In other words, the accent’s on the up-bow. What little bit I can hear through all the scratches and everything, I hear Haley being a little more smoother, a little more fluid than Kessinger, but I still see the same bow. But Kessinger’s fast as greased lightning.”
I told Bobby how I’d really gotten into writing out Haley’s tunes note for note lately — every little slide — because I wanted to see what was going on.
“Of course, the deeper I get into it, the less I realize I know about it,” I said.
Bobby wasn’t surprised.
“Kessinger and Haley were both very complicated fiddlers, as any fiddler is,” he said. “But Kessinger was a master with the bow. I kid you not. I mean, that man could bow. Kessinger, if you listen at him fiddle, listen especially at his ‘Hell Among the Yearlings’. Man, could he fiddle that. Very few people realize how well he could fiddle it until you start really listening to what he’s doing with that bow and note correlation. It’s a masterpiece, his ‘Hell Among the Yearlings’ is. Just as Ed Haley, when I heard Ed Haley play it, I could hear where Kessinger got his idea. I could hear it all coming together. Now my style, when you get a real good guitar player that I like playing with, I have a tendency to throw Mike Humphreys into my mesh — a little bit of Kessinger — and I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I sound a great deal like Ed Haley when I do that because I play a little bigger note in a way — not quite as fast as Kessinger — and try to smooth it up a bit.”
“Lawrence has told me repeatedly about how his dad held the fiddle,” I said to Bobby, “that he didn’t stick it up under his chin but he sat it kinda there at his shoulder.”
Bobby chuckled and said, “That’s the way I hold it when I’m jamming.”
I asked Bobby if he rotated the fiddle slightly with it at that position and he said, “I don’t, but my father does. My father, I don’t think, ever met Ed Haley, but is certainly old enough to have known him. My father’s 82. But he’d always heard of him. His favorite fiddler was Sam Jarvis. He was a very prominent person — well educated. He sold insurance. He was my dad’s schoolteacher way out in a little one-room school. My father just says one word for Sam Jarvis, and he says he was ‘perfect.’ I remember when I was a small kid, my father pointed him out and talked to him for a little while and he introduced me. I’ll remember it as long as I live, he said, ‘Here is the greatest fiddler that ever lived, and someday you will learn to appreciate what I have said now.’ And to this day, if you ask me who the smoothest fiddler was I ever heard, it’s Sam Jarvis. Jarvis’ note was not of this world. He was the same age as Clark. He died in 1967.”
That was the first time I’d heard of Sam Jarvis, so — figuring that Ed likely knew him — I pressed Bobby for more information.
“Oh man, he could fiddle. Very little did he play professionally. He would just show up and terrorize the contest world occasionally. I never have heard about Sam Jarvis playing against Ed Haley, but Sam Jarvis only lost one contest in his life — and he was disqualified. You won’t catch anybody in the Charleston area that knew both the fiddlers — Kessinger and Jarvis — that will tell you Kessinger was better. The two greatest fiddlers, when you hear people talk, one’ll say Sam Jarvis and the other will say Ed Haley and most people say they wouldn’t turn their hand over for the difference.”
I asked Bobby who he thought Ed and Jarvis patterned their fiddling after and he said, “That is what is very interesting. They learned from old Edison records, somewhat. I know Jarvis did. They said that his dad wouldn’t hardly let him have a hold of the fiddle, he was so little. And he said that his feet wouldn’t even hit the floor, and he wrapped his toes around the rungs of the chair, and put the record on, and his dad said, ‘You can play the fiddle today if you’re careful with it.’ And he sat down with that record, and they said when they come home that evening, not only had he mastered the record — he had snowed the guy on the record. And he was not even six years old. So he was just automatic.”
Bobby said Wilson Douglas had been talking a lot about Ed Haley lately. Apparently, my telephone call to him had stirred some of memories.
“You will find that if you ask him off the top of his head something, he’ll say, ‘I don’t know,’ but you ask him two or three days later and he has the Brittanica version,” Bobby said.