Ashland, Atlanta, Big Ugly Creek, Birdie, blind, Boatin' Up Sandy, Catlettsburg, Chapmanville, Charleston, Cincinnati, civil war, Clark Kessinger, Coalton, Crawley Creek, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddlers, fiddling, Girl With the Blue Dress On, Godby Branch School, Grantsville, Grayson, Great Depression, Green Shoal, Harts School, history, Hugh Dingess School, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Logan, Margaret Arms, Mona Haley, music, Orange Blossom Special, Pat Haley, Ralph Haley, Slim Clere, Sweet Georgia Brown, Tennessee Waggoner, The Old Lady Carried the Jug Around the Hill, Wewanta, writing
We hadn’t played long until Slim was telling me more about his background.
“I came from a line of Irish fiddlers,” he said. “My dad, his brothers, and his dad… The old man was so good on the fiddle — he was in the Civil War — my grandfather — that the soldiers all chipped in and bought him a fiddle and he didn’t have to fight. He was from Coalton on the road to Grayson out back of Ashland.”
Slim said his dad played “The Old Lady Carried the Jug Around the Hill” and “Girl With the Blue Dress On”.
Here comes the girl with the blue dress on, the blue dress on, with the blue dress on.
Everybody’s crazy about the girl with the blue dress on…
I asked him if his father played “Catlettsburg” and he said yes, although it was not the same version as what Ed played.
“My dad played it,” Slim said. “He played ‘Birdie’, ‘Tennessee Waggoner’. He got these two fingers cut when he was working at a steel mill and his fingers stayed stiff so he had to play the rest of his life with these two fingers. I don’t remember when he played with all five ’cause I was too small. He played ‘Boatin’ Up Sandy’.”
Every now and then, Slim would tell me something about Ed.
“Every Saturday Ed would go to a county courthouse someplace,” he said. “Believe it or not, he was in Grantsville one time when I was up there, sitting on the steps up there at the courthouse. I walked over, I said, ‘Ed, aren’t you out of place?’ He said, ‘You’re liable to find me anywhere.'”
I asked Slim if he ever saw Ed drunk and he said, “I don’t think I ever saw him sober. He didn’t get too high. Seemed like it give him more pep.”
I asked Slim if he remembered Sweet Georgia Brown coming to see Ed in Ashland and he said, “He was up in Ashland at one time. We called him Brownie. Well, he wasn’t around Ed too much. Ed was a close guy. He didn’t associate with a lot of people. Now, he liked me pretty well…but most fiddle players don’t like fiddle players.”
Speaking of fiddlers, Slim said he had met a lot of them during his lifetime. I wondered if he ever met any as good as Ed and he said, “Clark Kessinger was the closest. I think Clark learned from him. See when Clark made records for Brunswick — they had a studio down in Ashland — Ed wouldn’t play on it. He wouldn’t make records. Didn’t want to. He wouldn’t play over the radio. He said they wasn’t any money in that. He wanted to be somewhere somebody could throw a nickel or dime in that cup. He was very poor. He wasn’t starving to death, but — his wife was blind, too — there was no way that they could make any money. And he had a 17- or 18-year-old boy — he was a good guitar player, but he wouldn’t play with him. I don’t remember what his name was. He was ashamed of his father and mother — to get out in public. Not for any personal reasons…just the fact he could see and they couldn’t.”
Slim began talking about his own career in music, mostly his Depression-era radio work. He mentioned working with or meeting people like Bill and Charlie Monroe and Earl Scruggs and even credited himself with bringing “Orange Blossom Special” to Charleston from Atlanta in October of 1938. He kind of caught us by surprise when he spoke of having played all through the Guyandotte Valley.
“We played personal appearances up and down through there,” Slim said. “Played schools and theaters: Godby Branch School, up on Crawley Creek — one room school — and Hugh Dingess School — it was about an eight-room red brick building — Green Shoal, Wewanta. Harts School, I guess I must have played that school fifteen times. From about ’39 on up to 50-something. Everybody turned out when we played Harts. It was supposed to be the meanest place they was on the Guyan at that time. Came across Big Ugly Creek there. See, it goes from Lincoln County over into Boone. I used to broadcast down in there. I’d say, ‘All you Big Ugly girls be sure to come out and see us now.'”
I asked Slim if he played with any local musicians and he said, “No, we went in and played the show. Once in a while, we’d have amateur contests and they’d come in. Well, we’d have fiddling conventions at big high schools.”
I asked Slim if he ever saw Ed around Harts and he said, “No, not down there. Only time I ever seen Ed was around Ashland and Logan and Chapmanville. He played at the bank in Chapmanville. Chapmanville was 12 miles from Logan.”
Later that night, Brandon and I found some more family photographs in a box at Pat Haley’s. One was of Ella, while others were of Margaret Arms. Margaret was a real “mystery lady”: nobody seemed clear on her relationship to the Haley family. Lawrence Haley had remembered her as a cousin to either Ed or Ella, while Mona called her “Margaret Thomas” and said she lived in Cincinnati.