Ashland, Blackberry Blossom, Calhoun County Blues, Cherry River Rag, Come Take A Trip in My Airship, Dunbar, fiddling, history, John Hartford, John Lozier, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Man of Constant Sorrow, Mona Haley, music, Parkersburg Landing, Pat Haley, Ragtime Annie, writing
“Pop put a lot of emotions in his music,” Mona said. “He was real excited with his playing. He would put things in there that no one else would.”
She described Ed’s music as loud and lively — contrary to testimony from John Lozier and others — and told how it generated a great deal of excitement. She re-iterated that Ed had very little body movements when playing and seemed a little bothered by my energy when I played the fiddle — all the facial and head gestures, loud tapping, leg movements.
I asked her if Ed played much around home and she said, “When he was sad or when he was drinking or when he was happy he played — especially when he was happy.”
I wondered what made Ed happy.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe hearing about a place to play or some money to be made. Music was his life. There wasn’t much about the family that made him happy. I mean, we was always fighting.”
In no time at all, Mona and I slipped into a familiar routine: me playing and asking things like “Did Ed play this?” or “Did Ed play it like this?” I played a lot of tunes for her — mostly ones I knew Ed played but also ones I had heard or suspected him of playing based on talking with Ugee Postalwait and Wilson Douglas and reading notes in the Lambert Collection.
When I played “Cherry River Rag”, Mona said, “I always loved that. Now that’s one that Pop put the slurs and insults in.”
Lawrence Haley had spoken of the “slurs and insults”, but I had never really figured out what they were. I had this theory that they were when Ed used tiny chromatic slides to create a modal and “slidey” note, thereby broadening and helping to achieve more of a “human voice effect” — much like vibrato does. This concept goes way back into Celtic history and may be much more a source for Blues than anything African. (Scholars have, incidentally, found no historical precedent for the Blues in the music of the continent of Africa.) I figured that Ed hit a little “dead” grace note beforehand which helped separate the notes in his long bow style. It is what the Irish call a “cut:” the finger on the grace note barely touches the string so as to give a good stop or separation.
As for the “slurs and insults,” Mona couldn’t seem to explain them either. I suggested listening to “Cherry River Rag” on Pat’s copy of Parkersburg Landing and having Mona point them out to me. We went into the living room and gathered around the record player. As “Cherry River Rag” played, Mona pointed out the slurs and insults. Basically, she described them as being when Ed slid a note for emphasis.
“Sounded to me, John, like when he was getting tired,” she said, back in the kitchen. “He was just wanting to get out of it as easy as he could.”
I asked if there were ever times when Ed would play and just slide the notes a lot and she said, “No, not unless he was drinking. He’d slide those notes a lot when he was drinking. Screech a lot when he was drinking — especially on those high keys.”
Mona loved it when I played “Man of Constant Sorrow”, saying, “Beautiful. That reminds me of Pop being sad. I love it, though. I wanted to tell you, they made a lot of requests, people on the street. They’d say, ‘Ed, play ‘Blackberry Blossom’. If he knew it, he’d play it. He had people dancing on the street, John. He could play forever.”
I played a variety of tunes for Mona that I thought Ed might have played but she only recognized one called “Wilson’s Jig”. She said her father played “Dunbar” a lot and recognized the melody for “Run Here Granny”. She said he made up the tunes “You Can’t Blame Me for That” and “Come Take A Trip in My Airship”. She said “Ragtime Annie” was one of her father’s “main attractions,” while “Birdie” sounded “very familiar.” She said Ed played “Old Joe Clark” and “Money Musk” and fiddled “Done Gone” in B-flat. She said something in my version of “Wild Hog in the Red Brush” was familiar, although she said she never heard Ed play anything with that title. When I played “Uncle Joe”, she immediately recognized the melody but not the title.
“See, I know so many of the tunes I’ve heard but I don’t know the title,” she said.
It was probably a little confusing for her to sit and listen while I assaulted her with a whole barrage of tunes, but I was so excited about picking her brain that I just kept playing.
She remembered Ed playing “Waggoner” and “Paddy on the Turnpike”, as well as the very similar “Snowbird on the Ashbank”. She recognized “Pumpkin Ridge”, “Old Joe Clark”, and “Money Musk”. She didn’t know the melody for “Brownlow’s Dream” but recognized the title, while she knew the melody for “Indian Squaw” but not the title. She said Ed never played “Orange Blossom Special” but did play “Listen to the Mockingbird” and even “made the bird sounds, too.”
When I played “Calhoun County Blues”, she said, “I’ve heard him play that lots. You put a lot more notes in it than what he did.”