Arkansas, Arkansas Traveler, Ashland, banjo, Brandon Kirk, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, Grayson, Harts, history, Holden, Jim Tackett, John Hartford, John Tackett, Kentucky, Lincoln County, Logan County, Logan Court House, music, Ohio, Portsmouth, Red River, Reece Tackett, Trace Fork, West Fork, writing
The next day, Brandon and I visited Reece Tackett, a banjo-picker who lived in a nice yellow house just up West Fork. Reece was born in 1909 and raised around Grayson in eastern Kentucky. His grandfather, Jim Tackett, was a fiddler from the Red River area of Arkansas who played for square dances in large farmhouses. He taught Reece’s father, John Tackett, how to play the fiddle. Reece said his father played “the old way — not flashy.” He used a homemade fiddle and “had to go to pine trees to get rosin.” He moved to a farm about nine miles from Grayson, where he made fiddles and played close to home, never as far away as Portsmouth, Ohio.
Reece said he moved to Holden in Logan County when he was sixteen to work with his uncle and brother in the coalmines. He used to watch Ed Haley and his wife play “beautiful” tunes like “Arkansas Traveler” on weekends at the Logan Courthouse. He said Ed wasn’t a big man and had fingers “about like a lead pencil.” His wife played the mandolin.
“She was pretty good on her singing,” Reece said. “She was dressed like the real old ladies. She had the long dress on and the apron.”
Ella kept a cup fastened to herself somehow.
“I’ve tossed many a nickel and dime in their cup,” Reece said.
Sometimes, people would pretend to put money in their cup and then steal from it.
Ed was usually paid about ten or fifteen cents per tune. There were no dollars and most of the coal miners were paid in company script.
Reece said he moved to Harts in 1946 and had no idea that Ed was from Trace Fork or even lived in Ashland.
blind, Brandon Kirk, Cacklin Hen, Cas Baisden, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Ewell Mullins, fiddling, Harts, Harts Creek, history, John Hartford, Logan County, music, Peter Mullins, Robert Martin, Trace Fork, West Virginia, World War II, writing
Early the next morning, Brandon and I arrived on the bus in Harts and drove to see Cas Baisden, who we spotted in a porch swing up main Harts Creek, just above the mouth of Smoke House Fork. It was a pastoral scene: a somewhat old farmhouse, several chickens in the yard and a few cattle in the distance who’d done a marvelous job of clearing the mountainside just back of the place. As we pulled up to the house, I realized that it was built fairly high off of the ground — probably as a precaution against flooding. Cas just kind of stared down at us as we unloaded from the car.
Once he figured out who we were, he invited us in to the living room. There we learned that Cas was eighty-seven years old and had spent his whole life on Harts Creek.
“I was born in 1910,” he said. “The only five years I was gone from here was when I was in the Army. I left here the second day of April ’42. I spent five year in the Air Force. Never was off the ground.”
Wow — I had to ask, “What is the secret to living so long?”
“Working, working, buddy,” Cas said. “I work ever day a little bit. I wish you’d a seen the coal and stuff I packed in this morning. I got two calves down there and chickens and cats and dogs. I live on tobacco, Cheerios, and milk.”
Ever drink any whiskey?
“Barrels of it,” he said. “It’s been ten or twelve years since I quit fooling with drinking. Yeah, I went up here and joined the church and things. A fella never knows what he misses when he gets in a church. I used to be rougher’n a cob.”
Cas was partly raised by Uncle Peter Mullins, so he remembered Ed Haley well.
“He’d come up there to Peter’s and just go from house to house playing music and eating,” he said. “He used to go up to Ewell’s — I guess where he was raised — and come down that road just a running and hollering and whooping and cutting the awfulest shine that ever was and you wouldn’t a thought he could a stayed in that road. I don’t know how he done it, but he’d take spells like that. If he got a hold of you with a knife, though, he was dangerous. Hang on you and cut as long as they’s a thread on you. Him and that old woman, they’d get drunk and they’d fight up there. You know, it’s a wonder they hadn’t a killed one another. I believe they did try to cut one another up there at old man Peter’s one time.”
What about the Haley kids?
“Why them young’ns would do anything,” Cas said. “Clyde went out here where Robert Martin used to live on that mountain and went down in the well and they had a time a getting him out. And up here a little bit was a big sycamore and he was up in there and we’d throw rocks at him, son, and if we’d a hit him and knocked him out of there he’d been killed. I believe Clyde was the meanest one among them, I don’t know.”
I asked Cas if he ever played music and he said, “Nah, I done well to call hogs. But now Ed was about as good a fiddler as they was. Nobody could play better than Ed. He could play anything on earth he wanted to play.”
Cas had memories of Ed playing at Uncle Peter’s, either outside for small crowds or inside for “big dances” before “they finally broke up and quit.” The old dances started about the “edge of dark” and people would just “jump around — most people never could dance” – until sun-up. There was no trouble — just “fiddle, dance, drink” — although a person had to watch out for what Cas called the “old hedgehogs.”
I asked him if Ed ever drank much at the dances and he said, “Sure. He’d get to drinking and have more fun than the one’s a dancing.”
When Ed wasn’t around to play dances on Trace, Robert Martin would show up and fiddle tunes like “Cacklin’ Hen”. Martin had the first radio “that was ever in this country” so people went to his house “out on the mountain” and listened to it until “way late in the night.”
Ashland, Brandon Kirk, California, Catlettsburg, Catlettsburg Stock Yard, Chapmanville, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, genealogy, Halbert Street, history, Horse Branch, Jack Haley, Jean Thomas, John Hartford, Junius Martin, Kenny Smith, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Logan County, Mona Haley, music, Ohio, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, Ralph Haley, Ralph Mullins, Rosie Day, San Quentin, South Point, Wee House in the Wood, West Virginia, Wilson Mullins, writing
The next day, Brandon and I got Mona to ride around town and show us some of the places where Ed played, as well as where he’d made the home recordings on 17th Street. In the car, she tried to recount the places the family had lived since her birth at Horse Branch in 1930.
The first place she remembered was an old brown house built on a slope at Halbert Street. This was the place where Ralph built the trap door.
When Mona was seven or eight years old, the family moved to 337 37th Street.
When she was about thirteen, they moved to 105 17th Street. She lived there in 1944 when she married Wilson Mullins and moved away to Chapmanville, near Harts. After her divorce, she moved back to 17th Street. At that time, Ed was separated from Ella and living in West Virginia.
For a brief spell, the Haleys lived at 5210 45th Street. Rosie Day lived nearby in a basement apartment.
Around 1948, the family moved to 1040 Greenup Avenue. Mona lived there when she married Kenny Smith and moved to South Point, Ohio.
Around 1950, Ed, Ella, Lawrence, Pat, and little Ralph moved to 2144 Greenup Avenue. Jack and Patsy lived there for a while because Patsy — who was pregnant with twins — wanted to be near the hospital. It was there that Ed passed away in February of 1951.
Thereafter, Ella stayed intermittently with Lawrence and Pat in Ashland or with Jack and Patsy in Cleveland until her death in 1954.
Brandon and I drove Mona around town later and she pointed out the sight of the Catlettsburg stock sale, where she remembered Ed making “good money” around 1935-36. She also directed us to at least three different locations of Jean Thomas’ “Wee House in the Wood.” One was remodeled into an office building and used by the county board of education, while another was out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere on a wooden stage in a valley surrounded by tall grass. Brandon and I thought this latter location was almost surreal, like something out of a weird dream.
Later at dinner, Mona told us what happened to her records.
“I sent Clyde some records when he was in San Quentin, California but he never brought them back with him,” she said.
I told her that some guy named Junius Martin had brought Lawrence some of Ed’s recordings and she said, “Seems like Junius Martin was one of Pop’s drinking buddies. I thought his name was Julius.”
Allie Trumbo, Ashland, Beautiful Isle of Somewhere, Brandon Kirk, California, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Doug Owsley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, Florida, genealogy, history, Jack Haley, Janet Haley, Jimmy Haley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, life, Margaret Ryan, Mona Haley, music, Noah Haley, Oak Hill Cemetery, Ohio, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, Ralph Haley, Ralph Payne, Rosemary Haley, Wilson Mullins, World War II, writing
Early in December, Brandon and I met at Pat Haley’s. All of our excitement focused on the upcoming meeting with Owsley’s forensic team, although it wasn’t long until we were in the familiar routine of asking Pat and Mona questions. Mostly they spoke of Ralph, a key player in Ed’s story. It was Ralph who recorded Ed’s and Ella’s music. Pat said Patsy knew a lot about Ralph, so she called her in Cleveland.
Patsy said Ralph was a nice and intelligent person.
“All the kids looked up to him when they were growing up,” she said.
As far as Patsy knew, Ralph never had any contact with his real father but he did take the last name of Payne when he was older.
Around 1936, Ralph married Margaret Ryan, an eighteen- or nineteen-year-old Cincinnati girl. The newlyweds took up residence with Ed and Ella, and Ralph stopped drinking (at his wife’s insistence). Margaret remained living with the Haleys during the war, when Ralph was overseas fighting the Japanese.
During the war, Ralph had an affair with a Filipino woman named Celeste, who Pat said bore him a son. Mona thought he actually married Celeste. According to her, his plan was to “set” Margaret up after the war, divorce her and return to his Filipino bride. He had Celeste’s name tattooed on his body. When he returned home from the war, he told Margaret, when she saw his tattoo, that Celeste had been the name of his ship. Ralph and Margaret soon left Ashland and moved to Cincinnati.
It was around that time that Patsy came into the family. She said she married Jack in California on October 25, 1946 and met Ed the following Thanksgiving in Ashland. She and Jack moved in with him for three months at 105 17th Street. Mona, Wilson Mullins, and little Ralph were also living there at the time. Jack only stayed for about three months because he couldn’t find work. Patsy said they moved out near Ralph in Cincinnati. Ella’s brother Allie Trumbo lived there, as did several of her close friends. Mona and her family soon followed them there and found an apartment in the same building.
Mona said Ralph’s thoughts were with Celeste: he was in the process of getting Margaret “set up” when tragedy intervened.
One Sunday in May of 1947, Jack, Patsy, Ralph, Margaret, Mona, Wilson, and little Ralph went fishing at a park about 25 miles outside of Cincinnati. At some point, Patsy said Ralph and Mona began talking about hanging upside down in a nearby tree. Mona climbed up the tree and Patsy took her picture. Then Ralph got in the tree and fell. As he lay on the ground, he told his family that his neck was broken and requested that they put a board under him until the doctors could arrive. Ralph was taken to a hospital where he told Ella, “When I bite down on the ice it makes a musical tone in my head.”
On Thursday, May 22, 1947, Ralph died at the age of 34. The family was afraid that Ella might hear of his death over the radio. She was staying at Mona’s apartment at the time.
On May 24 — Mona’s birthday — Ralph was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery near Cincinnati. Patsy said Ed never made it to Ralph’s funeral, nor did Lawrence, who was in the service in Florida but Mona remembered that Lawrence was there on emergency leave. Someone played “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere”, Ralph’s favorite hymn.
Celeste later wrote Ella, mentioning how her son had an ear problem. When the family wrote to tell her of Ralph’s death, she figured they were making it up just so she would stop writing.
We figured that Ralph was Mona’s favorite brother since she had named her oldest son after him, but she said Jack was her favorite brother because he had taken up for her the most. She said Ella had been the one who named her son after Ralph. She also spoke highly of Noah, who contracted malaria and saw a lot of combat during World War II.
“Noah was good to send things home to Mom and Pop during the war,” Mona said. “And when he came home he laid carpet and fixed doorbells did things like that for Mom there at 17th Street.”
Noah went to Cleveland around 1950. Pat said Noah’s wife was a high-strung person. Their daughter Rosemary killed herself when she was eighteen. She wanted to get married but her mother protested, so she went into her brother’s room and shot herself in the head. In later years, Noah and Janet divorced. Pat said Noah’s son Jimmy really did a good job of looking after them. Janet died several years ago.
Arkansas Traveler, Billy in the Lowground, Birdie, Black Bottom, Brandon Kirk, Brushy Fork of John's Creek, Charles Conley Jr., Charlie "Goo" Conley, Charlie Conley, Dixie Darling, Dood Dalton, Down Yonder, Drunken Hiccups, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, Garfield's Blackberry Blossom, Goin' Across the Sea, Handome Molly, Harts Creek, Hell Among the Yearlings, history, I Don't Love Nobody, John Hartford, Logan, Logan County, music, Pickin' on the Log, Stackolee, The Fun's All Over, Twinkle Little Star, West Virginia, Wog Dalton, writing
After a few minutes of downplaying his ability, Charlie had his wife fetch his fiddle from inside the house. With some hesitation, he put it against his chest and took off on “The Fun’s All Over”.
After he’d finished, I asked him if Ed played with the fiddle at his chest and he said no — he put it under his chin.
Charlie played some more for us: “Birdie”, “Stagolee”, “Twinkle Little Star”, and “I Don’t Love Nobody”.
He seemed a little displeased with his playing, remarking, “Boys when your fingers stop working like they used to, you don’t do as you want to. You do as you can.”
Brandon asked Charlie, “Do you remember how Ed pulled his bow when he played?”
“He held it like that toward the middle and just shoved it,” Charlie said. “He played a long stroke. When he’d be playing a long stroke, I’d be a playing a short stroke and every now and then you’d see him turn his head around and listen to ya. If you missed a note, buddy, he called you down right there. ‘That ain’t right,’ he’d say. ‘That ain’t right.’ Man, he’d sit in playing ‘er again just like a housefire.”
I asked, “When Ed would play a tune, how long would he play it for?”
“He’d play as long as they’d dance,” he said.
Would he play it for fifteen minutes?
“No, hell, he’d play for an hour at a time,” Charlie said. “After he finished a tune, he’d hit another’n.”
I wondered if Ed ever played “Down Yonder”.
“Yeah, I’ve heard him play it,” Charlie said. “He played everything in the world, Ed did.”
What if someone asked him to play something he didn’t like?
“He’d shake his head no and he’d play something else,” Charlie said. “That’s just the way he was…he was a stubborn old man. He had one he played he called ‘Handsome Molly’.”
“That’s almost ‘Goin’ Across the Sea’,” I said. “Did Ed play ‘Goin’ Across the Sea’?”
Charlie said, “Yeah, that old woman would sing it.”
I got out my fiddle, hoping to get Charlie’s memory working on more of Ed’s tunes. I played “Blackberry Blossom” and “Brushy Fork of John’s Creek” with little response other than, “Yep, those are some of old man Ed’s tunes.”
Then, when I played “Hell Among the Yearlings”, Charlie caught me off guard by saying, “That’s called ‘Pickin’ on the Log’.”
At that juncture, he took hold of his fiddle and played “Arkansas Traveler” and “Billy in the Lowground”.
I could tell he was loosening up, so I got him to play “Warfield”. It was about the same thing as the Carter Family’s “Dixie Darling”, to which it would be real easy to sing:
Goodbye girls, we’re goin’ to Warfield.
Goodbye girls, we’re goin’ to Warfield.
Goodbye girls, we’re goin’ to Warfield.
Naugatuck’s gone dry.
It was great to watch Charlie because he was the first active fiddler I’d met on Harts Creek.
During our visit, Brandon and I were able to formulate some idea of Charlie’s background. He was born in 1923. His father Charlie, Sr. went by the nickname of “Goo” to distinguish him from his uncle Charlie Conley — the one who’d killed John Brumfield in 1900. Charlie’s earliest memories of fiddling were of watching his father play “some” on old tunes like “Drunken Hiccups”. He also remembered Dood Dalton.
“Yeah, I’ve heard him play,” he said. “I don’t know how good he was, but I’ve heard him jiggle around on the fiddle. He used to come up home. I was raised right up in the head of this creek up here. Him and my daddy was double first cousins and my daddy had an old fiddle. They’d get it out and they’d play on it half of the night — first one and then another playing on it — but I couldn’t make heads or tails of what they was playing.”
Charlie didn’t know that his great-grandfather Wog Dalton had been a fiddler.
Charlie told us a little bit about his early efforts at fiddling.
“My daddy had that old fiddle and I heard him fool with it so much I said to myself, ‘Well, I’ll just see if I can do anything with it.’ And I started fooling with it and the more I fooled with it the more I wanted to fool with it and I just got to where I could play it a little bit.”
Charlie got good enough to fiddle for dances all over Logan County, sometimes getting as much as fifty dollars a night at Black Bottom in Logan.
“You had to duck and dodge beer bottles all night,” he said. “Man, it was the roughest place I ever seen in my life. They’d get their guts cut out, brains knocked out with beer bottles and everything.”
It sounded a lot like my early days back home.
I asked Charlie how he met Ed and he said, “I got acquainted with him up there at Logan when him and his wife played under that mulberry tree there at that old courthouse. And I’d hear about him playing square dances. I was playing over there at this place one time — he was there. This guy had got him to come there and play, too. He just sit down there, buddy, and we set in playing. We fiddled to daylight. People a dancing, I’m telling you the truth, the dust was a rolling off the floor.”
Charlie said the last dance he remembered on Harts Creek was in 1947.
Alton Conley, Big Creek, blind, Blood in West Virginia, Brown's Run, Burl Farley, Charles Conley Jr., Charlie Conley, Clifford Belcher, Conley Branch, crime, Ed Belcher, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddler, fiddling, Green McCoy, Green Shoal, Guyandotte River, Harts Creek, history, John Brumfield, Lincoln County Feud, Logan, Logan County, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, music, Robert Martin, Smokehouse Fork, Warfield, West Virginia, Wirt Adams, writing
From Clifton’s, we went to see Charlie Conley, Jr., a fiddler who lived on the Conley Branch of Smokehouse Fork of Harts Creek. Wirt Adams had mentioned his name to us the previous summer. We found Charlie sitting on his porch and quickly surrounded him with a fiddle, tape recorder, and camera.
When I told him about my interest in Ed Haley’s life, he said Ed played so easy it was “like a fox trotting through dry leaves.”
Charlie said Ed was a regular at Clifford Belcher’s tavern.
“Right there, that’s where we played at on the weekends,” he said. “He used to play there a lot, the old man Ed Haley did. Me and another boy, Alton Conley — he’s my brother-in-law, just a kid… I bought him a guitar and he learned how to play pretty good. He could second pretty good to me, but he couldn’t keep up with that old man. He knowed too many notes and everything for him. The old man realized he was just a kid.”
Charlie told us an interesting story about how Ed came to be blind.
“Milt and Burl Farley, they was drinking where Burl lived down at the mouth of Browns Run. And Ed was just a little baby — been born about a week. Old man Burl said to Milt, ‘Take him out here and baptize him in this creek. It’ll make him tough.’ And it was ice water. He just went out and put him in that creek and baptized the kid and the kid took the measles and he lost his eyes. That’s how come him to be blind.”
That was an interesting picture: Milt and Burl hanging out on Browns Run. We had never really thought about it, but there was a great chance that all the men connected up in the 1889 troubles knew each other pretty well and maybe even drank and played cards together on occasion. For all we knew, Milt may have worked timber for Farley.
Brandon asked Charlie if he knew what happened to Milt Haley.
“They said the Brumfields killed him,” Charlie said. “Him and his uncle was killed over at a place called Green Shoal over on the river somewhere around Big Creek. They were together when they got killed. That was way back. I never knew much about it.”
Obviously Green McCoy wasn’t Ed’s uncle, but I had to ask Charlie more about him.
“All I can tell you is he was old man Ed’s uncle,” he said. “They lived over there on the river, around Green Shoal.”
So Ed was raised on the river?
“No, he lived down here on the creek, right where that old man baptized him in that cold water at the mouth of Browns Run,” Charlie said. “That’s where he was born and raised at, the old man was.”
I guess Charlie meant that Green lived “over there on the river,” which was sorta true.
He didn’t know why Milt Haley was killed, but said, “Back then, you didn’t have much of a reason to kill a man. People’d get mad at you and they wouldn’t argue — they’d start shooting. Somebody’d die. I know the Conleys and the Brumfields had a run in over there on the river way back. Oh, it’s been, I guess, ninety year ago. Man, they had a shoot-out over there and right to this day they got grudges against the Conley people. I’ve had run-ins with them several times. I say, ‘Look man, this happened before my time. Why you wanna fool with me for?’ But they just had a grudge and they wouldn’t let go of it.”
When we asked Charlie about local fiddlers, he spoke firstly about Robert Martin.
“They said Robert was a wonderful fiddler,” he said. “I had a half-brother that used to play a guitar with him when he played the fiddle named Mason Conley. I used to play with his brothers over there on Trace and with Wirt and Joe Adams. Bernie Adams — he was my first cousin. They said Robert was a wonderful fiddler.”
What about Ed Belcher?
“Yeah, Ed was pretty good, but he couldn’t hold old man Ed Haley a light to fiddle by. Belcher was more of a classical fiddler. Now, he could make a piano talk, that old guy could. I knowed him a long time ago. I noticed he’d go up around old man Ed and every oncest in a while he’d call out a tune for him to play. Ed’d look around and say, ‘Is that you, Belcher?’ Said, ‘Yeah,’ and he’d set in a fiddling for him. Maybe he’d throw a half a dollar in his cup and walk on down the street.”
Brandon said to Charlie, “Ed Belcher lived up at Logan, didn’t he?” and Charlie blew us away with answer: “Well now, old man Ed Haley lived up there then at that time. They lived out there in an apartment somewhere. The little girl was about that high the last time I seen her.”
Well, that was the first I heard of Ed living in Logan — maybe it was during his separation from Ella, or maybe there was an earlier separation, when Mona was a little girl.
I asked about a tune called “Warfield” and Charlie said, “That ‘Warfield’ is out of my vocabulary, buddy. I’ve done forgot them old tunes, now.”
Ashland, blind, Cincinnati, Crosley Radio Weekly, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, feud, fiddler, fiddling, Green McCoy, Hamlin, history, Kentucky, Lincoln County Feud, Lincoln Republican, Milt Haley, music, Ohio, West Virginia, WLW
About that time, Brandon found this teeth-rattling article while scanning through microfilm of the Lincoln Republican at the public library in Hamlin, West Virginia. It was titled “Ed Haley and Wife Play for the Radio” and dated Thursday, August 28, 1924.
The Crosley Radio Weekly, published at Cincinnati, Ohio, contains a good picture of Ed Haley and wife, the blind musicians so well known in Hamlin, with an interesting story of Mr. Haley, which we reproduce as follows:
The picture above is that of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Haley, of Ashland, Ky., blind fiddlers, who soon will entertain WLW listeners with a most interesting concert. They have the reputation of being the best old-time music makers of the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky, making a living for themselves and their three children by playing at dances and county fairs. Mr. Haley is shown playing a fiddle connected with which there is a very interesting story of the old mountain feud days. His father was involved in the famous Brumfield-McCoy feud and was captured by the Brumfields. He was told he was to be shot to death in five minutes, during which time he calmly played his fiddle, the same one his son plays for radio listeners and which he was holding when the above picture was taken. The feudist and a friend was shot to death when the five minutes expired and both their bodies were buried in a wooden box. The fiddle, however, was kept by the Brumfields for some years and later returned to the son of the murdered man.
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.”
Alabama, blind, Brandon Kirk, Calhoun County, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, genealogy, history, Jack Haley, John Hartford, Lawrence Haley, Mona Haley, Noah Haley, Ralph Haley, Rogersville, Ugee Postalwait, West Virginia, writing
Ugee said, “I never will forget the first time I seen Ella. I’d fixed cabbage for supper — big head of cabbage. Next morning, Ed said, ‘Where’s the cabbage?’ I said, ‘Well you don’t want cabbage for breakfast.’ ‘Oh,’ Ella said, ‘We love cabbage for breakfast.’ I went and got that cabbage and heated it up. I wish you’d a seen her eating that cabbage. I didn’t know anyone ate cabbage for breakfast. I was a fixing eggs and bacon.”
Brandon asked about Ella’s appearance.
“Ella wasn’t no bad looking woman at all,” Ugee said. “She was a nice looking woman, I thought. When I seen her, she had had three kids and she was a little heavier then. She kept herself nice-looking. She liked to wear nice dresses and she liked to wear hose. You’d be surprised to see her wash them kids and clean them. Now really you would. She’d pick them kids up and say, ‘Come here, you’ve got a dirty face.’ How she knowed they had a dirty face, I don’t know.”
I asked Ugee if Ed ever got into any fights, because his face looked lop-sided in one of his pictures.
“Aw, he’s fell a lot of times,” she said. “I’ve seen his boy Clyde and that Ralph — wasn’t his son, but he called him his son — I’ve seen them lead him across logs and let him fall down and laugh about it. Yeah, they didn’t care for doing anything like that. No wonder when he’d get up, if he could get to one of them, he’d whoop one of them. They was into everything. I never seen Lawrence or Jack either one into anything. But you turned Ralph or Clyde loose anyplace, they might ‘weigh’ chickens and kill your chickens. Maybe put a string around their neck and hold them up and maybe kill two or three hens — choke them to death. Why, Ed’d get mad. Ella would, too, over things like that. She’d say, ‘My, my, my.’ They’d run in and grab their purse and take their money. Ella’d buy anything they wanted.”
Even though Ed’s kids treated him rough, Ugee said he “liked to joke and talk and laugh. I never seen Ed Haley mad but once in my life. Me and him almost fit, too, that time. He whooped Clyde. He oughta whipped Clyde but not like he did. Clyde aimed to jerk him off the porch. If he had, he’d a killed him. And he jerked his belt off and he went to whooping Clyde. And he was whooping hard. He was trying to beat him to death. I walked out on the porch and said, ‘That’s enough, Ed.’ And he said, ‘Damn him. He tried to kill me.’ I grabbed a hold of the belt. He said, ‘Ugee, let loose of it.’ I said, ‘I ain’t letting loose of it. You’ve whooped him enough and I don’t want to see no more of that. While I’m living, don’t you ever hit one of them kids with a belt. I don’t allow that.’ He said, ‘I’ll whip them with a belt when I’m damn good and ready.’ I said, ‘You’ll not whip them here — not like that.’ I mean, he was beating him.”
Brandon asked if the other boys were mean to Ed or ever got whipped and Ugee said, “Clyde’s the only one I ever seen him whoop. They was about to send him to reform school — stealing, I think. He musta been about fourteen years old. That there Ralph, he was ornerier than… That Ralph even shot hisself with a gun to see how it’d feel to be shot. That was up where we lived. My mother doctored him. Mona, she was ornery. She’d steal off her mom. Take stuff out and destroy it. She was pretty as she could be. She’d just look at you as if to say, ‘I’ll do as I please.’ Ed swore she was just like her aunt on her mother’s side. And Noah was sneaking — dangerous sneaking. He was into everything and he’d lie. Noah was awful bad about gambling.”
Ugee really contrasted Ralph, Clyde, Noah, and Mona with Jack and Lawrence.
“Jack and Lawrence was gentlemen,” she said. “None of them come up with Lawrence, far as I’m concerned. He would lead his mom and dad anyplace. I can see how careful he was. That little hand of his leading his mother around this mud hole, ’round this log and stuff. Really, I’m not taking up for him because he’s dead or anything like that. I always called him ‘my little boy.’ He was always littler than the rest of them.”
Alabama, Arnoldsburg, Ashland, Bill Day, Brandon Kirk, Buttermilk Mountain, Calhoun County, Catlettsburg, Cincinnati, Doc White, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, England, fiddlers, fiddling, George Hayes, Grand Ole Opry, Great Depression, Harvey Hicks, history, Jean Thomas, Jilson Setters, John Hartford, Kentucky, Laury Hicks, Minnie Hicks, Mona Haley, music, Nashville, Nora Martin, Rogersville, Rosie Day, Sweet Florena, Ugee Postalwait, West Virginia, writing
I asked Ugee if Laury ever listened to the Grand Ole Opry and she said, “Yes. He got to hear it the year before he died. He got a radio. Let’s see, what is his name? George Hayes. We had Hayeses that lived down at Arnoldsburg. And he brought Dad up a little radio when Dad was down sick.”
Now, did Ed Haley ever hear the Grand Ole Opry?
“Oh, yes. He heard it down in Kentucky.”
Did he like it?
“No. He went to Cincinnati one time. They was a gonna make records — him and Ella — but they wanted to pick out the one for him to play. Nobody done him that a way. So he said, ‘I’ll pick my own.’ He went to Nashville once. I don’t know as he went to the Grand Ole Opry but he went to Nashville. Somebody drove him, took him down. But when he found out what they done, he didn’t have no use for that.”
Ugee made it clear that she had missed out on most of Ed’s wild times. She knew nothing about his running around with people like Doc White or chasing women. She did say he was bad about telling “dirty jokes.”
“Many a time he’s told me, ‘All right, Ugee. You better get in the kitchen. I’m gonna tell a dirty joke.’ And he’d tell some kind and you could hear the crowd out there just a dying over it. Ella’d say, ‘Mmm, I’ll go to the kitchen, too.'”
I asked Ugee about Ed’s drinking and she told the story again about her brother Harvey giving him drinks to play “Sweet Florena”. She sang some of it for me:
Oncest I bought your clothes, sweet Florena.
Oncest I bought your clothes, sweet Florene
Oncest I bought your clothes but now I ain’t got no dough
And I have to travel on, sweet Florene.
After finishing that verse, Ugee said, “That’s part of the song. And Ella didn’t like to hear that song. I think it reminded her of some of his old girlfriends or something. And she didn’t like for him to play ‘Buttermilk Mountain’, either. He’d throw back his head and laugh. She’d say, ‘Don’t play that thing. I don’t want to hear that thing.’ But she’d second it. She’d draw her eyes close together.”
Brandon asked Ugee about her aunt Rosie Hicks, who was Laury’s sister and a close friend to the Haley family. She said Aunt Rosie was working in Ed’s home in Catlettsburg when she met Blind Bill Day (her sixth husband) during the early years of the Depression. It was a rocky marriage, according to Rosie’s only child, Nora (Davis) Martin.
“I was gonna tell you about him hitting Aunt Rosie,” Ugee said. “He came through the house and Aunt Rosie was upstairs quilting and all at once — Nora said she was in the kitchen cooking — and she heard the awfulest noise a coming down the stairs and said, ‘Mommy had old Bill Day by the leg and was bringing him bumpety-bump down the stairs, dragging him. Got him in the kitchen. He just walked up and hit her with that left hand right in the mouth. She just jerked his britches off of him and started to sit his bare hind-end on the cook stove — and it red hot.’ And Nora said, ‘Oh, Mommy, don’t do that. You’ll kill him.’ She said, ‘That’s what I’m a trying to do.’ And she grabbed her mother and him both and jerked them away from there.”
Ugee was more complimentary of Day’s colleague, Jean Thomas.
“I’ve got cards from her and letters and pictures,” she said. “I’ve been to her house — stayed all night with her. She was nice. She was too good to Bill Day. She spent money on him and give him the name of Jilson Setters. Sent him to England and he played for the queen over there.”
Brandon wondered if Bill Day was a very good fiddler.
“Well, I’m gonna tell ya, I stayed all night with Aunt Rosie and Bill Day one time,” Ugee said. “They lived on 45th Street in Ashland, Kentucky. My brother took me and my mom down there and he hadn’t seen Aunt Rosie for a long time. She’d married again and she lived down there in Ashland, Kentucky. And we aimed to see Ed and Ella, but they was in Cincinnati playing music. That’s who we went to see. So Harvey, he filled hisself up with beer. That’s the first time I ever seen a quart bottle of beer. Anyway, we went up there to hear Uncle Bill play. Harvey laid down on the bed like he was sick. He wasn’t sick: he wanted me just to listen to that fellow play that fiddle. He knowed I’d get sick of it. And he played that song about the Shanghai rooster. I never got so tired in my life of hearing anything as I did that. He only played three pieces. Harvey laid there, he’d say, ‘Play that again. I love it.’ And I had to sit there and listen to it, ’cause I didn’t want to embarrass him by getting up and walking out. I walked over to Harvey and I said, ‘You’re not sick and you’re not tired, so you get up.’ Said, ‘Ugee, I’ve got an awful headache. I drove all the way down here.’ I said, ‘That bottle that you drank give you the headache, so you get up and you listen to your Uncle Bill.’ He went to the toilet. I said, ‘I’m telling you right now — you’re gonna listen to Uncle Bill if I have to listen to him.’ Harvey said, ‘I’m not listening to him no longer. I’ve heard all I want to hear of Uncle Bill.’ I got Harvey up and then I run and jumped in the bed and I covered my head up with a pillow. But we stayed all night and Aunt Rosie went home with us. She told him she’s a going up to Nora’s, but she went to Calhoun with us in the car, and I reckon while she’s gone old Bill tore up the house. I don’t think they lived together very long after that ’cause it wasn’t very long till she come back home. It was home there at my dad’s.”
Brandon asked if Day ever played with Ed in Calhoun County and Ugee said, “Oh, no. If he had, Dad woulda kicked him out.”
Okay, I thought: so Laury had no tolerance for lesser fiddlers. What about Ed?
“Ed Haley, if somebody was playing a piece of music and they wasn’t hitting it right, he’d stick his hands in his pockets and say, ‘Goddamn, goddamn,'” Ugee said. “Dad’d say, ‘Boy, ain’t he good?’ Ed would cuss a blue streak. Then after the man was gone, whoever it was, Dad and Ed would go to mocking him. Dad and Ed Haley was like brothers. They loved each other. Ella and Mom, too. Jack was the baby the first time I seen Ed after he was married. They was expecting Lawrence, so they named him after my dad. Then when she had Mona, why instead of calling her Minnie, she named her after Mom.”
Akron, Alabama, blind, Brandon Kirk, Calhoun County, Christmas, crime, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddling, Harvey Hicks, history, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Laury Hicks, Marietta, measles, Milt Haley, music, Ohio, Parkersburg, Rogersville, Soldiers Joy, Spencer, Stinson, Ugee Postalwait, Webster Springs, West Virginia, writing
On April 12, 1997, Brandon and I went to see Ugee Postalwait in Rogersville, Alabama. For the most part, she repeated a lot of the same stories I’d heard before, maybe with a new detail or two here and there. We began with her memories of Ed and Johnny Hager, who came to her father’s house around 1913. Brandon asked her specific questions about Johnny, which caused her to say: “He was a little short fella, slender. He was a nice person. Well-mannered. He was a good banjo-player. John Hager was a good friend of Dad and Mom’s both — all of us. Us kids, too. He used to write Mom and Dad. He wrote them from Webster Springs and he wrote them from Greenbrier. Different places where he was at. John wrote a letter back home and said he quit traveling with Ed ’cause Ed drank. He couldn’t take it. I’ve often wondered and studied about what become of him.”
Later, Ed sometimes came with a guitar player, but Ugee couldn’t recall his name.
Brandon was curious to know how far Ed traveled with his music, so he asked if Ed and Ella ever played around Parkersburg.
“I’m pretty sure they have,” Ugee said, “and Marietta, too. Harvey took them up to Akron to play music and they crowded that street so bad up there that they passed a law up there, you couldn’t stand on the corner and play music any more. They wouldn’t allow them to stand on the street. They had to move. See, they was such a crowd got around them.”
I asked, “How much do you reckon Ed would take in of a night?”
Ugee said, “I have seen Ed and Ella take in as much as a hundred dollars right there in Spencer.”
Wow, were they using a cup or a hat to collect money?
“They never used no cup. Just sit a box down or hat down and people come through and throwed money in it. Anyone that come along and dropped money in there, they’d play just the same.”
Would he play me anything I’d ask for?
“Why sure. He’d play it for you and then maybe if you asked for it again he might play you something else and call it that. He didn’t care to rename songs, like ‘Soldiers Joy’. He might call that ‘Runnin’ the Soldier’ or ‘Runnin’ the Track’ or something like that.”
I reminded Ugee that she heard Ed say he just picked up a fiddle and started playing it when he was small and she said, “Oh, yeah. He’d sit in the floor and play on that fiddle. Somebody brought something in that had two strings on it. He wasn’t very old. Just barely a walking, he said. Just like him a talking to me one time, telling me about his dad. Telling about them a lynching him. He said, ‘Goddamn him, they oughta lynched him.’ And I never asked him why. Why would a man say that about his dad? Maybe he was thinking about that man putting him in that barrel of water and causing him to be blind. But Ella’s eyes, they was ate out with blue vitriol.”
Ugee fully believed that measles had caused Ed’s blindness because they almost “put her blind,” too, when she was a girl.
“I must have been about five years old,” she said. “Well, Ed musta been there, too. Musta been the same year he was there that I had the measles and I went blind in my eyes. Couldn’t see nothing for three or four days. Had Granny’s bed set up by the side of the fireplace. I remember that instead of springs, it had rope. And Christmas time come up. And Dad, he played Santa Claus, I reckon. He got me jellybeans. I couldn’t see nothing for two or three weeks. I didn’t think I’d ever see again. Back then, they called them the ‘big’ measles and the ‘little’ measles. The big ones, they called the German measles. And I had them bad. Harvey come around — he was older than I was — he’d say, ‘You stink’, ’cause he could smell that fever on me.”
Brandon asked Ugee what year she was born in, to kind of help us better understand the time frame of her memories.
“I was born in 1907,” she said. “I got married in 1924. I left and went to Akron, but we come back ever month for a long time. If we knowed Ed was a coming in, we was there. I moved back in 1930. We lived on the farm until 1941. Then we went to a farm at the mouth of Stinson.”
At some point, Ugee moved back to Akron, where she lived when I first met her in 1991.
Andy Mullins, Ashland, blind, Brandon Kirk, Columbus, Dobie Mullins, Ed Haley, Edith Dingess, Ella Haley, Ewell Mullins, Ferrellsburg, fiddling, genealogy, Harts Creek, history, Huntington, Imogene Haley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lancaster, Lawrence Haley, Liza Mullins, Liza Napier, Logan, Mud Fork, music, Nashville, Ohio, Ora Booth, Pat Haley, Peter Mullins, West Virginia, writing
By the spring of 1997, Brandon and I were at a reflective point in our research efforts. We had begun to lose our edge. After all, how many times could we ask, “Now, how did Ed Haley hold the bow?” or “Do you remember the names of any tunes he played”? We decided to step away from interviewing people and focus on writing what we knew about Ed’s life and music. I spent long hours in Nashville at my dining room table listening to Ed’s recordings and working with the fiddle, while Brandon — in his three-room house in Ferrellsburg — transcribed interviews, re-checked facts, and constructed a manuscript. This went on for quite some time.
Eventually, Brandon came to visit and we decided to telephone a few people and ask more questions. Our first call went out to Edith Dingess, the only surviving child of Ed’s uncle, Peter Mullins. Andy and Dobie Mullins had told us about her several months earlier when we visited them on Harts Creek. Edith, they said, had recently moved from her home on Mud Fork in Logan to stay with a daughter in Columbus, Ohio. When we dialed her up, her daughter said, “She might be able to give you some information. Her memory is pretty bad. She’s 81 years old and she’s had a couple of real major heart attacks.”
I first asked Edith if she knew about Ed’s mother — her aunt — who apparently died in the early 1890s. Unfortunately, Edith didn’t know anything about her. As a matter of fact, she said she barely remembered Ed, who we knew had been practically raised by her father. She said he was a “nice person, likeable” who would “laugh and joke and go on.”
“I know Ed Haley used to come to our house with Mrs. Haley and they had a little girl. Might’ve had some boys — older,” Edith said. “I believe they lived down around Huntington. They’d come up home when my dad was a living and we was all home — I was young then — and they’d play music and we’d have company. We used to have some square dances at our house. We had some good times when he come up there.”
Edith said Ed’s children led him around, but he also got around using a cane.
Before we hung up, Edith gave us the telephone number of her niece, “Little Liza,” who lived with a daughter in Lancaster, Ohio. This was wonderful; I had first heard about Little Liza from Lawrence and Pat Haley in 1991. Little Liza had grown up in Uncle Peter’s home and was a featured face in family photographs. Prior to this lead, I wasn’t even sure if she was still alive.
When we called Liza, we first spoke with her daughter, Ora Booth, who gave the familiar introduction: “I don’t know if you’ll get too much out of her or not. She’s kinda forgetful and she repeats herself a lot. All I can do is put her on the phone and see what you get out of her. She’s seventy-six and her mind just comes and goes on a lot of things.”
I told Liza that I was good friends to Lawrence and Pat Haley, had heard a lot about her, and was very interested in Ed’s life. She said Ed used to stay a week or two with Uncle Peter — who she called “Poppy” — before heading back to Ashland. To our surprise, she had no idea exactly how Ed was related to her family.
“It’s been so long and you know I’ve been sick and everything and been operated on for cancer and stuff and I just don’t feel good,” she said. “When you get old, your mind just comes and goes.”
Just when I thought Liza’s memories of Ed had all but disappeared, she said, “I tell you, he was awful bad to drink all the time. Lord, have mercy. Anything he could drink, he’d drink it. That might have been half what killed him. He was a mean man. Just mean after women and stuff. I don’t know whether he could see a bit or not, but you’d get and hide from him and he’d come towards ya. I was scared of him.”
I asked Liza who Ed played music with when he visited at Peter’s and she said, “He just played with his wife. He didn’t have nobody else to play with. Lord, him and her’d get into a fight and they’d fight like I don’t know what.”
I wondered if Ed fought with his kids.
“Yeah, they liked to killed Ed Haley one time up there,” she said. “They’d just get into a fight and the kids’d try to separate their mommy and daddy and it’d just all come up. I had to holler for Ewell to come down there and get them boys off’n Ed Haley ’cause I was afraid they’s a gonna kill him. I didn’t want that to happen, you know? He got down there and buddy he put them boys a going. They was mean. I guess they took that back after Ed Haley. Yeah, he’d come up there and go here and yonder. After Mommy and Poppy got so bad off, people’d bring him down there and set him off and I had to take care of them, so Poppy just told him, said, ‘Ed, she has to wait on us and she can’t wait on you. You’ll just have to go somewhere else.’ He did.”
That was a horrible image.
accordion, Aracoma, Ashland, Bill Bowler, Clayton White, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, history, Kentucky, Kiss Me Quick, Lawrence Haley, Logan, Lula Lee, Man of Constant Sorrow, Manuel Martin, Mona Haley, music, Nora Martin, Old Man Duff, Pat Haley, Soutwood Mountain, West Virginia, writing
Meanwhile, as Brandon flushed out more information about the 1889 feud, I was on the phone with Ed’s daughter, Mona Hager. In no time, she was singing “Old Man Duff”, one of Ed’s songs:
Old Man Duff was so doggone tough
That they called him dynamite.
On a mattress filled with broken glass
He rested well each night.
He combed his hair with a garden rake
And he ate his vittles raw.
He picked his teeth with a horseshoe nail
And he shaved his beard with a saw.
Old Man Duff was mighty tough
And rough as a man could be.
He had hair on his chest
And he wore no vest a
And he looked like a chimpanzee.
Old Man Duff had a daughter fair
But she died a poor old maid.
Lots of men woulda courted her
But they were all afraid.
Once old Duff seen a fella with her.
You could hear him rave and shout:
He’d put his hand down the poor man’s throat
And he’d turn him inside out.
Old Man Duff was mighty rough
And tough as a man could be.
He ate iron nails and the bones of whales
And he drank gasoline for tea.
Old Man Duff lived a thousand years
And he died and went below.
And when old Satan looked at him
He smiled and said, “Hello.”
Now the fire was mighty hot
When they put old Duff in there,
But he layed right down and he went to sleep
And it never singed a hair.
Old Man Duff was mighty rough
And tough as a man could be.
He had hair on his chest
And he wore no vest
And he looked like a chimpanzee.
Mona also remembered Ed singing “Man of Constant Sorrow”. She said Ed sometimes sang “little ditties” like with “Sourwood Mountain”. Ella did the same thing to “Kiss Me Quick”.
Kiss me quick, kiss me runnin’.
Kiss me quick ’cause my daddy’s comin’.
Love my wife, love my baby.
Love my biscuits sopped in gravy.
Ed never called square dances but would “blurt out some of the square dance reel” while fiddling.
I told Mona that I was still very interested in the source of Ed’s music.
“Pop was around a lot of blacks, you know, up in the coalfields up in West Virginia,” she said. “I even had a black nanny up there. She babysat me sometimes for Mom and Pop. Now that was at Manuel and Nora Martin’s house on the hill there at Aracoma [near Logan]. And Pop took me up to an old color lady’s bootleg joint one time somewhere up in West Virginia. And I know he was around a lot of blacks and I know that he learned some of the black’s music. They had a lot of blind friends that made music on the street, too, and one of them was Clayton White. He played an accordion. He walked up from 15th to 16th and back, you know.”
I asked Mona how many musicians were playing on the streets of Ashland in Ed’s time and she said, “Well, there was Pop and Mom, and there was Bill Bowler, and then there was a lady named Lula Lee. Now she was an illiterate woman and a lot of people got my mom and her mixed up. Mom was a cultured lady.”
I asked Mona if she thought her mother’s education rubbed off on Ed over the years and she said, “Oh, yeah. He only got uncultured when he was drinking. He talked well educated but of course he wasn’t. He was a very intelligent man.”
Mona seemed surprised when I told her that Ed could supposedly quote the Bible.
I asked her more about Ed’s and Ella’s relationship in later years and she said, “You know about me bringing him back from Logan back to Mom after they were divorced? Well, I was up there and I persuaded Pop to come home with me and I brought Pop home and he had one of those long change purses that snapped together and he had that in his pocket. And when we got home, he sit down and he was talking to Mom and he said, ‘Ella, I’ve got this plumb full of half-dollars and if you’ll let me sit by your fire this winter, I’ll give them all to you.’ I’m glad I took him home. That was when we lived on Greenup. He stayed with her until he died. Eventually Mom stayed with Lawrence and Patricia. She didn’t do any good after Pop died. She lost her friends. She didn’t have anybody to talk to.”
So after their divorce, they had a good relationship?
“They had a better relationship than they did before the divorce,” Mona said.
Ashland, Brandon Kirk, Calhoun County, Ed Haley Fiddle Contest, Ella Haley, fiddler, fiddling, George Carr, history, Kentucky, Laury Hicks, Madison, midwife, Minnie Hicks, music, Roane County, Spencer, Walker School House, West Virginia, writing
The next day, at the fiddling contest, Brandon met George Carr of Madison, West Virginia. George said Ed was the reason he started playing the fiddle many years ago.
“I was raised in Calhoun County,” he said. “I first saw Ed Haley as a small boy in the one-room Walker School House. Sometime in the early ’30s, about ’34, ’35, I’d say. Him and his wife came and they played for us and he fascinated me with that fiddle. And he had a son called ‘Puckett’ and I don’t know what ever became of him. But Ed and his wife would play on the streets in Spencer where the stock sale was every Friday and they would play there and she pinned a tin cup in her apron and they got nickels and dimes and quarters and fifty cents but no greenbacks. He stayed with a fella by the name of Laury Hicks who was a local fiddler and a self-taught veterinarian. His wife, Minnie Hicks, was a midwife — delivered many, many babies — who held my father in her arms when he was a small baby and he died in ’75 and he was 77 years old.”
About an hour later, Brandon showed up at Pat’s, followed by various members of the Haley clan: Noah, Clyde, and a bunch of children and grandchildren. The house was soon full of people — talking and eating. It was a bittersweet moment due to Lawrence’s absence, although his spirit was everywhere. I watched the Haleys — Ed’s children and grandchildren — business executives, gamblers, bar owners — mix with one another. Conversation was friendly between them, although there seemed to be an estrangement — especially among the younger ones. Basically, they were raised up separate from each other (the “Kentucky Haleys” vs. the “Ohio Haleys”); to be honest, it was as if they really didn’t know each other that well.
I realized that the binding force in Ed’s family — the glue that held all of them together — was the music…or at least the memory of it. Children who had never met before were sitting in the floor together or running through the house and yard — some hearing about Ed for the first time. I kept thinking about how one of them might some day pick up a fiddle and naturally crank out some of those “Haley licks.”
Brandon and I sat in the living room with Noah, Clyde, and Mona. Clyde immediately started talking about Ed.
“I used to hate him — hate that man — the way he treated Mom,” he said.
“Evidently, Mom cared for him or she wouldn’t a let it go on,” Noah said.
“I learnt as I got older and got a little tolerance in my mind I learned to forgive my hate for my dad to something else,” Clyde said. “I give it to God or whatever you want to call it.”
“I think the reason you didn’t like him Clyde was because when we stole them ducks there at Keyser Creek, he took each one in a room by ourself and he took a strap and he held us by the arm and he beat the hell out of us,” Noah said, laughing.
“That was Mr. Runyon’s ducks,” Clyde said. “Yeah, he beat us with the buckle part of that belt.”
“Yeah, and I think that’s why you didn’t like him,” Noah said. “I remember that beating we got.”
Clyde said, “Oh, we got a good one, didn’t we?”
I asked where Ed lived when that happened and Clyde said, “That was a four-room house. Ralph, our oldest brother, he had made a trapdoor in that floor and he used to bootleg moonshine through that trapdoor.”
“Clyde, you remember the cow he stole and kept it under the porch?” Noah asked.
Clyde said, “Yeah, Ralph did that. That wasn’t a cow. That was a calf. Our house stood up on stilts and Ralph or somebody had fenced that all in to keep that calf in. Got that while he was in the CCCs.”
Noah said, “And he built a trapdoor so he could go down through the floor…”
“In the bedroom,” Mona added.
Clyde laughed and said, “Ralph got that calf in the house and he was trying to put that calf up in Mom’s lap and it done something all over Mom.”
Ashland, Ashland Daily Independent, Benny Martin, Brad Leftwich, Bruce Molsky, Buddy Spicher, Charlie Acuff, Earl Scruggs, Ed Haley Fiddle Contest, Ella Haley, fiddling, Fletcher Bright, history, Hoot Hester, Jim Wood, John Hartford, Kentucky, mandolin, Mike Compton, Mona Haley, music, My Happy Childhood Days Down on the Farm, Nashville, Pat Gray, Pat Haley, Patsy Haley, Poage Landing Days, writing
Meanwhile, plans were underway for an “Ed Haley Fiddle Festival” in Ashland. The whole idea was conceived by Pat Gray, a local real estate agent who’d been inspired by an article in the Ashland Daily Independent regarding our interest in Ed’s life. Pat incorporated the “festival” (which was actually a fiddling contest) into Ashland’s Poage Landing Days, a citywide carnival-like celebration centered on the downtown area. The fiddle contest was scheduled to take place in the basement/auditorium of a Presbyterian church in Ashland. Pat declared me the “Grand Marshall” of the Poage Landing Parade, booked my band and I for an evening show and even offered to put us up at her place.
We pulled into Ashland on September 20th, 1996 and parked the bus in a church parking lot just down the hill from Pat Haley’s. Mike Compton, my mandolin player, and I walked up to Pat’s for breakfast (at her invitation) where I found her entertaining Mona and Patsy (Jack’s wife). Mona had written out the words to some of Ed’s songs for me, like “My Happy Childhood Days Down on the Farm”:
When a lad I used to dwell
In a place I loved so well
Far away among the clover and the bees.
Where the morning glory vine
‘Round our cabin door did twine
And the robin red breast sang among the trees.
In my happy boyhood days down on the farm.
There was a father old and gray
And a sister young and gay
And a mother dear to keep us from all harm.
There I passed life’s sunny hours
Running wild among the flowers
In my happy boyhood days down on the farm.
It was obvious that Mona had been thinking a lot about Ed’s music, so I didn’t waste any time getting my fiddle out for her. She caught me a bit off guard when she asked me if she could accompany me using Mike’s mandolin. The next thing I knew, she was playing right along with me — scarily like her mother. After we’d finished a tune everyone got really quiet, then Patsy looked at Mike and said, “You’ve just lost your job.”
Several tunes later, I asked Mona about Ed’s bowing style. There was a lot of conflicting information on that, so I wanted to get her opinion again. She said Ed “mixed things up,” or more specifically, that he varied his bowing between long and short strokes.
I had kinda figured that was true and had even come to think that maybe he had “area bowings,” much like his “area tunes.” It’s really a very natural thing. I play different tunes and different ways when I’m with the Goforths and Hawthornes in Missouri than when I’m with Earl Scruggs and Benny Martin in Nashville, or Fletcher Bright, or Jim Wood, or Bruce Molsky and Brad Leftwich, or Charlie Acuff, or Buddy Spicher, or Hoot Hester.
I should say here that all this business of bow holds, short and long bow strokes, and whether Ed held the fiddle under his chin or not, should never be taken as Scripture. In my own experience, I’ve held the fiddle under my chin, on my arm, on my chest, with all kinds of chin rests, no chin rests, shoulder rests, and used different kinds of bows. (I even used to tape a tin penny nail or two on the bow shaft for weight when I pulled it for long square dances so I wouldn’t have to press down with my index finger.) I’ve bowed heavy, light, long strokes, short strokes, off-string, on-string, and so forth. I’m sure that Ed’s technique — like mine or probably any musician — was constantly changing. What I have tried to document with Ed is who saw him play a certain way, where and when. It’s important to keep that in mind so as to not get lost in the contradictions.
Billy Adkins, blind, Brandon Kirk, Cacklin Hen, Clyde Haley, Dood Dalton, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddling, guitar, Harts, Harts Creek, history, Huntington, John Hartford, Lincoln County, Logan, mandolin, Marshall Kelley, music, West Virginia, writing
That night, Brandon and I congregated at Billy Adkins’ house in Harts Bottom. In ensuing conversation, Billy told us about Marshall Kelley, an old-timer in the community who remembered Ed. He dialed Marshall up, then put me on the telephone. Marshall said he was seventy-three years old, had been born and raised about three miles up Harts Creek and was the son of a Baptist preacher. He was great: I didn’t have to prod him with questions. He just took off, beginning with a story about seeing Ed walking up toward Dood Dalton’s.
“I was about two or three blocks away from him,” Marshall said. “I lived in a house about 100 yards from the road and I could see the people going and coming up and down the road. And I saw a man — a little bit short — going, walking. It looked like he was carrying a guitar — might have been a mandolin — in one hand and his fiddle in the other hand. Somebody said they believed that was Ed Haley and he was being led by a young man that was just a little taller than him. In other words, this man was holding onto his arm. They were walking side by side. And he went down there and went up a hollow then about half a mile — maybe three quarters of a mile — to the home of Dood Dalton. They were acquainted with each other. Ed played the fiddle the biggest part of the afternoon.”
I asked Marshall if he remembered anything specific about Ed’s fiddling.
“I heard him play the ‘Cacklin’ Hen’ on the fiddle and made her cackle,” he said. “Buddy, he could make that sound just almost exactly like a chicken cackling. And I noticed the sound of that fiddle. And down in those little grooves — places where you could look down in the head of his fiddle — I could see some letters down in there, like a little sticker, that said, ‘Made in Germany.’ And his fiddle looked old cause it didn’t have much varnish on it. Dood made mention about putting new varnish on it and he said he didn’t want to. He said they played better — had a better sound — without any varnish on it. None of them sounded just like his fiddle and he wouldn’t change.”
Marshall said he saw Ed play at Logan and Huntington, too.
Then I heard him two or three times in Logan up around the courthouse singing and playing. One time they was a woman with him somebody said was his wife and she was also blind. I believe she was playing a mandolin. Then the next thing, I grew up a little bit and I went to Huntington. And I was a going down one of the streets and I heard a fiddle a playing. It was far enough away that I couldn’t tell what direction it was in. I stopped once and listened. And after a while, I went on down there and here was a gang of people ganged up and there was him and his wife again a playing. And I thought as I went walking down that way, ‘That sounds just like Ed Haley.’ And sure enough it was.”
Just before Marshall and I hung up, he told me what he knew about the Haley children.
“I only got acquainted with the one named Clyde,” he said. “And I saw him there at Dood Dalton’s house. Just talked with him a little bit. Me and him was approximately the same age. He got to sparking Dood’s girl and I was trying to take her away from him and whenever I seen I couldn’t make no headway I just walked away and left and then she quit him.”