Appalachia, Ashland, Bobby Taylor, Ed Haley, Ed Haley Memorial Fiddle Contest, fiddle, fiddle contest, fiddling, history, J.P. Fraley, John Harrod, Kentucky, Poage Landing Days
20 Thursday May 2021
Posted Ashland, Ed Haley, Musicin
16 Tuesday Feb 2021
Posted Big Sandy Valley, Hatfield-McCoy Feudin
13 Saturday Feb 2021
Posted Huntington, Musicin
23 Wednesday Dec 2020
Posted Huntington, Musicin
29 Saturday Feb 2020
31 Sunday Mar 2019
Posted Big Harts Creek, Whirlwindin
Anna Brumfield, Appalachia, Belle Adams, Bob Dingess, Dave Dingess, fiddle, genealogy, Harts Creek, history, Hollena Dingess, Logan Banner, Logan County, Lula Whitt, Ora Tomblin, singing schools, Weltha Hensley, West Virginia, Whirlwind
A correspondent named “Little Ted” from Whirlwind at Harts Creek in Logan County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Banner printed on January 19, 1923:
Mr. Robert Dingess is conducting a good school on Pond.
Miss Hollena Dingess is enjoying school teaching now. Wonder why?
Suppose the Big 4 Taxi arrives now. Remember, they are acquainted with Harts Creek?
Miss Weltha Hensley made a flying trip to Whirlwind last Friday.
Mr. Robert Dingess calls on Miss Anna Brumfield now.
The singing school is progressing nicely at present.
Harts Creek has a number of mechanics and carpenters. They are completing a cornstalk fiddle at Dave Dingess’.
They are arranging for a millinery store on Trace.
Ora Tomblin was calling on his best friend Sunday.
They are arranging for a party at Mrs. Belle Adams’ school. The air will smell of pumpkin pie then.
Yes, Harts Creeker. “More pud.”
Lula Whitt is some little vamp of this place.
04 Sunday Oct 2015
Posted Ashland, Ed Haley, Musicin
04 Sunday Oct 2015
15 Saturday Aug 2015
Posted Ed Haley, Music, Women's Historyin
Appalachia, fiddle, fiddler, history, Josie Cline, Kentucky, Kermit, music, photos, U.S. South, Warfield, West Virginia
26 Friday Jun 2015
Posted John Hartfordin
banjo, bluegrass music, Brandon Kirk, country music, fiddle, fiddler, history, John Hartford, life, Madison, Marie Hartford, music, Tennessee, writers, writing
Let me try to describe John’s hands. They were very small in every way. He had frail hands as a gentleman might have, with little hair on them. I don’t recall that his fingers were unusually long. His knuckles were slightly larger than his actual fingers, maybe because his fingers were so thin. He kept his fingernails clean and filed smooth with a file. I remember he often filed his nails while on the bus during road trips; sometimes he filed his nails when conversations barely held his interest, half-listening. He absolutely never bit his fingernails. He seldom used his hands for any type of physical work because he didn’t want to risk hurting them; they were, he said, what paid the bills. The skin on his hands was somewhat loose and pale. When you shook his hand, it was very soft, although I’m sure he had slight callouses on the ends of his left hand fingers from playing the fiddle nearly every waking minute of the day. When I first met John at Morrow Library, he shook my hand and insisted that I call him John, not Mr. Hartford. When I later visited his home in Nashville during the summer for weeks or a month, before I had moved to Nashville, he would always shake my hand before I left for West Virginia. I recall at the end of my first trip how he stood in his driveway between his house and the guest house and remarked that we shouldn’t say goodbye because we would see each other again. John did not particularly like goodbyes; he preferred until next times. At the end of his life, upon commencement of his chemotherapy, he would shake very few people’s hand. Due to the chemotherapy, he was particularly concerned about germs. At that time, we shared a laptop and I always took care to clean the keys with alcohol before passing the laptop to him for manuscript review. I did this because I did not want to pass germs and make him ill; he never asked me to do it. Actually, I recall times he told me that it wasn’t necessary, but I did it anyway. Almost always, if he met someone at an event, they would greet him with a handshake, which he had to decline. It was awkward and in a peculiar way I think he enjoyed it. I may be mistaken, but it seems as if he contemplated or did in fact wear gloves for a short time just for handshakes. On a few occasions, he complained about having shaken hands with stout men who nearly crushed his hand; he detested an unnecessarily firm handshake because he said it might affect his ability to play. Later, after I moved to Nashville and visited and stayed many days and nights in his home I observed and he said that one of his favorite things to do was to sit with Marie on the bedroom couch at night and hold her hand while the two of them watched television. These were, of course, private moments and I only intruded if I had a question about the manuscript or a related matter. John’s wrists were small. He never wore a watch on his wrist, preferring instead to keep a pocket watch – usually tucked in his overalls front pocket or in the pocket of his vest, which he nearly always wore. If I remember correctly, his watch was colored gold, not silver. When I think of his hands, I see them holding a fiddle and bow at the dining room table and on stage, I see them moving across a banjo, I see them holding a fork and knife at dinner, I see them placing tiles on a Scrabble board during our games together, I see them holding a glass of red wine late at night during our conversations, I see them holding a book or a magazine at the couch by the fireplace, I see them gripping the wheel of his Cadillac on our way to Piccadilly Cafeteria, I see them pushing PLAY and turning up the volume on his car stereo…
27 Monday Apr 2015
Posted Ferrellsburg, Musicin
12 Sunday Apr 2015
Posted Big Harts Creekin
Appalachia, banjo, Daisy Adams, farming, fiddle, guitar, Harts Creek, history, Howard Adams, Logan County, music, square dances, U.S. South, West Virginia
This history of early life in Logan County, West Virginia, was written by Howard and Daisy Adams. Howard (1906-1976) and Daisy (b.1915) were children of Major and Belle Dora Adams of Trace Fork of Harts Creek. Titled “The life of pioneers during the latter half of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the 19th century” and written in the late 1960s or early 1970s, their history marks the only known attempt by local people to reconstruct the story of pioneer life. This part of the history includes information regarding industry, clearing of land, farming, and square dances.
The chief industries in those days were farming, raising stock, and timbering. Farming began with axes, saws, and mattocks all swinging. A good piece of land was chosen and clearing it began by chopping and sawing down all the trees on it. The trees had to be trimmed up. That was cutting off all the branches as limbs and putting them in big heaps or piles. The logs of the trees had to be sawed in lengths so they could be rolled together in piles for hauling. All small bushes were grubbed up and put on the brush piles. Clearing land was done mostly during winter months as soon as the land was cleared of all trees and brush and it piled up. Then began the burning of brush and logs. This usually took two or three days and it was hard work. After the burning off was completed, a nice big field or new ground as it was called was now the farmer’s pride. Planting began by sowing seed beds and planting vegetables. Corn was planted in late April or early May. Usually it was hoed two times, once when about 8 to 12 inches high and again when it was about 24 to 30 inches high. People in those days swapped work or had “corn hoeing.” Everybody for several miles around came to help at the workings or corn hoeing. The women came along, too. They usually had quilting parties and also helped with the cooking. Boy, they sure had plenty to eat at the big workings. They had chicken and dumplings, beans, bacon, onions, and corn dodger and lots of other eats from the farm. Everybody gathered around after the day’s work was over.
As soon as supper was over and the dishes washed and put away the beds were moved out of the room called the big house. Then the young men and young women began dancing. Square dancing was a thrilling experience. Some one who knew how called out the reels. The dancers then performed the instruction of the caller. A string band consisting of a fiddle, banjo, and sometimes a guitar furnished the music for the dance. They had refreshments of wine or liquor most all the men took part in the drinking. The girls seldom ever drank. If anyone got drunk he was put out of the dancing or off the floor as they called it. Sometimes the boys would have fist fights over the girls which never amounted to much. After the dance was over, the beds were put back in the big house room and the neighbors all said good night and went home tired and sleepy. All these things happened as time moved along.
28 Thursday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
Brandon Kirk, Ed Haley, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, history, Howdy Forrester, John Hartford, Lawrence Haley, music, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. South, writing
For me a “tune” is a specific order of notes played by a certain person on a certain day at a certain time and given a certain name and if you want to really pin it down you could include the latitude and longitude of the event. If you were not there to personally witness this happening then the word of some one else is okay as long as you include that in the triangulation so that when you have put out this information you can lean back and say to your listener, “Now…you know as much about it as I do and you can draw your own conclusions.” This works for events and etc. Sometimes these sort of documented rumors are as close as we can get to the truth and it’s better than nothing.
I’ve been thinking about how much Ed probably wouldn’t like to think about a whole lot of what we have put in this book. For sure he didn’t like to talk about it, especially to his family. I guess I don’t blame him — he lived it. It’s easy for us to get into all of it from our totally secure positions here in 2000 knowing what we know. And from the vantage point of our research, there are probably some areas where we know things that Ed never did.
We decided to call this book “The Search for Ed Haley: Volume One” because we know that after it comes out people will be calling us saying, “Well, you didn’t call me,” and “You didn’t get that right,” and no telling what. But then that gives us fuel for Volume Two. Of course there is the chance (and it has crossed my mind) that when this book comes out that some of the old Harts Creek animosities might still be smoldering and some people might feel hurt. God, I hope not. Everybody has encouraged us and said it was time to bring out the truth.
In case you hadn’t figured it out, Brandon wrote most all of this book and I just went through and “Hartfordized” it. Even though I have my name up top, Brandon is the one who did all the work. A typical day for us would be Brandon back in the office transcribing taped interviews, making chapters out of them, and working and reworking the words. Me, I’ll be sitting at the dining room table out in the other room sawing on a fiddle. At first when Brandon would bring me a chapter I would go through it on the laptop and make corrections and reword some things. Then Brandon very quickly caught on to what it was I was after, and after awhile he would bring me chapters and I would just read them in amazement and not do anything to them, and we would just go on. It really is wonderful, ’cause even though we know every word in the book when we read it back we still learn things. “Oh, that’s why that happened that way. Well I’ll be damned.”
I’ve given this story a lot of thought and most of what I’m about to say is from instinct and gut reaction cause we didn’t necessarily have cold hard facts. I think Ed learned a lot from his mother in the period right after his dad’s death when he and her probably spent a lot of time in that cabin hid out together from the community at large and his only contact was through his mother’s family (his grandparents). Ed found a fiddle that his father had left behind (very possibly the one in the photograph which looks home made) and started sawing around on it. His mother in her grief over her late husband was probably all the time whistling and singing the old melodies, most of which he had played, and Ed picked them up much in the way that Howdy Forrester told me he picked up a lot of melodies from his mom’s whistling and singing around the house. They were the melodies Ed and his mother shared. His unusually natural technique developed because he had such a great ear and naturally not being able to see he was not in a position to pick up bad technical habits from other fiddlers. His mother probably coached him much in the same way that Lawrence coached me a hundred years later…saying things like, “That just don’t sound right.” “Pop never played that many notes.” “Pop’s groups of notes were smaller.” But then because we both could see, Lawrence also said things like, “Your bow hold don’t look like Pop’s” and “Pop held his fiddle down here and turned it.”
21 Thursday Aug 2014
Posted Big Harts Creek, Ed Haley, Musicin
Appalachia, Bernie Adams, culture, Dood Dalton, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, genealogy, guitar, Harts Creek, history, life, music, photo, U.S. South, West Virginia
19 Tuesday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, Harts, Holden, Musicin
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.
06 Wednesday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Lincoln County Feud, Musicin
Ashland, Brandon Kirk, Clyde Haley, Doug Owsley, Ed Haley, fiddle, Green McCoy, Haley-McCoy grave, Harts, Harts Fas Chek, Jimmy Johnson Bring Your Jug Around the Hill, Jimmy McCoy, John Hartford, Kentucky, mandolin, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, Noah Haley, Pat Haley, Salt River, Shove That Hog's Foot, Ugee Postalwait, West Virginia, writing
After the contest, we all gathered at Pat Haley’s. The dining room table was crammed with food and the refrigerator was stuffed with every conceivable drink. People filled the downstairs rooms, many even spilling out onto the front and back porches. Once the kitchen was cleared, I got my fiddle and planted myself in a hard-back chair near Clyde and Noah. I immediately gave Mona a mandolin I’d brought so she could second me with those haunting “Ella chords.” Ugee perched nearby us in a chair where she hollered out the names of tunes and lyrics and even danced when she got too excited. We kept the music going, while Pat served up the food.
There were some new musical developments, little comments here and there that were important to know. When I played “Salt River”, for instance, Mona said it was the same tune as “Shove That Hog’s Foot”. She sang:
Shove that hog’s foot further in the bed,
Further in the bed, further in the bed.
Shove that hog’s foot further in the bed,
Katy, won’t you listen to me now?
Ugee said Ed had a way of making his fiddle sound like moonshine pouring from a jug when he played “Jimmy Johnson Bring Your Jug Around the Hill”. It took me a while to figure out what she meant by that.
As music filled the kitchen, Brandon was busy with Jimmy McCoy in the TV room. Jimmy knew very little about Green’s death, although he’d heard that the Brumfields killed him because they were jealous of his music. At some point, we got Jimmy to sit for pictures with all of Ed’s grandsons, mimicking the Milt and Green picture. Everyone did it, even those who weren’t really sure why they were sitting with a stranger crossing their legs and gripping invisible jacket cuffs.
I headed back to Nasvhille the next day but Brandon went to Harts with Jimmy, where he and Billy Adkins showed him the local sites…including the Haley-McCoy grave. Brandon figured it was the first time any of the McCoys had been to the grave in at least 45 years.
A month or so later, Brandon received a letter from Doug Owsley regarding the exhumation of the Haley-McCoy grave.
“Thanks for the McCoy family permissions for the excavations at the Haley/McCoy Burial Site,” it partly read. “I think that it will be advisable for me to make a short trip to West Virginia in advance of the arrival of the field crew to meet you and Mr. Hartford and to make a quick survey of the site area.”
A few letters and telephone calls later, we learned from Owsley that he wouldn’t be able to make the preliminary trip to Harts. However, he was sending two associates, who we were to meet at the Harts Fas Chek.
06 Wednesday Aug 2014
Posted Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
01 Friday Aug 2014
Posted Big Harts Creek, Ed Haley, John Hartford, Music, Shivelyin
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.
25 Friday Jul 2014
Posted Calhoun County, Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
Akron, Banjo Tramp, Black Sheep, Calhoun County, Canton, Chloe, Ed Haley, fiddle, fiddlers, fiddling, Gus Meade, harp, Jo LaRose, John Hartford, Kerry Blech, Laury Hicks, Lawrence Haley, music, Ohio, Parkersburg Landing, Ragpicker Bill, Rector Hicks, Rounder Records, Stackolee, Sugar in the Morning, Tommy Jarrell, Traditional Music and Dance in Northeast Ohio, West Virginia
Not long after visiting Ugee, I received some great information in the mail regarding Rector Hicks, a fiddler and nephew to Ed’s friend Laury Hicks. Rector grew up watching his uncle Laury play the fiddle.
“Rector was born out in the country around Chloe, Calhoun County, West Virginia, in 1914,” Joe LaRose wrote in Traditional Music and Dance in Northeast Ohio (March 1985). “His father was a good mouth harp player, but no one else in his family played music. Rector learned from fiddlers who lived in his area, beginning to play the instrument when he was around ten years old. Rector learned a lot from time spent with a distant cousin, Laury Hicks, a generation older than Rector and one of the foremost fiddlers in the area. ‘I don’t know of a fiddle player, really, that played like him. Ed Haley said Laury was the best fiddler he ever heard on the old time tunes, you know, and old fast ones. Hisself, he said that. And I always thought he was.'”
While at Laury’s, Rector Hicks also had the opportunity to see Ed.
“He was hard to figure out,” Rector told LaRose. “When I was around him most I didn’t know too much about fiddling, and a lot of that stuff I could pick up now if I was around him. How he got all that in there with his bow like he did you’d never believe it. He just set there this way (passes the length of the bow back and forth across the strings) but everything seemed like it just come in there. If you’d hear him play… Now that record, that’s not Ed Haley. That’s him, but that’s no good. You don’t get a lot of what he puts in. But he puts every note in that thing. His left hand, his fingers just flew. But his right hand… He just set there and his fiddle laid on his arm, set there and rocked. That’s the way he played. All them fastest tunes he played, didn’t seem like he put any of the bow in hardly. But it was all in there.”
Rector seemed to idolize Haley, at least according to Kerry Blech, a fiddling buff and friend of mine.
“Rector, when he was a teenager, had saved up some money and got him a pretty good fiddle and when Ed would come and stay at Laury’s house Rector would always come over,” Kerry wrote. “For a couple of years, Ed would tease him and say, ‘Well, I really like that fiddle you got, Rector. We should swap.’ And once he did and went off and played in some other town, then came back through about a week later and got his fiddle back. Rector said he was just really thrilled to’ve had Ed’s fiddle for even a week.”
As Rector got older and learned more about the fiddle, he really patterned after Haley’s style.
“Rector’s approach to playing has much in common with Haley’s,” LaRose wrote of Hicks. “Like Haley, Rector holds his fiddle against his upper arm and chest and supports it with his wrist (he does not rock the fiddle under the bow, though, like Haley did.) Rector uses a variety of bow strokes. Like Haley, he uses the length of the bow, sometimes playing a passage of several notes with one long stroke, deftly rocking the bow as he plays. He will accent the melody at chosen times with short, quick strokes. Rather than overlay the melody with a patterned or constant bow rhythm as some dance-oriented fiddlers do, Rector adapts his bowing to the melody of the particular tune he’s playing. Much of the lilt and movement of his tunes is built into the sequence of notes played with his left hand.”
Rector apparently kept in touch with Ed’s family, who he sometimes visited long after Haley’s death, and was very disappointed with the quality of fiddling on the Parkersburg Landing album.
“When I met Rector in the mid-70s, the Haley LP had just come out and Rector called me up to tell me it was awful,” Kerry wrote. “He said it was not representative of the man’s genius. He told me that he knew the man, and although many years had passed, the Haley genius was still in his mind’s eye. He also said that there were many other home recordings beyond what Gus Meade had copied. He said that Haley’s children had split up the recordings, that Lawrence had a number of them, and that a daughter, who lived in the Akron-Canton area, had over a hundred of them, and that Rector occasionally went over there and listened. He said that the family was irritated by how the Rounder record came to be and did not want to be involved with any of us city folk any more, afraid that someone would exploit their father’s music.”
At that time in his life, Rector mostly played Tommy Jarrell tunes but also several Ed Haley tunes, like “Birdie”, “Sugar in the Morning” (“Banjo Tramp”), “Ragpicker Bill”, “Black Sheep”, and “Staggerlee”.
20 Sunday Jul 2014
Posted Calhoun County, Ed Haley, John Hartford, Musicin
Alabama, banjo, Booger Hole, Brandon Kirk, Calhoun County, Dixie, Ed Haley, Elizabeth Hicks, fiddle, fiddlers, fiddling, Gid Tanner, Hinkey Dinkey Dee, Jasper McCune, Jim McCune, John Hartford, John McCune, Laury Hicks, Minnie Hicks, Mount Airy, music, North Carolina, Perry Meadows, Ralph Haley, Rogersville, Skillet Lickers, Tom McCune, Ugee Postalwait, Washington Hicks, West Fork Gals, West Virginia, writing
As Ugee spoke about her life, I pulled out the Laury Hicks fiddle and began to play. For Ugee, hearing it painted pictures and conjured up images from long ago. Her eyes teared up, full of emotion and melancholy.
“I never thought I’d hear Dad’s fiddle played again,” she said, after I played one tune.
For the next half-hour, I played for her, intermittently asking things like, “Did you ever hear Ed play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’?”
“I certainly have.”
What about “Dixie”?
“Oh my god, yes. Him and Dad both played ‘Dixie’.”
Did they play “West Fork Gals”?
“Oh, yeah. I don’t think they was any fiddling pieces back then they didn’t know.”
Before putting the fiddle back in the case, I asked what Ed did when he needed repairs on his fiddles.
“They didn’t work on their fiddles very much,” Ugee said. “They kept their fiddles in good shape. I’ve seen Dad string the bow hair off a horse’s tail. Seen him do that a many a time. He’d string up the bows for Ed, too. Dad could do all of that.”
Did Ed trade fiddles a lot?
“Oh, yeah. Anybody that came along. He’s been there with three or four. He used to come and try to trade some of them off to Dad. Sometimes Dad’d trade with him, sometimes he didn’t. I’ve seen my dad have as high as seven fiddles.”
I showed Ed’s fiddle to Ugee and she said, “Ed Haley got that fiddle from Dad. Ed traded him a real dark-looking fiddle. Ed got my guitar, too. He wanted it for Ralph.”
Brandon asked Ugee about her father’s background, a very important thing considering his strong presence in Ed’s life. She said he was born in 1880 to Washington and Elizabeth (McCune) Hicks in Calhoun County.
“Well, he come very near to getting killed when he was young,” she said. “Perry Meadows stabbed him seven times with a knife right around the heart in a fight. They didn’t think he’d live at all. He told Perry if he lived, ‘I’ll get you.’ He liked to beat Perry to death after he got older. Old Mrs. Meadows was gonna indict Dad over it it but Dad rode a pony horse and went with Ab Moss’ mother to Mount Airy, North Carolina. Back then, they wasn’t no roads — just trails. Took his big dog with him named Ring. He come very near to beating Perry to death, though, I guess. They was friends afterwards. Perry lived down the road just about half a mile below us. Dad never cared that much about Perry but he treated him right.”
Ugee spoke little about Laury’s bachelor days but implied that his musical skill and talent at square dancing made him popular with the ladies.
“They wouldn’t have a square dance in the country without having Laury Hicks,” she bragged.
She felt Laury inherited his musical talent from his mother’s side of the family, the McCunes. Laury’s uncle Jim McCune, who lived at the infamous “Booger Hole,” had musical children: John was a good fiddler on two or three tunes, while Jasper was the best banjoist in the area. Another son Tom “could play the banjo, but he was the best whistler I ever heard in my life. Dad give him a dollar a day to come up and whistle for him when he was bad sick.”
“All them McCunes could play music and they could dance, too,” Ugee said, before adding that they were mostly known as singers.
In 1904, Laury married Minnie Shaver. Because he was so close to his mother (he was her “favorite”), he remained living at home with his new bride. Years later, he played his fiddle and sang for his mother at her deathbed. Ugee sang all she could remember of the song:
There was an old man, he had a wooden leg.
He had no tobaccer but tobaccer he’d beg.”
“That was Grandpap Hicks’ favorite and the night that Granny died in 1923 I was putting her to bed and he was just see-sawing on the fiddle. She said ‘Laury, play your dad’s tune,’ and he said, ‘Oh Mam, I have to change the key.’ She said, ‘Don’t make no difference. Play Wash’s piece.’ I never will forget: I went to the kitchen and he was playing that and he hollered, ‘Hey, Ugee! Come here quick!’ And I come back in and seen they was something wrong with Granny. And I run and aimed to work with her…she was gone.”
Ugee couldn’t remember the title of her grandfather’s favorite tune, nor any more words to it, but Brandon later found those lyrics in a song recorded by Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers called “Hinkey Dinkey Dee”.
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