That evening, we all gathered in Wilson’s kitchen and played music. It was clear in watching Wilson play that his style was different from Ed’s, but he knew all kinds of great tunes: “Abe’s Retreat”, “Coo Coo’s Nest”, “Fourteen Days in Georgia”, “Walkin’ in the Parlor”, “Boatin’ Up Sandy”, and “Brushy Run”. He had a real sense of humor. When I played “Stony Point”, he just kinda looked at me laughing, then said, “John, that ain’t ‘Stony Point’. Can I kid you a little? Now, Ed Haley wouldn’t like that.”
Every now and then, between tunes, Wilson told me more little things about Ed. He said Ed wouldn’t change his style for anyone and hated when someone asked him to play fast. He said Ed used to tell him to sometimes play it “lazy” and slow a piece down for different effects, such as at the end of “Birdie”. Wilson remembered that he played “Billy in the Lowground” with a double wind-up.
Wilson really bragged on Ed’s version of “Forked Deer”.
“Anybody that tried to play ‘Forked Deer’ with Ed Haley had to be crazy,” he said. “Oh god, he’d put that B-flat in there and he’d have a little grin on his face. He didn’t laugh very much. I’d watch that fiddle like a hawk. I’d watch them notes but god they were fast. And he;d play that ‘Sweet Sixteen’…”
Now, what was “Sweet Sixteen”?
“Well now, that’s got three titles,” Wilson said. “‘Too Young to Marry’, ‘Chinky Pin’, and all that. Ed said most people just smothered it to death on the bass, but he didn’t. Him and Clark Kessinger both played it about the same. Now John, he just used two notes on that bass.”
Wilson said Ed played “Callahan” in the key of A, then said, “And he played ‘Charleston Number One’ but he called it ‘Goin’ to Charleston’. I tell you where he got it from. He borrowed it from them old Possum Hunters in Nashville way back in ’37 and ’38.”
Wilson said Ed also got a lot of tunes from French Carpenter, the last of the old-time Carpenter fiddlers (and Wilson’s distant cousin) in central West Virginia. Ed used to spend a week or two at a time with French listening to him play cross-key tunes, like “Camp Chase”.
“There was one thing about Carpenter,” Wilson said. “Now Ed Haley was a better fiddler all around, but what Carpenter played he was good. He didn’t have no inferiority complex. He done a good job playing in front of Ed Haley. He’d say, ‘Well, now Ed, if you want to hear me, fine. I’ll give you what I’ve got.'”
I asked Wilson if Ed played “Shelvin’ Rock” and he said, “He liked it, but he never did play it. He liked to get French to play it. He’d sit, you know, and grin. He’d say, ‘By god, you got the bow, Carpenter, to play that tune.'”
Ed and French played “Devil in Georgia”, although Haley called it “Deer Walk”.
Over the next few hours, Wilson played me a lot of tunes, many of which he’d heard Ed play. The tunes had strange names, some familiar but most not: “Elzic’s Farewell”, “Little Rose”, “Mouth of Old Stinson”, “Old Aunt Jenny With Her Nightcap On”, “Run Here Granny”, and “What Are We Gonna Do With the Baby-O” (in the key of E).
There were other tunes that he only remembered Ed playing, like “Bostony”, “Brickyard Joe”, “Dusty Miller”, “Jimmy in the Swamp”, “Katy Hill”, “Lost Indian”, “Old Joe”, “Pumpkin Ridge”, “Snowbird on the Ashbank”, “Sweet Georgia Brown”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and “Waynesboro Reel”.
Wilson thought Ed fiddled “Red-Haired Boy” in the key of A, “Mississippi Sawyer” in G, and “Coo Coo’s Nest” in A or G, and said he played “Running Up the Stairs” so well “it’d make a person cry.”
Wilson remembered that Ed had some strange titles for his tunes. He said he used to call some tune with a common name “Dance Around Molly”, then added, “And he played another tune, I never could get it in my mind. Ed called it ‘Raccoon in a Pine Top’. I’ll be danged if he wouldn’t break that bass out — it’d sound like ‘Over the Waves’ or something.”
Wilson said, “You know, John, if I had a lot of time, like a week, I could tell you a lot of things about Ed Haley. When you get old, all that stuff comes to you, then you forget it.”
Hoping to pull something from his memory, I played tunes I knew from long ago and asked, “Did Ed play anything like this?”
He came up with something almost every time.
Ed also played “Fine Times at Our House” but called it “George Booker”, which is interesting in that the old-time Texas fiddlers also call it that.
I told Wilson what Lawrence Haley had said about Ed loving Scott Joplin and ragtime. He thought for a moment, then said, “Well, he may’ve done it, but now, he stayed with hoedowns all the time I heard him. Course he’s afraid to play anything else: them old people didn’t know what that kind of music was.”
In other words, he played what they wanted to hear.
“Absolutely. And he made money by it. And he played straight. He didn’t fancy it up no way. He didn’t want you to change a tune one note. He wanted it like it was. He said, ‘Cut it off at the stump like it is.'”
I said, “He didn’t take tunes and add stuff to it?” and Wilson said, “If he thought it was appropriate he would. The man had enough skill, he could play anything he wanted to.”
Steve and I hung around with Wilson until late that night, talking more about Ed’s music and playing tunes. We eventually pried ourselves away and headed back to Lawrence’s in Ashland.