In Search of Ed Haley 291


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After visiting Curly and Wilson, I went to Pat Haley’s and met Mona, who was waiting to see me. Mona and I sat down at the kitchen table, while Pat washed dishes. It was my first visit with Mona in some time. I told her about visiting Curly Wellman, hoping to stir a memory, but she didn’t even remember him. I pulled out his picture and she and Pat both really bragged on his looks.

“He must have been a hunk when he was young,” Mona said. “You know, I always fell in love with guitar players.”

We all laughed and things got kind of loud, which caused Pat’s two little housedogs, Shady and Josie, to bark furiously from under the table. A few seconds later, after Pat’s commands had calmed the dogs, Mona surprised me by saying that she had heard “all her life” that Curly was the person who taught her brother Ralph to play the guitar. (It was actually the other way around.)

I had a lot of questions for Mona, who was exuding an openness I had not seen up to that point. It was obvious that she was going to be more candid in Lawrence’s absence. Before I could ask anything, she apologized for having not been more helpful in my efforts to know about Ed. I quickly pointed out, though, that she had been helpful, especially in regard to “the family troubles.” That aspect of Ed’s life was really important because it likely helped to explain a lot of the rage and lonesomeness I heard in his music.

“I wasn’t really scared of Pop,” Mona said. “I loved Pop. I just didn’t like the way he done Mom. It hurt all of us kids, I guess. The earliest memories I got is of me running away from Pop fighting with Mom and that has a whole lot to do with me not getting close to him like I did my mother. I think my mother was a remarkable woman. She probably taught Pop a lot of that music, too.”

I told her what Lawrence had said about Ed and Ella getting a “bed and board divorce” and she said, “No, I remember Mom did divorce him because she got Judge Imes to do the divorce. I think she divorced him when we lived on 17th Street. I never looked at them as being divorced because they had long since stopped being man and wife before they divorced.”

I got some paper from Pat’s granddaughter and asked Mona to describe Ed’s residence at 17th Street. In addition to serving as Ed’s home at the time of his divorce from Ella, it was also the place where he made his recordings. Mona described the downstairs, then the upstairs where “there was two bedrooms and a bathroom. Large bedrooms.”

After I’d sketched everything out based on Mona’s memory, she said, “I was gonna tell you about that living room couch that you drew the picture of with the radio on the end of it. I went in one day and I was just a teenager or young kid and I turned on some jitterbug music. Pop was laying on the couch and he said, ‘Turn that off,’ and I said, ‘No Pop, I want to hear it.’ And he said, ‘Mona, I’ll cuss you all to pieces.’”

Speaking of radios, I wondered if Ed ever listened to the Grand Ole Opry.

“No, I don’t think so,” Mona said. “He listened to mysteries, like ‘The Shadow’ and ‘The Green Hornet’ and all that kind of stuff. And ‘Amos ‘n Andy’ and ‘Little Abner.’ ‘Lone Ranger’, I remember that. And those opera singers, he called them belly shakers.”

While I had the pen and paper in hand, I asked Mona to describe Ed’s house at Ward Hollow.

“Well, they was a porch, then a living room, dining room, and kitchen – straight back – and all the way down through here was another bedroom and hallway and another bedroom. Then in through here was a bathroom and back here was another bedroom. That’s where Pop slept. And right off the kitchen was another little porch.”

Mona said she could draw it better than describe it to me, so I gave her a pen and some paper. When she was finished, she seemed pleased with her effort, saying, “I might have a good memory after all.”

Satisfied, I got out my fiddle and played some tunes for Pat and Mona. After I finished “Dunbar”, I told them how I figured it was one that Ed made up.

“See,” I said, “I’ve got all these lists of tunes at home and lists of tunes on other tapes and so I look these tunes up and try to find out where they come from. And some of them you can research and some of them just ain’t there and those are the ones I think he wrote.”

Mona figured Ed made the tune “You Can’t Blame Me For That”:

My dog she’s always fighting, in spite of what she loves.

And when her little pups was born we all wore boxing gloves.

An old hen once was sitting on twelve eggs. Oh, what luck!

She hatched 11 baby chicks and the other was a duck.

But you can’t blame me for that, oh no, you can’t blame me for that.

If a felt hat feels bad when it’s felt, you can’t blame me for that.

 I got the impression in watching Mona sing those words to me that she was able to picture Ed playing.

Toney News 3.2.1911


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“Violet,” a local correspondent from Toney in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Lincoln Republican printed on Thursday, March 2, 1911:

As “Ding Dong” seems to be silent of late, thought I would write you a few items from this place.

We are having pleasant weather and welcome it too.

Mrs. Brooke Adkins has returned to her school at Leet after a week’s absence.

Ervin Workman attended the burial of Melve Kirk of Piney last Sunday.

A number of our young men attended a very interesting meeting at Big Creek, Logan county on last Sunday.

A large quantity of ties are being shipped from this place.

Miss Dollie Toney closed a successful term of school at Big Creek on last Thursday.

Miss Lottie Lucas spent last week the guest of friends on Big Creek.

Mr. D.C. Fry returned home last Saturday from a business trip down the G.V. Railroad.

Some of our farmers say they are not going to try and raise tobacco this year, as they had hard luck with their crops last year.

Mr. and Mrs. Jas. Brumfield and Mrs. B.B. Lucas visited the latter’s sister Sunday.

Miss Delia Adkins spent Saturday night at her grandpa’s near Ferrellsburg.

Little Edna Brumfield was visiting Maggie Lucas Sunday.

In Search of Ed Haley 290


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Curly suggested that we visit Wilson Reeves, a local record collector, for more information about Ed. Wilson was glad to talk to us. He remembered seeing Ed and his family play on the streets of Ashland during World War II.

“This was in the early forties,” Wilson said. “I came up here to take training at the old Ashland Vocational School. I lived on Carter about 17th. There was a house there where I had a room upstairs. And every evening I’d cross over from Carter over to Winchester, go down Winchester, and on down to a little restaurant – what they call a ‘hole in the wall.’ Greasy food, but it was cheap. And she [meaning Ella] would be sitting in a chair there by the Presbyterian Church close to 16th Street. Most of the time she’d be playing the mandolin. Sometimes, I’d see her with the accordion. The little girl would stand on her side – I believe the 16th Street side – and she’d be holding the tin cup. I didn’t notice whether people put money in it or not.”

Where was Ed?

“Well, I don’t remember too much about them,” Wilson said. “I was twenty years old and other things to think about and on my way. Mr. Haley, I don’t remember whether he was sitting down or what. I’ve seen him over at the old Alphon Theater. He would sit right there. Best as I remember about him, he was by hisself. And there was times – and this is very vague in my memory – that I saw them get off the bus. They’d drag a chair out with them. Just a straight-backed chair, I believe. After the war was over, I went back to Fleming County for a while. Sometime in 1947 I came back up here, but I don’t recall ever seeing them any more.”

Wilson said he was never really acquainted with Ed or his family and was never at his home.

“Course I was in the house,” Curly said. “Poorly furnished. The family was rich in being family but very poor as far as living conditions. You might say if it was possible at that time, they would have been on food stamps.”

Curly was speaking of Ed’s home at Ward Hollow. I asked Wilson for some paper so I could sketch it out based on Curly’s memories. We started out with the living room.

“Just a square room,” Curly said. “No rug. A pine floor and a fireplace and a mantle and a little side table and his rocking chair and an old cane-backed straight chair. There was another doorway here that went into the next bedroom back. It was just an open door really. It was a shotgun house. I was never in their kitchen. They had about four rooms. But this was in a big building that there was a lot of apartments in – several apartments in this building – and Ed and his family lived downstairs in the first apartment as you went up the hollow. Big old community house – all wood – weather-boarded house. In my time, it mighta been sixty, seventy years old. They had a name for that building but it won’t come to me.”

When I’d finished my sketch of Ed’s home at Ward Hollow, I said to Curly, “Now what about his home at Horse Branch?”

“It was about a four room house – and one floor – and set up about six foot off a the ground because the creek run down through there and if they hadn’t a built it up on these sticks that it set on they woulda got flooded out every time it rained,” he said. “And you had to go up a long pair of steps to get up on their porch. Handrails down each side of the steps. Porch all the way across the front. I’d say the porch was six feet deep. I was never inside. In fact, the front room is as far as I was in the other house.”

Curly said he used to play music with Ed on the porch. Ed always sat to the right of everyone, probably so he wouldn’t have to worry about pulling his bow into them.

Wilson said Ed played with David Miller, a blind musician sometimes called “The Blind Soldier.” Miller (1893-1959) was originally from Ohio but settled at 124 Guyan Street in Huntington just prior to the First World War. He played on WSAZ, a Huntington station, with The Guyandotte Mockingbirds in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He also made it as far up the Guyan Valley as Logan where he hosted at least one fiddling contest.

“Saturday night, September 17th at 8 p.m., sharp at the court house, Logan, W.Va., David Miller, an old time recording artist, will open a real old time Fiddlers Contest, awarding three big cash prizes to contestants and one prize to best old time flat-foot dancer,” according a September 1927 article in the Logan Banner. “It is expected that this will be the season’s big meeting of old timers and lovers of old time music. See Miller at Grimes’ Music Shop Saturday afternoon.”

According to one source, Miller lost his radio job around 1933 after threatening to throw his manager through a window. Wilson heard that Ed taught Miller the tune “Rose Connelly”, as well as Red Foley’s “Old Shep”.

Aside from the Blind Soldier, there were several other well-known musicians working in Huntington during the Depression. In the mid-thirties, Riley Puckett and Bert Layne (two of the famous Skillet Lickers) spent a few months there, while Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas (a friend to Natchee the Indian), and Arthur Smith were featured acts during the World War II era.

In Search of Ed Haley 289


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Curly said he lost contact with Ed Haley in the mid-thirties (other than seeing him on a street corner or at court days).

“When I got about fourteen, fifteen years old, I went to playing around with younger musicians and I left Catlettsburg and I come down to Ashland,” he said. “I started playing bars at fifteen.”

Curly told me all about how he “rediscovered” Ed toward the end of the decade.

Along about 1937, we were working WCMI and Mother and I was talking one day and I asked her, I said, “Well Mother, do you know anything about Ed Haley or the Haley family or where they’re at? I haven’t heard from them in years.” And my mother told me, said, “Why, they live right up there at Ward Hollow.” I said, “Well, I didn’t know that.” See, what I used to do, I’d get lonesome to hear him. And I knew him and he knew my voice and he knew my mother and my father and all my brothers and sisters and I’d get lonesome to play with him. And I’d get a pint of “moon” – bought it from old Maude Johnson down there at 29th Street – and walk all the way to Ward Hollow. The front door was never locked. And when I’d open the door – I’d know where he was gonna be, in that rocking chair – I’d say, “Uncle Ed?” “Well Curly, come in.” And I’d go in – wouldn’t even carry a guitar or nothing – and I’d go in and I’d sit down. He’d go get the straight chair when he played, but he would be sitting in there. A little old fireplace. I’d say, “How are you, Uncle Ed?” “Well, I don’t feel so good today. I’m not as pure as I should be.” And I’d say, “Well, do you think maybe a little hooter…?” And he’d say, “Well, uh, yes.” Talked loud then. I’d say, “Well, I brought one along.” Moonshine. I’d go out and get it and come in and give it to him and he’d hit it.

We’d sit there and talk a little more – about this and that and the weather and so forth and so on – and I’d say, “You better getcha another little drink there, Ed. Maybe if you got a cold it’ll help you.” He’d hit it again and he’d sit there and all at once he’d say, “Say, did I ever play ‘Blackberry Blossom’ for ya?” And while he was saying this, he was getting up… He knew exactly where his fiddle was on the mantle, he knowed where the bow was on the mantle, and he never touched a thing that was on that mantle – just them two things. I never saw him finger for the fiddle: he always picked it up by the neck and got the bow with his right hand. And then he’d throw that fiddle under there – the chin was holding it – and he never even had a chin-rest – then he’d sit down and he’d say, “Well, you brought your old box along, didn’t ya?” I’d say, “Yeah, it’s out there in the car.” I think it was a D-18 Martin. Sixty-five bucks. Go get the guitar, come in, sit down, tune up with him. And that’s another thing about that man. I often wondered how he kept the fiddle at 440 tuning. I know he didn’t use a pitch pipe.

Curly said it was during that time that Ed met Bernice “Sweet Georgia” Brown, who he called “Brownie.” He elaborated: “Brownie’s father owned a business here, which was in the making of tombstones, right down on Winchester Avenue, and his mother was from Cartersville, Georgia. And he was a tremendous old-time… The old English fiddle tunes and a lot of that stuff – the hornpipes. He was just marvelous on them. He would’ve loved to have played jazz fiddle, but he didn’t have it. Because he was from Georgia, Big Foot said, ‘I’ll teach you how to play ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, so from then on that was his name. We had him and Big Foot playing twin fiddles. During the time that he was here, I wanted him to hear Ed Haley. Neither one of us had a car at that time, but we were in walking distance of Ward Hollow, which was just up the road from me about eight, nine blocks. We’d walk up there and take a little hooter along and finally get him started. Well, Georgia wouldn’t pull a bow in front of Ed Haley, but he would watch him awful close. Every move – even the way he tuned the fiddle with his chin and his knee mostly. He was an amazing man.”

I asked Curly if Ed played “Sweet Georgia Brown” and he said, “Never. I don’t think he woulda even rosined his bow to play a thing like that.”

Thinking back about that time in his life caused Curly to talk about his personal memories of Ed.

“I had a lot of experiences with that old man. I loved the old man. Really loved him. He was a swell old man. He was a dear friend. So timid. He was easy to be around and knew a joke as quick as he heard it. He wasn’t boastful or pushy – just a very little timid man that would sit in the corner for hours. He let everything out with the fiddle. He turned everything loose that was inside and he done it with the instrument. I think his first love really was his music.”

I asked Curly if Ed got along with other fiddlers like Clayton McMichen and he said, “I don’t think he woulda even talked to him. When Clayton mouthed off like he did – and was all mouth – I just think Ed would have set back and not taken any part in anything. Brassy and forward – Clayton was awful bad for that. I didn’t care for Clayton McMichen myself other than I appreciated the group he had together, The Georgia Wildcats.”

Toney News 1.26.1911


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“Ding Dong,” a local correspondent from Toney in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Lincoln Republican printed on Thursday, January 26, 1911:

Winter still remains and there is lots of sickness in this vicinity. The Doctors are kept quite busy.

Miss Lottie Lucas closed her school on Hart Saturday. She gave general satisfaction in her school work in the report.

Fisher B. Adkins, of Ferrellsburg was a caller here Sunday.

Miss Leona Pauley visited Miss Maggie and Lottie Lucas Sunday.

The Lucas Bros. are hauling some fine timber for Ward Baisden.

Born: To Mr. and Mrs. John Lambert, Friday, a big girl.

K.E. Toney and Anthony Fry killed a fine fox Saturday.

Peter M. Toney made a business trip to Leet Monday.

John Toney, of Rector, was a business visitor here Monday.

Ed Reynolds, the “war horse” Republican of Leet, bought a fine yoke of oxen from Keenan Toney Saturday. Paid $1200.

J.B. Toney, of Big Creek, was visiting here Sunday.

Irvin Workman made a business trip to the West Fork of Hart, Saturday.

B.B. Lucas passed here Saturday with a fine gang of cattle.

Miss Ettie Baisden visited here Friday.

K.E. Toney’s new residence is nearing completion.

If this escapes the waste basket, will come again next week.

Sisters and brothers all come together and make the REPUBLICAN more interesting.


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