Ed Haley plays on WLW (1924)


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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.

Interview with Tom Farley (2002)


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Back in Harts, Brandon and Billy visited Tom Farley on the Marsh Fork of West Fork of Harts Creek. Tom was the grandson of Burl Farley, one of the ringleaders in the Brumfield-Dingess mob of 1889. He was a great storyteller and knew a lot of interesting tales about the old vigilantes around Harts.

“Milt Haley and Green McCoy, my grandpa Burl Farley was in that,” Tom said. “Dealer Dave Dingess was in that. Dealer Dave Dingess played the fiddle for them when they chopped them boys’ heads off. He wasn’t a mean fellow. Burl Farley and them just got him drunk. French Bryant and Burl Farley was supposed to been the men who went over and chopped their heads off. My uncle Lewis Farley was in it.”

French Bryant, Tom said, married his aunt Polly Dingess.

“I’ve heard that Polly was one of the hatefulest women that ever took a breath,” he said. “A lot of people said she was the Devil’s grandma. French Bryant, he took her by the hair of the head and he tied her up to that apple tree. She took pneumonia fever and died.”

Tom told a great story about Bryant.

“French Bryant, I know a story they told me. It might be a lie. He was hooked up with the Ku Klux Klan. Was a captain of them. This is an old story. It’s supposed to happened right up here in this hollow. Dealer Dave and a bunch of them had their moonshine still set up in here. There was some young men came back in this country looking for Burl trying to get them timber jobs. They thought they was spying on them. This might every bit be lies but I was told this by all them old-timers. Burl Farley, Dealer Dave Dingess, French Bryant, Lewis Farley, and a bunch of them was supposed to’ve beheaded them right under that beech tree, my daddy always told. This story goes that they come in here looking for work. The Ku Klux Klan brought them here, made old Polly Dingess cook them a midnight supper. Dealer Dave played the fiddle for them and they danced all night. The next day at twelve o’clock Polly fixed a big dinner. Their last meal. One of them told the other two, said, ‘We just might as well eat. This is the end of the line for us.’ One of them just kept eating. He told the other two, said, ‘You better eat because this is the last meal we’ll ever eat.’ Said French Bryant cussed them and said, ‘Eat because you’ll never eat another meal.’ Dealer Dave asked them, ‘What do you want me to do as your last request?’ Said two of them cried and wouldn’t say a word. Said that one boy that eat so much told Dealer Dave, said, ‘Play ‘Satan’s Nightmare’.’ Took them out there at one o’clock under that beech tree and laid their heads across the axe and chopped two of their heads off. Said two of them cried and wouldn’t say a word. Said that one boy that eat so much told Dealer Dave, said, ‘Play ‘Satan’s Nightmare’.’ They chopped their heads off. Said French took their heads and set them on the mantle.”

So Dealer Dave Dingess was a fiddler?

“Dealer Dave played the fiddle,” Tom said. “I remember seeing old man Dave. He was tall and skinny. He played ‘Blackberry Mountain’ and a bunch of stuff. ‘Wild Horse’. Dealer Dave was the biggest coward that ever put on a pair of shoes. When it would start to get dark, my daddy and my uncle Bill Dingess — just tiny kids — they’d have to walk up this hollow with him. One would walk in front of him and the other one behind him. Said Lee Dingess cussed him all to pieces, told him, said, ‘Dealer Dave, nobody’s gonna hurt you. There ain’t a man alive that’s gonna bother you.’ Dave said, ‘Hush, Lee. I’m not afraid of the living. I’m afraid of the dead.’ Afraid to pass that cemetery. They called him Dealer Dave because he horse-traded so much and every time he got cheated he cried and he had to trade back with you. Make a trade today and tomorrow he’d cry till you give him his horse back. They said he was good on the fiddle. They said he played for square dances.”

Big Creek News 04.12.1923


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An unnamed local correspondent from Big Creek in Logan County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Lincoln Republican printed on Thursday, April 12, 1923:

Charley Lilly is in very poor health.

Arline, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Kitchen, has been very ill during the past week.

Mrs. Robert Stone was a business visitor in Huntington the past week.

The Stone Branch school closed on April 5th. Many were present and all report a fine time.

Mr. Tom Vance was a recent visitor in our midst.

Mrs. Floyd Lilly left Saturday for Charleston where she will pay an extended visit to her sister, Mrs. Nellie Parsons.

Miss Maggie Lucas has just closed a successful term of school at Lime Stone. The pupils there all want Miss Lucas back next year.

Mr. D.E. Owens, of Columbus, Ohio, was calling on friends here recently.

Mr. K.E. Toney, of Toney, who has large business interests in this city was here the early part of the week looking after business affairs and mingling with friends.

Rev. J. Green McNeely, of Logan, delivered very able sermons to the Baptist congregation in this city, at the M.E. Church, South, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Rev. McNeely is a splendid expounder of the gospel and the people of our city are always delighted to hear him.

Miss Dixie Toney returned home Saturday evening from a shopping visit in Huntington.

Mr. Walter Fry, prominent young citizen of Rector, was in the city yesterday on matters of business.

Uncle Hub Vance continues in very poor health.

Mr. W. Birchard Toney, of this place attended Logan Lodge, No. 391, B.P.O.E., Thursday evening.

Miss Flossie Barker, of Logan, spent Easter with friends here.

Gilbert Thompson, of Holden, was the recent guest of friends in our midst.

In Search of Ed Haley 344


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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.”

In Search of Ed Haley 343


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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”.


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