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”.

Big Creek News 04.05.1923


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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 5, 1923:

Uncle Hub Vance is suffering from the flu.

Miss Mary Sanders attended Federal Court in Huntington the past week.

Miss Hoaner Ferrell has returned from Parkersburg, where she has been attending Mountain State Business College.

Miss Dixie Toney was the guest of Mrs. Clyde W. Peters, of Huntington the past week.

Miss Cora M. Adkins, the popular teacher, was in Huntington the past week making arrangements to attend Marshall College.

Miss Birdie Linville was calling on friends at Toney, Sunday.

Miss Ida Lucas, who has a position with the First National Bank of Huntington, was here recently enroute to her home on Big Creek.

Mr. K.E. Toney is in Logan this week on matters of business.

Mr. John Thompson, of the Hunt-Forbes Cons. Co., was in town today. He reports that the Company’s contract in Harts Creek district will be completed within one month.

M.D. Bledsew was a recent visitor in Williamson.

J.W. Stowers, merchant of Ferrellsburg, was a recent visitor of his sister, Mrs. Ward Lucas, of this place.

Roy Anderson, Chief Clerk in the Logan Assessor’s office was the Sunday guest of K.E. Toney.

Elbert Baisden has been appointed Asst. Supt. of the Daisy Coal Co.

Miss Hazel Toney will complete her business course at the Capitol City Commercial College about April 15th, and will, we are informed be employed in the Sheriff’s office in Logan.

Miss Maud Gill’s school closed last Friday. Miss Gill is a fine teacher and met with great success in her work this year.

Miss Maud Ellis, of Logan, was the recent guest of Mrs. Ella Baisden.

In Search of Ed Haley 342


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Just before Brandon and I left, Ugee told us about the last time she saw Ed. It was the late 1940s and he lived on 45th Street in Ashland. Aunt Rosie Day made the trip with her, but warned her that the chances of hearing any music were slim because Ed and Ella had played little music since Ralph’s death.

“Oh, well,” Ugee told her. “They’ll play for me or I’ll tear his house down.”

She could tell upon arriving at the Haley home, though, that Ed and Ella were “different people.” When she asked to hear some music, Ella said, “We ain’t got nothing to sing about anymore.” Aunt Rosie kinda took the hint, saying to Ugee, “Well, we better go home now.” But Ugee refused, saying, “No, I’m staying all night. The fight’s on.”

Ella tried to appease her by getting out the homemade records (which were already scratched up), but Ugee said, “Ed, you’re talking to the wrong woman. You’re going to play music tonight or we’re gonna break your music box. Now get your fiddle and get your mandolin and let’s hear some music. The fight’s on.”

She said Ed threw his head back and laughed with a “big chaw of tobacco” in his mouth, then said, “I reckon we might as well play for her. She ain’t gonna shut her mouth till we do.”

Ugee admitted that she “was really carrying on awful.” When Ed started playing, “he played some of the saddest things that I ever heard. You know, he was down in the dumps – and Ella, too. It didn’t even sound like them. I let them play three or four and I said, ‘Now I’m tired of that stuff.  I don’t like that stuff.’ That ain’t music at all.’ It didn’t sound like them. I said, ‘Now, I want some music.’”

Ed whispered to Ella, “Watch this,” then went all out for “Calhoun County Blues”. Ugee took off dancing and Ed “got to laughing” and then fiddled up a storm.

“That’s the first time they’s been any laughing and going on in this house since Ralph died,” Ella said.

A little later, “Ed said he was getting sleepy. He was wanting to go to bed, but he didn’t want to go to bed and leave me and Ella setting up in there. He kept saying, ‘Well ain’t you fellers getting tired?’ I said, ‘No we ain’t a bit tired.’ And I’d punch Ella. I said, ‘Not a bit in the world.’ Ed said, ‘Ugee you ain’t got any more sense than you ever had.’ And I said, ‘Well, you don’t act like you know too much, either.’ Well, we got in there and went to bed and we laid there and talked and carried on and laughed. I was sleeping with Ella and he was over in the other bed. He said, ‘Now I’m a going to sleep.’ I said, ‘Well, quit your laughing then.’ He said, ‘I wish you’d shut your mouth.’ Well Mom came down the next day from up in Calhoun County. I didn’t tell them she was a coming. You ought to have heard Ed and them tell how I came down there and picked on them. Mom said, ‘You ought to run her off.’ He said, ‘I tried to but she didn’t have sense enough to leave.’ And then he got to playing some music. And I said, ‘He don’t know how to play. He’s lost all of his touch. And Ella, she can’t play the mandolin,’ and all that kind of stuff with them. And Ella said, ‘You know we haven’t played any since Ralph died.’”

Ugee’s visit apparently cheered Ed and Ella up, because they tried to get her to stay all summer. Ed told her, “That’s what we need down here,” but she teased them about being “dead people” and said she’d never do it.

Gill News 04.05.1923


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“Reporter,” a local correspondent from Gill in Lincoln County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Lincoln Republican printed on Thursday, April 5, 1923:

Prof. Lee Adkins, of near Palermo, has just closed a successful singing school here, and is going to teach another one in the near future.

There is a lot of sickness in this neighborhood.

The Sunday school has opened up at this place with a good attendance.

Philip Sperry was a business visitor at Branchland last week.

The Big Ugly Coal Co. has closed down operation here.

There is some talk that the Railroad Co. is going to double track the Guyan Valley from Logan to Barboursville in the near future.

Forest fires have been raging in and around Gill the past week.

Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Spurlock, from Spurlockville, were the recent guests of Mr. and Mrs. W.M. Sperry.

In Search of Ed Haley 341


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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.”


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