Alphon Theater, Arthur Smith, Ashland, Ashland Vocational School, Bert Layne, blind, Blind Soldier, Catlettsburg, Cowboy Copas, Curly Wellman, David Miller, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddling, Fleming County, Great Depression, Grimes Music Shop, Guyandotte Mockingbirds, Hawkshaw Hawkins, history, Horse Branch, Huntington, Kentucky, Logan, Logan Banner, music, Natchee the Indian, Old Shep, Red Foley, Riley Puckett, Rose Connelly, Skillet Lickers, Ward Hollow, West Virginia, Wilson Reeves, World War I, World War II, writing, WSAZ
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.