Appalachia, Ashland, Bill Day, Blind Frailey, Bonaparte's Retreat, Clyde Haley, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddler, fiddling, history, Ironton, Jack Haley, Jesse Stuart, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Library of Congress, life, Mona Haley, music, Noah Haley, Ohio, Pat Haley, U.S. South, Washington's March
Pat said, “My mother-in-law used to worry about Pop — whether Pop would go to heaven, because Pop would curse and I guess Pop was a rough man when he was growing up.” Lawrence added, “A drinker and a swarper, I guess.” Pat went on: “My father-in-law used to wear these big Yank work clothes — the dark green and navy blue, he liked those — and I would tell him, ‘Pop, time to change your clothes.’ Pop had been dead, I guess, about two years and one night I had a dream. And I saw my father-in-law on this cloud and he had an almost brand new set of big Yank work clothes on. He was chewing his tobacco and he had his pipe, and he said, ‘Patricia, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. I can chew my tobacco all I want and spit anywhere I want.’ I got up and my mother-in-law got up and I said, ‘Mom, you don’t have to worry about Pop anymore. I had a dream about him.'”
Hearing this caused me to think about how Jesse Stuart, the famous Kentucky writer, wrote about Haley — who he called “Blind Frailey” — playing in Heaven.
This is a fiddler when he gets to Heaven
As people say “Blind” Frailey’s sure to do —
He’d go up to the golden gates of Heaven,
“Blind” Frailey would, and fiddle his way right thru.
He’d fiddle all round God’s children with harps,
“Blind” Frailey doesn’t know the flats and sharps,
But all God’s children will throw down their harps
And listen to a blind man fiddling thru.
“Blind” Frailey will fiddle on the golden street
Till dancers will forget they are in Heaven,
And they’ll be swept away on dancing feet
And dance all over golden streets of Heaven.
“Blind” Frailey will fiddle for the dancers there
Up where the Lord sits in his golden chair,
He will sit down to jolly fiddling there.
And if one Plum Grove man has gone to Heaven
And if he hears this fiddle by a chance,
He will call out the angels here in Heaven;
The sweet fair maids here all white-robed in Heaven,
And they’ll renew again the old square dance —
The old Kentucky mountain “Waltz the Hall” —
The most Kentuckian of all dance calls —
The Lord will sit in his high golden chair
And watch “Blind” Frailey from Kentucky there,
The Lord will sit wistfully a-looking on
But the Lord will never say a word at all,
Not when he sees his angels “Waltz the Hall — “
And when he hears Frailey from Kentucky there
He will sit back and laugh from his golden chair.
And if “Blind” Frailey finds rest in Heaven
And if the Plum Grove folks knew it back here,
I’m sure these folks would try harder for Heaven
To follow the “Blind” Frailey fiddler there —
They love to dance to his magic fiddle —
They could dance all the night and all the day —
And if they would become light spirits in Heaven
And get all the thirst and hunger away
Their light spirits then could dance till Doomsday —
There’s danger that they would forget to pray —
But when “Blind” Frailey starts sawing his fiddle
Only he stops long enough to resin his bow —
When he does this, spry dancers will jig a little —
Jig on till Frailey says: “Boys, let ‘er go!”
I wondered if Ed was a religious man.
“A lot of preachers, he was with them like he was the record companies,” Lawrence said. “He took about half of what they said as truth. But he believed in a heaven and hell, I’m pretty sure, because his hell was if he had to play music with people like Bill Day or some other half-assed musician. And that would be his hell, and that’s the way he felt about it.”
Not long after Ed’s death, Ella divided their home recordings among the kids. Lawrence showed me his share — some were aluminum-based, while others were paper-based. Most had been scratched. Others were warped or had the disc holes entirely off center. But in spite of their poor condition, I could tell that Lawrence had faithfully guarded them with a passion and a stubborn resolve that his dad’s music would survive. (Back in the fifties or sixties, he’d refused a $5,000 offer for them by a Gospel singer from Nashville.) His dedication seemed to stem from a deep love for Ed and Ella, as well as an unyielding pride in their music. When I told him that Ed was a musical genius, he wasn’t surprised or flattered — it was something he already knew. He took it all in stride. If I started bragging on Ed too much, he joked about how I never did see his “mean side.”
Lawrence didn’t know much about the circumstances surrounding Ed’s records, because they were made during his years in the Air Force.
“I was in the service, and they give me what they thought I’d like. They mighta duplicated some of the same records they gave me and gave them to some of the other children. Like ‘Old Sledge’, maybe one of my other brothers or somebody liked that piece of music, so they’d make one for me and one for them. Maybe a fifth of those were duplicated.”
Most of the records featured Ella on the accordion or singing.
“Mom would sing things like ‘Me and my wife and an old yellow dog, we crossed the creek on an old hollow log.’ She would come up with that mostly. Maybe one little thing like that through the whole tune.”
In addition to Haley’s home recordings, Lawrence showed me the four reel-to-reel tapes of his dad’s music, which the Library of Congress had made for him in the early 1970s.
I asked him about the other kids’ records and he said, for starters, his brother Clyde sold his to “a guy by the name of Brickey that run a store down on 12th Street and Winchester. Pop used to go around and play with Brickey — sit around the store with him and play music. I think this guy was from out in Carter County originally. But Clyde sold him all of his records, just for enough money for him to take off on one of his wild jaunts. He’d start out and take off and be gone two or three years at a time.”
Lawrence didn’t think any of the Brickeys were still around Ashland.
“I think this old gentleman died. I got some of the records back from him, but I know he didn’t turn loose of all of them.”
Lawrence’s sister Mona lost her records when she got behind on her rent.
“I know my sister, she lived over in Ironton, and she got in back on her rent some way and moved out. She took one of them ‘midnight flights’ you know, and didn’t take this trunk — she had a big trunk — and all those records was in that and where they went to from there nobody knows.” Pat said, “She never could get the trunk. The woman later told her that she discarded it. We also know for a fact that my sister-in-law trashed a bunch of the records because she was angry at her husband and threw them at him.”
Lawrence’s brother Jack apparently lost most of his records, too.
“Jack and his family, they probably just wore a lot of theirs out and discarded them,” Lawrence said. “They didn’t take care of them right. They just played them to death, I guess.” Pat agreed, “Jack said they didn’t take care of them. They let the kids play with them.”
Noah, Lawrence’s older brother, lost his records when his ex-wife threw them at him in various arguments.
Lawrence sorta dismissed their destruction.
“They went. We all had our share of them — just one of the gifts that Mom and Pop gave us.”
As our conversation turned away from Ed’s life and toward his music, Lawrence almost immediately mentioned his father’s version of “Bonaparte’s Retreat”.
“Well, they call the first part of it ‘Washington’s March’,” he said. “My dad would tune the low string way down and you could hear the real fast march, like the men marching at a pretty good pace, and all at once he’d lift that bow up and hit that low string and it’d sound like a cannon booming. And he’d go into this real fast finger-work that had to do with the troops moving out of Russia as fast as they could and then there’d be a small section that was slow, like it was a sad, sad situation for these French soldiers coming back out of Russia. You can picture it, I guess. A bunch of soldiers coming out with their shoulders stooped and rags around their feet and just barely able to move. Pop would play part of that real slow like a funeral dirge and then he’d go back to the fast march with the cannons booming.”