Appalachia, Ashland, banjo, Chapmanville, Charley Gore, East Tennessee Blues, Ed Haley, Ethel, fiddle, fiddler, fiddling, Fire on the Mountain, Great Depression, Harts, Harts Creek, Hell Among the Yearlings, history, Ira Gore, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Lee Trick Gore, Liza Mullins, Logan County, Mag Gore, Mona Haley, music, Ode Curry, Peter Mullins, Stoney Ferrell, The Dying Californian, U.S. South, West Fork, West Virginia, Wild Horse
Later in the evening, Pat put me in touch with Lee “Trick” Gore, an Ashland preacher and musician who remembered Ed Haley from his childhood days on Harts Creek. We met Gore the following day at his home in what was my first meeting with someone from Ed’s birthplace. He was a polite man with a loud clear voice, somewhat thick in stature and decked out in a tie and button-up sweater.
“I understand what you’re trying to do,” Gore said right away.
It wasn’t long until he and Lawrence were in a deep discussion about the people and places in and around Harts.
“We used to spend a week or two with Aunt Liza or Uncle Peter,” Lawrence said, prompting Gore. “Most of the time we’d ride the train up there and get off at Harts. They run passenger trains up into coalfields then. We’d get off there at the mouth of Hart and walk up and it was nothing but creek. You’d ford that creek a dozen times trying to stay close to the road and the road was in the creek half the time. You had to wade the creek half the way up through there. It’d take us half the day it seemed like.”
Lawrence said his father spent some time in Chapmanville, a town upriver from Harts about nine miles.
“I remember staying in Chapmanville, too. There was a beer joint or something that Pop wanted to stop at. They was some guy in there got to down-mouthing Pop. Stoney Ferrell, that’s exactly who it was. This guy kept aggravating him and Pop just edged toward his voice, you know. Instead of carrying a blind man’s cane, Pop carried a big heavy cattle cane. He got pretty close to him and he reached out and grabbed him around the neck with that cane.”
Gore said Ed used to come see his uncle Charley Gore at Ferrellsburg, a settlement about two miles upriver from Harts.
“Uncle Charley was a fiddler,” he said. “Charley was the principal of the school and Ed stayed with him. Well, once a year he’d happen by. That was right on the heels of the Depression. I was twelve. I was just learning to play the guitar then.”
Gore looked at Lawrence and said, “Either you or Mona was leading him.”
I asked Gore what Ed looked like at that time and he said, “He just dressed ordinary. He never dressed up, but he wasn’t dirty looking or nothing like that — just old-fashioned.”
He stopped for a moment, lost in thought, then said, “He was just something else. He was far ahead of a lot of fiddlers, buddy. There wasn’t none of this grinding on that violin. When he played it, it was just as smooth in that bow hand. I know he played ‘Hell Among the Yearlings’, ‘Fire on the Mountain’ and ‘The Wild Horse’. Uncle Charley played those tunes, too. I guess he learned them from Ed Haley.”
“I wish my daddy was alive,” Gore said. “Boy, he could tell you about Ed Haley because he loved him. Uncle Charley loved him dearly. And Ed knew that he was welcome at our house and that’s where he hung his hat buddy — where he was welcome. Do you know how I think of him? I think of him as kind of a mountain poet. He sung religious songs and them old mournful mountain tunes. It seems to me like he sung a song called ‘The Dying Californian’. I can’t remember the poetry to it, but it was a mile long.”
Ed sang while fiddling it.
Gore said Ed sometimes traveled with “Little Johnny” Hager, a banjo player who used to stay weeks at a time with his family when he was a boy. Lawrence Haley had shown me a picture earlier of Ed with Johnny Hager in Webster Springs in 1914.
I asked Gore if he knew that Ed could play the banjo and he said, “Seems like I heard him play it when him and Johnny was together. No doubt he could play it.”
Gore asked Lawrence if he remembered a man his father used to play with named Ode Curry (he didn’t), then said, “Ode Curry was just a fella that played the banjo and sang and he had a big nose, as well as I remember, and it’d vibrate when he’d sing because he sung through his nose. But let me tell you something: they would give him all he could drink to play and Ode knew some of the lonesomest, heart-breaking songs you ever listened to.”
Gore got his guitar and sang several songs for me, then whistled the melody for “East Tennessee Blues” and named it as one of Haley’s tunes. He said, “That’s funny how things come back to you when you sit down and get to talking about it, and reminiscing.”
I encouraged him to “play another tune and see what it stirs up,” so he strummed and whistled out a few more melodies.
At some point, Gore’s wife said she remembered seeing Haley play at Logan Court House and in a nearby coal town named Ethel.
Just before Lawrence and I left, Gore called his 85-year-old aunt, Mag Gore, about Haley. “Mag was a singer,” he said. “She married Ira Gore, her third cousin. She couldn’t get out of the Gore family.” He spoke with her briefly on the phone, then told us: “The only thing she remembers was that her husband Ira went to town one day and Ed Haley come home with him because Ira had a little bit of that good ol’ ‘moon’ they make over on the West Fork. They was a sipping that a little bit.”
West Fork, Gore said, was a tributary of Harts Creek with its headwaters in Logan County.