California, Clyde Haley, Dingess, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddler, Harts Creek, John Hartford, Lawrence Haley, Logan County, Mona Haley, music, Nashville, Ralph Haley, Stockton, Wayne County, West Virginia, writing
In January of 1994, Lawrence put me in touch with his brother Clyde Haley, an old bachelor who had spent most of his life roaming the country, working here and there and always managing to get into some kind of trouble. Lawrence called Clyde “the black sheep of the family,” while Mona laughingly dubbed him as a “rogue.” He was Ed Haley’s oldest son and some seven years older than Lawrence. Each time I went to Harts Creek, people had asked about Clyde. Apparently, he made quite an impression.
When I first called Clyde, he lived in a minimum-security nursing home in Stockton, California. Our conversation started like this:
Hey, Clyde. How’re you doing?
“Well, I’m still in the hospital.”
Well, all right. I been wanting to talk to you for two years now.
“Who is this?”
This is John Hartford in Nashville.
“Well, I don’t know whether I know you personally, do I?”
Well, you may not. I’m a real good friend of Lawrence and Pat’s. And I play the fiddle myself and I’m on television. I wear a little derby hat and I dance while I play the fiddle.
But the reason I want to talk to you is I think your father was the greatest old-time fiddler that ever lived.
“I do, too,” he said.
Apparently, Clyde spent a lot of time bragging on Ed’s music at the nursing home. I told him I would send him copies of his father’s music and he got really excited.
“Okay,” he said. “We do a lot of little dancing here in our recreation periods. I think I’ll be outta here in March. It’s not a jail or anything — it’s a hospital.”
I told him I would be touring California in June and he said, “Well, you’ve got my address. Drop by and see me. I’m in Stockton.”
In the meantime, there were a lot of things we could talk about over the telephone. I could tell early in our conversation that Clyde was sometimes right on with his stories, while at other times he was completely out to lunch. His memories were sporadic — in no particular order — like bits of broken glass in a huge pile of garbage that you have to sort through and put back together.
I knew Clyde was Lawrence’s oldest living brother, but wasn’t exactly sure of his age.
“I was born in 1921,” he said. “That’d make me about 73.”
Clyde said he went with his father on trips more than any of the other Haley children.
“When my dad wanted to leave Mom and get away from her for a change, he’d always take me as his crutch,” he said. “I was his favorite son outside of Ralph. He called me ‘Reecko’. That was his nickname for me. I used to carry the fiddle case for him. And I went with him when he’d go to Logan County and go up on Harts Creek and up in Dingess and up that way. And he’d go over around Wayne County. He knew people up there.”
I asked Clyde to describe his father and he said, “My dad, he was about 6’2″ and he had real small feet. He had feet like a dancer would have and he wore a size six shoe. I remember that because I used to wear his shoes. I never saw him with a suit on in my life.”