Billy Adkins, blind, Brandon Kirk, Cacklin Hen, Clyde Haley, Dood Dalton, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddling, guitar, Harts, Harts Creek, history, Huntington, John Hartford, Lincoln County, Logan, mandolin, Marshall Kelley, music, West Virginia, writing
That night, Brandon and I congregated at Billy Adkins’ house in Harts Bottom. In ensuing conversation, Billy told us about Marshall Kelley, an old-timer in the community who remembered Ed. He dialed Marshall up, then put me on the telephone. Marshall said he was seventy-three years old, had been born and raised about three miles up Harts Creek and was the son of a Baptist preacher. He was great: I didn’t have to prod him with questions. He just took off, beginning with a story about seeing Ed walking up toward Dood Dalton’s.
“I was about two or three blocks away from him,” Marshall said. “I lived in a house about 100 yards from the road and I could see the people going and coming up and down the road. And I saw a man — a little bit short — going, walking. It looked like he was carrying a guitar — might have been a mandolin — in one hand and his fiddle in the other hand. Somebody said they believed that was Ed Haley and he was being led by a young man that was just a little taller than him. In other words, this man was holding onto his arm. They were walking side by side. And he went down there and went up a hollow then about half a mile — maybe three quarters of a mile — to the home of Dood Dalton. They were acquainted with each other. Ed played the fiddle the biggest part of the afternoon.”
I asked Marshall if he remembered anything specific about Ed’s fiddling.
“I heard him play the ‘Cacklin’ Hen’ on the fiddle and made her cackle,” he said. “Buddy, he could make that sound just almost exactly like a chicken cackling. And I noticed the sound of that fiddle. And down in those little grooves — places where you could look down in the head of his fiddle — I could see some letters down in there, like a little sticker, that said, ‘Made in Germany.’ And his fiddle looked old cause it didn’t have much varnish on it. Dood made mention about putting new varnish on it and he said he didn’t want to. He said they played better — had a better sound — without any varnish on it. None of them sounded just like his fiddle and he wouldn’t change.”
Marshall said he saw Ed play at Logan and Huntington, too.
Then I heard him two or three times in Logan up around the courthouse singing and playing. One time they was a woman with him somebody said was his wife and she was also blind. I believe she was playing a mandolin. Then the next thing, I grew up a little bit and I went to Huntington. And I was a going down one of the streets and I heard a fiddle a playing. It was far enough away that I couldn’t tell what direction it was in. I stopped once and listened. And after a while, I went on down there and here was a gang of people ganged up and there was him and his wife again a playing. And I thought as I went walking down that way, ‘That sounds just like Ed Haley.’ And sure enough it was.”
Just before Marshall and I hung up, he told me what he knew about the Haley children.
“I only got acquainted with the one named Clyde,” he said. “And I saw him there at Dood Dalton’s house. Just talked with him a little bit. Me and him was approximately the same age. He got to sparking Dood’s girl and I was trying to take her away from him and whenever I seen I couldn’t make no headway I just walked away and left and then she quit him.”