Alabama, banjo, Booger Hole, Brandon Kirk, Calhoun County, Dixie, Ed Haley, Elizabeth Hicks, fiddle, fiddlers, fiddling, Gid Tanner, Hinkey Dinkey Dee, Jasper McCune, Jim McCune, John Hartford, John McCune, Laury Hicks, Minnie Hicks, Mount Airy, music, North Carolina, Perry Meadows, Ralph Haley, Rogersville, Skillet Lickers, Tom McCune, Ugee Postalwait, Washington Hicks, West Fork Gals, West Virginia, writing
As Ugee spoke about her life, I pulled out the Laury Hicks fiddle and began to play. For Ugee, hearing it painted pictures and conjured up images from long ago. Her eyes teared up, full of emotion and melancholy.
“I never thought I’d hear Dad’s fiddle played again,” she said, after I played one tune.
For the next half-hour, I played for her, intermittently asking things like, “Did you ever hear Ed play ‘The Star Spangled Banner’?”
“I certainly have.”
What about “Dixie”?
“Oh my god, yes. Him and Dad both played ‘Dixie’.”
Did they play “West Fork Gals”?
“Oh, yeah. I don’t think they was any fiddling pieces back then they didn’t know.”
Before putting the fiddle back in the case, I asked what Ed did when he needed repairs on his fiddles.
“They didn’t work on their fiddles very much,” Ugee said. “They kept their fiddles in good shape. I’ve seen Dad string the bow hair off a horse’s tail. Seen him do that a many a time. He’d string up the bows for Ed, too. Dad could do all of that.”
Did Ed trade fiddles a lot?
“Oh, yeah. Anybody that came along. He’s been there with three or four. He used to come and try to trade some of them off to Dad. Sometimes Dad’d trade with him, sometimes he didn’t. I’ve seen my dad have as high as seven fiddles.”
I showed Ed’s fiddle to Ugee and she said, “Ed Haley got that fiddle from Dad. Ed traded him a real dark-looking fiddle. Ed got my guitar, too. He wanted it for Ralph.”
Brandon asked Ugee about her father’s background, a very important thing considering his strong presence in Ed’s life. She said he was born in 1880 to Washington and Elizabeth (McCune) Hicks in Calhoun County.
“Well, he come very near to getting killed when he was young,” she said. “Perry Meadows stabbed him seven times with a knife right around the heart in a fight. They didn’t think he’d live at all. He told Perry if he lived, ‘I’ll get you.’ He liked to beat Perry to death after he got older. Old Mrs. Meadows was gonna indict Dad over it it but Dad rode a pony horse and went with Ab Moss’ mother to Mount Airy, North Carolina. Back then, they wasn’t no roads — just trails. Took his big dog with him named Ring. He come very near to beating Perry to death, though, I guess. They was friends afterwards. Perry lived down the road just about half a mile below us. Dad never cared that much about Perry but he treated him right.”
Ugee spoke little about Laury’s bachelor days but implied that his musical skill and talent at square dancing made him popular with the ladies.
“They wouldn’t have a square dance in the country without having Laury Hicks,” she bragged.
She felt Laury inherited his musical talent from his mother’s side of the family, the McCunes. Laury’s uncle Jim McCune, who lived at the infamous “Booger Hole,” had musical children: John was a good fiddler on two or three tunes, while Jasper was the best banjoist in the area. Another son Tom “could play the banjo, but he was the best whistler I ever heard in my life. Dad give him a dollar a day to come up and whistle for him when he was bad sick.”
“All them McCunes could play music and they could dance, too,” Ugee said, before adding that they were mostly known as singers.
In 1904, Laury married Minnie Shaver. Because he was so close to his mother (he was her “favorite”), he remained living at home with his new bride. Years later, he played his fiddle and sang for his mother at her deathbed. Ugee sang all she could remember of the song:
There was an old man, he had a wooden leg.
He had no tobaccer but tobaccer he’d beg.”
“That was Grandpap Hicks’ favorite and the night that Granny died in 1923 I was putting her to bed and he was just see-sawing on the fiddle. She said ‘Laury, play your dad’s tune,’ and he said, ‘Oh Mam, I have to change the key.’ She said, ‘Don’t make no difference. Play Wash’s piece.’ I never will forget: I went to the kitchen and he was playing that and he hollered, ‘Hey, Ugee! Come here quick!’ And I come back in and seen they was something wrong with Granny. And I run and aimed to work with her…she was gone.”
Ugee couldn’t remember the title of her grandfather’s favorite tune, nor any more words to it, but Brandon later found those lyrics in a song recorded by Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers called “Hinkey Dinkey Dee”.