Andy Mullins, banjo, Bernie Adams, Bill Adkins, Bill Monroe, Billy Adkins, Black Sheep, blind, Bob Dingess, Brandon Kirk, Buck Fork, Claude Martin, Dingess, Dobie Mullins, Drunkard's Hell, Ed Haley, Floyd Mullins, George Baisden, George Mullins, Green McCoy, Grover Mullins, guitar, Harts Creek, history, Hollene Brumfield, John Hartford, Logan County, Maple Leaf on the Hill, measles, Michigan, Millard Thompson, Milt Haley, Mona Haley, moonshine, music, Naaman Adams, Roxie Mullins, Smokehouse Fork, Ticky George Hollow, Trace Fork, West Virginia, Williamson, Wilson Mullins, writing
From Naaman’s, we drove out of Trace and on up Harts Creek to see Andy Mullins, who Brandon had met a few months earlier at Bill Adkins’ wake. Andy had just relocated to Harts after years of living away in Michigan; he had constructed a new house in the head of Ticky George Hollow. Andy was a son to Roxie Mullins, the woman who inspired my fascination with Harts Creek. Andy, who we found sitting in his yard with his younger brother Dobie, was very friendly. He treated us as if we had known him for years.
“I was just catting when you fellas come up through there,” Andy said to us. “One of the girls lost a cat down there over the bank last night — a kitten. This morning I went down there and it was up in that rock cliff and I took its mother down there and it whooped the mother. And I took one of the kittens down there and it whooped the kitten. The old tomcat, he come down there and he whooped it. It went back up under that damn rock.”
I liked Andy right away.
We all took seats in lawn chairs in the front yard where Andy told about Ed Haley coming to see his parents every summer when he was a boy, usually with his wife. He described him as having a “big, fat belly” and weighing about 200 pounds.
“He wasn’t much taller than Dobie but he was fat,” Andy said. “I can remember his eyes more than the rest of him because his eyes was like they had a heavy puss over them or something. It was real thick-like. Not like they were clouded or anything.”
Even though Ed was blind, he could get around all over Harts Creek and even thread a needle.
Andy had heard that Milt caused Ed’s blindness.
“They said that Ed got a fever of some kind when he was a baby and Milt went out and cut a hole in the ice and stuck him under the ice in the creek to break the fever,” he said.
Andy knew very little about Milt.
“Just that Milt got killed, that was it, over shooting the old lady down at the shoal below Bob Dingess’ at the mouth of Smokehouse,” he said.
“All the old-timers that knows anything about his daddy is probably dead,” Dobie said.
Brandon said we’d heard rumors that Milt and Green were innocent of shooting Hollena Brumfield and Andy quickly answered, “That’s what my father-in-law told me.”
Changing the conversation back to Ed, Andy said, “Ed used to go up on Buck Fork to George Mullins’ to stay a lot and up to Grover Mullins’. He lived just above George’s place — the old chimney is the only thing still standing.”
He also went up in the head of Hoover to see George Baisden, a banjo-picker who’d hoboed with him in his younger days. The two of them had a lot of adventures, like the time Ed caught a train at Dingess and rode it over to Williamson to play for a dance or at a tavern. Just before they rolled into town, George pushed him off the train then jumped off himself. It made Ed so mad that George had to hide from him for the rest of the night.
I asked Andy if Ed ever told those kind of stories on himself and he said, “He told big tales, I’d call them, but I don’t remember what they were. Well, he set and talked with my grandmother and grandfather all the time he was here, and Mom. I never paid any attention to what they talked about really. I guess, man, I run these hills. I was like a goat. Hindsight is 20/20.”
Not long into our visit with Andy, he got out his guitar and showed me what he remembered about Bernie Adams’ guitar style. From there, he took off on Bill Monroe tunes, old lonesome songs, or honky-tonk music, remarking that he could only remember Ed’s tunes in “sketches.”
I asked, “Do you reckon Ed would sing anything like ‘Little Joe’?” and he said, “I don’t know. It’s awful old. I heard him sing ‘The Maple on the Hill’. He played and sang the ‘Black Sheep’.”
“He played loud, Ed did,” Dobie said.
“And sang louder,” Andy said immediately. “He’d rare back and sing, man.”
The tune he best remembered Ed singing was “The Drunkard’s Hell”.
I wanted to know the time frame of Andy’s memories.
“1944, ’45,” he said. “I was thirteen year old at that time. Now in ’46, we lived across the creek up here at Millard’s. Him and Mona Mae and Wilson — they wasn’t married at the time — went somewhere and got some homebrew and they all got pretty looped. That was up on Buck Fork some place. Ed got mad at Wilson and her about something that night and that’s the reason they didn’t play music — him and Claude Martin and Bernie Adams.”
I asked Andy about Ed’s drinking and he said, “Just whatever was there, Ed’d drink. He didn’t have to see it. He smelled it. Ed could sniff it out.”
Brandon wondered if Ed ever played at the old jockey grounds at the mouth of Buck Fork. Andy doubted it, although it sure seemed to me like the kind of place for him to go. There was moonshine everywhere and men playing maybe ten card games at once.
“They’d get drunk and run a horse right over top of you if you didn’t watch,” Andy said. “It was like a rodeo.”
The last jockey ground held at the mouth of Buck Fork was in 1948.
Ashland, Big Foot Keaton, Blackberry Blossom, blind, Cartersville, Catlettsburg, Clayton McMichen, Curly Wellman, Ed Haley, fiddle, fiddling, Georgia, Georgia Wildcats, Great Depression, guitar, history, John Hartford, Kentucky, Maude Johnson, moonshine, music, Sweet Georgia Brown, Ward Hollow, WCMI, Winchester Avenue, writing
Curly said he lost contact with Ed Haley in the mid-thirties (other than seeing him on a street corner or at court days).
“When I got about fourteen, fifteen years old, I went to playing around with younger musicians and I left Catlettsburg and I come down to Ashland,” he said. “I started playing bars at fifteen.”
Curly told me all about how he “rediscovered” Ed toward the end of the decade.
Along about 1937, we were working WCMI and Mother and I was talking one day and I asked her, I said, “Well Mother, do you know anything about Ed Haley or the Haley family or where they’re at? I haven’t heard from them in years.” And my mother told me, said, “Why, they live right up there at Ward Hollow.” I said, “Well, I didn’t know that.” See, what I used to do, I’d get lonesome to hear him. And I knew him and he knew my voice and he knew my mother and my father and all my brothers and sisters and I’d get lonesome to play with him. And I’d get a pint of “moon” — bought it from old Maude Johnson down there at 29th Street — and walk all the way to Ward Hollow. The front door was never locked. And when I’d open the door — I’d know where he was gonna be, in that rocking chair — I’d say, “Uncle Ed?” “Well Curly, come in.” And I’d go in — wouldn’t even carry a guitar or nothing — and I’d go in and I’d sit down. He’d go get the straight chair when he played, but he would be sitting in there. A little old fireplace. I’d say, “How are you, Uncle Ed?” “Well, I don’t feel so good today. I’m not as pure as I should be.” And I’d say, “Well, do you think maybe a little hooter…?” And he’d say, “Well, uh, yes.” Talked loud then. I’d say, “Well, I brought one along.” Moonshine. I’d go out and get it and come in and give it to him and he’d hit it.
We’d sit there and talk a little more — about this and that and the weather and so forth and so on — and I’d say, “You better getcha another little drink there, Ed. Maybe if you got a cold it’ll help you.” He’d hit it again and he’d sit there and all at once he’d say, “Say, did I ever play ‘Blackberry Blossom’ for ya?” And while he was saying this, he was getting up… He knew exactly where his fiddle was on the mantle, he knowed where the bow was on the mantle, and he never touched a thing that was on that mantle — just them two things. I never saw him finger for the fiddle: he always picked it up by the neck and got the bow with his right hand. And then he’d throw that fiddle under there — the chin was holding it — and he never even had a chin-rest — then he’d sit down and he’d say, “Well, you brought your old box along, didn’t ya?” I’d say, “Yeah, it’s out there in the car.” I think it was a D-18 Martin. Sixty-five bucks. Go get the guitar, come in, sit down, tune up with him. And that’s another thing about that man. I often wondered how he kept the fiddle at 440 tuning. I know he didn’t use a pitch pipe.
Curly said it was during that time that Ed met Bernice “Sweet Georgia” Brown, who he called “Brownie.” He elaborated: “Brownie’s father owned a business here, which was in the making of tombstones, right down on Winchester Avenue, and his mother was from Cartersville, Georgia. And he was a tremendous old-time… The old English fiddle tunes and a lot of that stuff — the hornpipes. He was just marvelous on them. He would’ve loved to have played jazz fiddle, but he didn’t have it. Because he was from Georgia, Big Foot said, ‘I’ll teach you how to play ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, so from then on that was his name. We had him and Big Foot playing twin fiddles. During the time that he was here, I wanted him to hear Ed Haley. Neither one of us had a car at that time, but we were in walking distance of Ward Hollow, which was just up the road from me about eight, nine blocks. We’d walk up there and take a little hooter along and finally get him started. Well, Georgia wouldn’t pull a bow in front of Ed Haley, but he would watch him awful close. Every move — even the way he tuned the fiddle with his chin and his knee mostly. He was an amazing man.”
I asked Curly if Ed played “Sweet Georgia Brown” and he said, “Never. I don’t think he woulda even rosined his bow to play a thing like that.”
Thinking back about that time in his life caused Curly to talk about his personal memories of Ed.
“I had a lot of experiences with that old man. I loved the old man. Really loved him. He was a swell old man. He was a dear friend. So timid. He was easy to be around and knew a joke as quick as he heard it. He wasn’t boastful or pushy — just a very little timid man that would sit in the corner for hours. He let everything out with the fiddle. He turned everything loose that was inside and he done it with the instrument. I think his first love really was his music.”
I asked Curly if Ed got along with other fiddlers like Clayton McMichen and he said, “I don’t think he woulda even talked to him. When Clayton mouthed off like he did — and was all mouth — I just think Ed would have set back and not taken any part in anything. Brassy and forward — Clayton was awful bad for that. I didn’t care for Clayton McMichen myself other than I appreciated the group he had together, The Georgia Wildcats.”
Abe Keibler, Adams County, Asa Neal, banjo, Blue Creek, Charlie Fry, Clark Kessinger, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddling, Great Depression, Harry Fry, history, John Hartford, John Keibler, John Lozier, Kentucky, moonshine, music, Natchee the Indian, Norfolk and Western Railroad, Ohio, Portsmouth, Sam Cox, South Portsmouth, West End Jubilee, Winding Down the Sheets, writing
About two weeks later, I called John Lozier, the harp player in South Portsmouth, Kentucky. I wanted to hear more about his memories of Ed in Portsmouth, Ohio.
“That there’s where I met Ed Haley at — sitting on Market Street back in about ’28 or ’29 playing for nickels and dimes,” he said. “And his wife had a banjo-uke of some kind. It was about an eight-stringed instrument, but it wasn’t a ukelele and it wasn’t a banjo. And she was blind. They raised five children.”
I had some very specific questions about Ed’s fiddling, which John answered in short measure. I wondered, for instance, if he was a loud or soft fiddler.
“When Ed played, he played so soft and so low that you had to listen,” he said. “It was just like pouring water through a funnel.”
Where did Ed Haley put the fiddle?
“He put it up under his chin.”
Did he play a long bow or a short bow?
“I think he used all of his bow. In other words, he didn’t waste any of it. He played an awful lot of hornpipes.”
I asked John about Asa Neal, the great Portsmouth fiddler whose skill was preserved only on a few cassette tapes floating amongst an “underground” network of old-time music enthusiasts.
“Asa Neal was a good fiddler and he copied after Clark Kessinger,” John said. “He lived over here in Portsmouth and worked on a section on the N&W. I don’t know how he played as well as he did — fingers clamped around them old pick handles all day long. He was kindly rough and a little loud, but he could play a lot of fiddle. Lord, I’ve eat at his house many a time.”
I asked John if Ed knew Asa Neal and he said yes, then added, “Ed Haley and them used to get in a contest when they used to have the West End Jubilee down on Market Street in Portsmouth and Clark Kessinger would come down. Someone asked Charlie Fry one time, said, ‘What are you gonna play?’ and he told him. He said, ‘Well, Clark Kessinger’s gonna do that.’ He said, ‘That’s all right — I’ll use that rolling bow on him.’ Charlie Fry, he had a boy that was a tenor banjo player and he was good. His name was Harry Fry.”
John seemed to regard the Keiblers — who were apparently his kinfolk — as the best among local fiddlers.
“I remember Uncle John Keibler,” he said. “Uncle John Keibler was the best fiddler they was in the country. He was another Ed Haley — he played all of his life. ‘Winding Down the Sheets’, now there’s an old Keibler tune. Did you know there’s one of the Keibler boys up here yet left that plays? Abe Keibler. Lives right above me about four mile in a housing project up here at South Shore. He’s got sugar awful bad, but he’s one of the younger ones of the old set. He’s one of the boys of the seven I told you about and they all played. Now one of them has got the old fiddle that Grandpa brought over here from Germany. Made in 1620 or 1720. A Stradivarius. Abe’s boy’s got it.”
I asked John if Ed knew the Keiblers and he said, “I don’t know whether he did or not. He knew the Mershon boys that lived over on Pond Creek and around over in there. They was a bunch of Mershon boys that played fiddle and banjo there. Some of them were pretty good and some was rough. They was good for a square dance, but they couldn’t play with Ed Haley.”
John was on a roll: “At one time, they was more good musicians around Portsmouth — during the Depression — and they wasn’t no work and they just sat around and played cards and drank a little moonshine and got good. None of them ever went anyplace. And they was just some great fiddlers. Sam Cox, he was a banjo player. You know Natchee the Indian? He lived down around Blue Creek somewhere in Adams County. He’d play the bow over the fiddle and under and upside down and lay down… But Ed Haley never did do that. Ed Haley would just sit and roll it out just as smooth — just spit it right out on the street for ya. Smoothest fiddler I ever heard.”
Elick Carver, Eliza Cary, French Dingess, genealogy, Halcyon, Harts Creek, Harvey Thompson, history, James Gore, Joe Gore, Laura Cary, Leander Cary, Lee Dingess, life, Logan, Logan County, Logan Democrat, Mason Saunders, moonshine, Sol Riddle, Stokes, T.B. Hensley, Tommy Bryant, Von Dingess, West Fork, West Virginia
“Rastus and His Mule,” a local correspondent at Halcyon on the West Fork of Big Harts Creek, Logan County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Logan Democrat printed on Thursday, April 10, 1919:
We are all sorry to see the snow falling today.
Leander Cary and family attended singing school at Stokes Sunday.
Lee Dingess returned home from Logan Sunday.
Tommy Bryant was plowing Saturday.
T.B. Hensley was a guest of L. Cary’s Sunday.
Sol Riddle was shopping in Halcyon Saturday.
Harvey Thompson is on the sick list this week.
Elick Carver was a visitor of Joe Gore Sunday.
James Gore was visiting friends and relatives at Halcyon Sunday.
The moonshine was stirring rapidly Sunday.
Mason Saunders was visiting Harvie Thompson Sunday.
Misses Laura and Eliza Cary took dinner at the home of French Dingess Sunday.
Miss Von Dingess gave a Chinaman a thrashing on the last day of school.