Fiddler Blind Ed and Martha Haley with family
Photo courtesy of Fiddler Magazine
By Bob Weaver
Blind Ed Haley, according to many Appalachian musicians, was one if not the most unique fiddlers that ever lived, able to play "slurs and insults" like no other.
Haley and his wife, also blind, were frequent visitors to the Stinson area of Calhoun County through the 1920s and 1930s, and tales and legends abound about Haley and several Calhoun and Clay musicians with which they associated.
The late musician John Hartford discovered his music to be enthralled with Haley's mastery, and his biographically research of the man was picked up by WV college professor Brandon Lee Kirk after Hartford's death.
I first learned of Haley after meeting Hartford in Charleston a number of years ago, who found it exciting that I was from Calhoun County, a place about which he had lots of tall tales.
We are plucking a few tidbits about Haley and Calhoun and Clay people who story tell on Kirk's website "In Search of Ed Haley."
Clay Fiddler Wilson Douglas (left) recalled watching Blind Ed play his fiddle, visiting the Stinson area of Calhoun many times during a rough and tumble time in the backwoods.
Haley frequently visited his friend Laury (Lawrence) Hicks at Stinson. “He’d sit there in an old split-backed chair, by god, and never miss a note,” Douglas said.
“And his endurance never slowed up. He patted his feet a little bit, but not in excess. Any time Haley was just sitting around, his fingers constantly moved all the time just like he was playing the fiddle."
"That danged house was full. The yard was full. Minnie Hicks would have a big pot of beans and three gallon of coffee just about every night.”
Haley would come to Charleston by train and then to Clay County and get off the train at Ivydale.
"Somebody would be there in an old car or something to pick him up and take him 20 miles over to Hicks’" said Douglas, "It was just like a carnival comin' to town."
Douglas said he would start fiddlin' about eight o’clock and last until three in the morning. Blind Ed had an old tin cup and "Everybody’d put some money in...Some of them old retired ladies, they liked to hear him (Ed) and they would bring a little money."
They never wanted him to leave.
"Blind Ed would send for Bernard Postalwait, described as a “second Riley Puckett” on the guitar... they'd never miss a note."
“And that Bernard Postalwait, a week or two before he knew Ed was gonna leave, he’d give Ed some homebrew...It’d knock your hat off," said Douglas, after which Blind Ed would stay another week or two.
Wilson Douglas recalled stopping at a beer joint at the mouth of Stinson Creek called “Copperhead Junction” — one of the roughest places around.
“I would’ve rather went to Vietnam than in there,” Wilson said.
The Stinson drinking emporiums had multiple stabbings, shootings and deaths, mostly occurring before 1960.
Blind Ed said Stinson wasn't a place you should go up after dark.
Ugee Postalwait recalled the place was called the “Bloody Bucket” – a place of excessive drinking, fighting, and shootings – and inspiring a tune created by Blind Ed called “The Mouth of Old Stinson."
Ugee was the daughter of Lawrence (Laury) Hicks (1880-1937) and married Calvin Postalwait in 1924 at Stinson.
She recalled, "In the old days when they were logging that country they had a picnic at the mouth of Stinson. Old Harmon Carpenter was there that day. They had some musicians there. One of these fellows was a Hamrick and one was a Chennoweth. They was loggers, lumberjacks, bull of the woods – strong men."
"They got to wrestling. I don’t know if they were drinking or not. They weighed over 200 pounds apiece. They wrestled three or four hours; finally they just quit. The next day this Chennoweth got sick – evidently pulled something inside. That night he died. It was a sad time. That’s how the tune ‘Mouth of Old Stinson’ started,” Ugee said.
Fiddler Douglas recalled that Blind Ed wanted Doc White, Ivydale musician to "Come over and go down there to Bear Fork and play some music for a dance."
Doc White was a picker, veteran of the Indian Wars, schoolteacher, midwife, doctor, photographer, local judge and dentist (he even pulled his own teeth).
See PHOTO UPDATE: IVYDALE'S DOC WHITE (1889-1974) - Self-Taught Physician, Dentist, Midwife, And Fiddler
Douglas said he and Doc White headed that way, "We stopped over on the Calhoun County line. Doc White said, “Stop here. I know this old lady here. We’ll get some wine.”
The woman had a bunch of green beans and set them out along the road selling them in little baskets. She said, “Now Doc, I’m gonna sell them beans right there for six dollars a basket.”
Doc replied, “My god, I don’t want to buy them beans.” The woman looked at Douglas and winked.
"She had a quart jar of moonshine in each one of them. She was a bootleggin' and Doc said, “Yeah, by god, yeah, I’ll take two baskets.”
"We got down the road a little bit, Doc pulled them two-quart fruit jars out and throwed them baskets of green beans over the hill," Douglas said
“Now, look, Doc. If you get too drunk and cause trouble over there on Bear Fork, they’ll throw all of us in jail,” Douglas warned.
"Time we got to Bear Fork they was all drunk but me and I was a driving. Some old man there was calling that dance and Blind Ed Haley was fiddling some of the prettiest fiddling I ever heard, but as the evening progressed the alcohol went to working on him."
"He lost his coordination. And he got so high, he was a making bad notes. Doc did, too. Doc was a talking fine – his glasses way down on the end of his nose," Douglas recalled.
Douglas said the Bear Fork group liked Ed Haley so much, they wanted to keep him all night.
Ugee Postalwait said, “Ed wasn’t blind when he was born. Neither was Ella (his wife). She got sore eyes, Ella did, when she was a baby. And the old people washed their eyes with blue vitteral and that ate her eyeballs out. Ed, he had the measles that put him blind when he was a baby.”
“I used to know all of them,” the old musicians in the Stinson country. They was all to our house. They’d come from miles around to hear dad (Laury Hicks) play, especially when Haley was in the country."
Ugee said, "Maybe they’d stay for days at our house. I’d get up of a morning to look see who was in the house asleep and who all I was gonna have to cook breakfast for, when I was a girl growing up. The young men would sleep in the boys’ room and they’d sleep on the floor."
"They’d sleep four crossways in the bed, too. As I get old, I get to thinking about all of them and wonder how in the world my dad ever fed them all. I've been a cooking ever since I was nine years old for work hands and people like that," Ugee said.
Ugee Postalwait talked about her homeplace on Stinson:
"It was beautiful when I was a growing up. All them hills was clean then, but the brush has grown down to the road now. I got to go down... Places I hadn’t been for 20-some years. My dad’s old home burned down in 1966 or ’67."
"I owned the place when it was burnt down. Then they came back about a year after that and burnt my garage down at the road. They was a burning houses down there like crazy till I got the law in on them. They even burnt barns with horses in them.”
Legend abounds about Blind Ed returning for Laury Hicks' funeral.
Ugee said Ed was "tore up" over her father's death, arriving after his funeral because of flooding. They promised to play at the others funeral, whoever died first.
“Ed went up to the grave – it’s right up on the hill from the house – and he stayed and played music all day,” Ugee said.
“He played fast fiddle tunes and he played slow ones and then he’d sing."
"They thought an awful lot of my dad, and Mom and Dad thought an awful lot of them, too. It was a very sad occasion when they got there that evening, I can tell you that,” Ugee said.
After Laury Hicks death, Ed and Ella made other trips to Calhoun County.
Ugee said, “They played music on the hill where I held a Sunday school. A Hardshell Baptist Church. I was the first one ever had Sunday School there and it was called the Metheney Church."
"The first year that I had Sunday School, they wasn’t there – they went somewhere else, I think, playing music – but he come to that Sunday School for my Children’s Day, him and Ella."
"You oughta seen that hill when they found out Ed and Ella was a gonna be there. They come from the head of Walker and every place around.”
“The last time I ever seen Ed Haley was at his house (Ashland KY),” Ugee said. “He looked at me and he said, ‘Ugee, can you still make a rhubarb pie?’ I said, ‘Why lord yes, I reckon I can. Why?’ He said, ‘Well, I want a rhubarb pie.’ And I made four and I never seen no such eating as he done that evening, him and Ella, on them rhubarb pies while they was hot – with milk cream over them. I can see them yet."
There are dozens of other tales on Brandon Lee Kirk's site - "In Search of Ed Haley.
HUR HERALD STORIES:
YOUNG STINSON MAN SHOT DOWN IN 1927 - "A Rough And Tumble Place"
DOWN AT THE MOUTH OF OLD STINSON - Blind Ed "Pinned My Ears Back"
BLIND ED HALEY'S "SLURS AND INSULTS" - Calhoun Hub For Great Fiddlers And Musicians