|By Bob Weaver 2008|
Well-known American musician John Hartford, best known for "Gentle on My Mind," was excited to learn I was from Calhoun County.
We were attending one of the state's music fests a few years ago in Charleston, when Hartford asked," Where are you from?"
I replied "Calhoun County."
"Calhoun County!" he exclaimed, "That's where old Blind Ed Haley hung out."
I had never heard of Blind Ed Haley (1883-1951).
Hartford (pictured left) explained that Haley's fiddling had changed the course of his musical life.
"When I discovered Ed Haley, it was like the first time I discovered Earl Scruggs," he said.
Returning to Sunny Cal, I began to ask about Blind Ed, and have since learned a lot about the famous fiddler.
Hartford had stumbled upon stacks of home-made 78 rpm records of tunes recorded in the 1940s by Haley.
"It pinned my ears back," he said.
After Haley "entered my heart," Hartford dedicated much of his last years of creative energy working with the unique sounds of Haley's fiddling.
He began writing a book about Haley, which remained unfinished at Hartford's death.
"Haley's sound is impossible to describe because it starts conjuring up pictures right away, and the pictures get in the way of description. It goes to a whole other level, almost like you see places, feel temperatures, smells, all kinds of stuff," he said.
One of Blind Ed's tunes "Down at the Mouth of Old Stinson," was inspired by a picnic attended by a bunch of "woodhicks" during which a wrestling match broke out.
Something got a little out of hand, and one of the participants was severely injured and died the following day.
Nonetheless, the troubling event inspired the fiddle tune, according to Clay fiddler Wilson Douglas. He said this 'crooked' tune was suppose to reflect the sadness of the event.
Another tune, "West Fork Gals," likely originated from the area.
Haley frequently stayed with musician Laury Hicks "up on Stinson," a place he described that should be avoided, particularly after dark.
Blind Ed Haley frequented the regions hills
and hollers, playing with local musicians
Haley, accompanied by his blind wife Martha, often came to Calhoun and Clay during the 1920s through the 1940s. She played the mandolin.
Laury Hicks, who was stricken ill and dying, requested that he be able to hear Ed Haley one more time. Blind Ed arrived too late, and it is said that he played over Laury's grave for hours into the night.
Clark Kessinger considered Ed Haley to be the finest fiddler he had ever heard.
Molly O' Day says that his playing was unearthly, like music from another world.
J.P. Fraley tells how Haley's fingers seemed to possess a life of their own when he played, as if little men were running across the fingerboard of his violin.
BLIND ED HALEY'S "SLURS AND INSULTS" - Calhoun Hub For Great Fiddlers And Musicians