My personal Ed Haley journey began somewhere around 1990 when I was at the California Bluegrass Association’s annual Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley. Someone was selling LPs for $5, and, for some reason, I bought the Rounder LP, “Parkersburg Landing,” which contains 14 tunes fiddled by Ed Haley, who was a legendary blind fiddler around the Kentucky/West Virginia border near Huntington. In the liner notes, Clark Kessinger is cited as saying that he considered Ed Haley to be the finest fiddler he had ever heard. Molly O’Day described Haley’s playing as unearthly, like music from another world. J. P. Fraley said that 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. J. P. once told me that when he was about 10 years old, he rode into town with his dad to get supplies. His dad told him to sit down in front of Ed Haley while he got the supplies. Haley often played on the street and w0uld play a requested tune for a dollar.
Fast forward a few years, and I obtained three cassettes of Haley’s fiddling with the titles written in calligraphy by John Hartford. Like the LP, the sound was pretty scratchy; all recordings were made at home. At around the same time, Brad Leftwich did a fiddle workshop in southern California where he played about 8 Haley tunes. I recall Brad mentioning that if there were two ways to play something, Haley always chose the more difficult one. That was probably because he did not want people to learn his tunes and provide competition. I made about 15 copies for fiddler friends. In return, I only asked them to learn Haley’s tune, “Half Past Four.” One of them finally did, my friend David Lynch, and I learned it from him.
Fast forward a few more years and John Hartford was performing at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, California. John, whom I had not previously met was sitting in the small lobby and nobody was talking to him. So, I went up to him and asked him about Ed Haley. John had been researching Haley’s life for a book. He also recorded some of Haley’s tunes. John told me that a friend of his had spent about 40 hours trying to clean up one of the Haley tracks, but when he was done, it did not sound like music. We talked for about 10 minutes until it was time for John to go onstage. As we walked in, John said to me, “I’d give my right arm to be able to bow like Ed Haley.” The first tune John played that night was Haley’s “Half Past Four.”
A few years after that, John, along with Bob Carlin, worked with Rounder to issue a two double CD sets of Haley’s music with his wife, Ella entitled “Forked Deer” and “Grey Eagle.” These were much better quality than previously available since technology had advanced quickly. That technology has continued to advance, and this 7-CD set of all the available recordings by the Haley’s is the cleanest and most listenable yet. My friend, Martin Fisher, who is an audio engineer at the Center for Popular Music in Tennessee, lovingly worked on this material to make it as clean as modern technology could manage. Martin, incidentally, also makes wax cylinder recordings, and I have played on two of those. In addition to the seven CDs, there is a 100-page booklet with an introduction by co-producer John Fabke. Then you get Mark Wilson’s liner notes from “Parkersburg Landing” along with a 1975 essay on Haley. Grandson Steve Haley provides family memories of his grandparents. Brittany Haas discusses Haley as a fiddler. Dan Margolies discusses how Haley fits into the pantheon of great old-time fiddlers. Greg Reish writes about the musical lives of Ed and Ella Haley. That is followed by a Haley family photo album, after which is the tune listing.
These recordings are a treasure chest of 153 tunes and songs. Disc 7 has 21 alternate takes, but there are still 132 unique selections. If you are a devotee of old-time fiddling, you will find hours of amazing music in this collection. You can find it at https://www.amazon.com/Stole-Throat-Complete-Recordings-Haley/dp/B0B8P9MSN4
Here is Haley’s version of “Yellow Barber” from this new collection. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCifJkA2lq0&list=OLAK5uy_m7aJaA6zhpJ8LQaEfsrb4eS9RgHMnIQvY&index=2
And this is “Dunbar.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ih7rk-0IejQ&list=OLAK5uy_m7aJaA6zhpJ8LQaEfsrb4eS9RgHMnIQvY&index=6
“Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVoTfZ9FyU8