Ed Haley

Ok, so this isn’t a picture of our man, but it came up on a google search, and was too good not to use 😉

Ed Haley was, as near as I can figure it, the American equivalent of Michael Coleman. Ferocious fiddling from the dawn of the 20th Century which left its mark on everything that has come to follow. You old-time music-lovers, I really oughtn’t have to say anything. As far as fiddling is concerned, this is where it’s at. Look at the size of his bow. You know what they say about blind guys with big bows, right?

Ed Haley Bio:
1883-1951 – East Kentucky/West Virginia
James Edward “Ed” Haley was born in 1883 on Hart’s Creek in Logan County, West Virginia. Haley, who was a blind professional fiddler, never recorded commercially during his lifetime; he was afraid that the record companies would take advantage of a blind man. However, there were recordings made by Haley’s son Ralph on a home disc-cutting machine. When Ralph died, the recordings were evenly divided among the five remaining children. It is believed that the 106 sides which remain are only about one third of those recorded.Most of these have been issued on CD by Rounder Records on two 2-CD sets. The digital rejuvenation of these disks is remarkable.
Haley, who was often accompanied by his wife Martha, who was also blind and played mandolin, traveled to fiddle contests and small towns throughout West Virginia and Kentucky. Before the depression, he made as much as twenty dollars a day. But Haley would also play special requests for people who loved fiddling but had no money to pay for it. One of Haley’s lifelong friends was an Ivydale physicial named Laury Hicks. Shortly before he died, Hicks requested that he be able to hear Ed Haley one more time. Ed arrived too late, and it is said that he played over Laury’s grave for hours into the night.
In regard to his own fiddling, Haley was not particularly vain, although he was aware that he could put “slurs and insults” into a tune in a manner that set him apart from all other fiddlers. “I like to flavor up a tune,” he told Cecil Williamson, “so that nobody in the world could tell what I’m playing.. And he sometimes wished that “someone might pattern after me a little when I’m dead.” Today, many young fiddlers such as Brad Leftwich from Indiana and Bruce Molsky from Virginia, have proficiently learned Haley’s tunes.
Haley died of a heart attack on February 4, 1951 at his home in Ashland, Kentucky.
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. One old-timer, after hearing Haley play “Bonaparte’s Retreat”, declared that “if two armies could come together and hear him play that music, they’d kill themselves in piles.”
–Excerpted from the original LP liner notes by Mark Wilson and Guthrie T. Meade
Biography by Linda Seida
It would have been a tragedy if the world had been left with no viable recordings of the extremely gifted and influential fiddling of Ed Haley, but that’s almost what happened due to Haley’s own wariness. The fiddler harbored a healthy mistrust of record companies and was always worried that they would pull a fast one in their dealings with him because of his disability. The Appalachian fiddler, who was born James Edward Haley, lost his sight during a bout of measles when he was approximately three years old. Although he made his living as a professional musician and supported a growing family of six children even throughout the Depression, he refused to deal with any record companies. Luckily, Ralph Haley, one of the fiddler’s sons, possessed home recordings of his father that he made over a period from 1946 through the following year. Upon Ralph’s passing, his father’s recorded legacy was bequeathed to his siblings. In 1975, almost a quarter century after Ed Haley passed away from a heart attack at his home in Ashland, KY, Rounder Records put out a 14-track LP, Parkersburg Landing, that documented his wickedly good fiddling. But this album wasn’t enough to capture Haley’s repertoire adequately. Rounder went on to put out a pair of double-CD sets, Forked Deer in 1997 followed by Grey Eagle a year later. Haley, who never attended school, did not have an easy childhood. An aunt helped raise him after the death of his musician father in 1889. When food was in short supply, wild onions made up his meal. A kindly neighbor of the budding musician constructed a cornstalk fiddle that Haley tinkered with before he could own a real one. The fiddler wed Martha Ella in 1914 and the newlyweds made their home in Ashland, KY. Like Haley, his wife was blind. She did, however, receive the benefit of a formal education. After graduating from the Louisville School for the Blind, she went on to teach piano and she later played the mandolin as her husband’s accompanist.
Rounder Records released two incredible double CDs of Ed Haley’s fiddling: Volume 1 (Forked Deer) and Volume 2 (Grey Eagle). These are home recordings that had deteriorated dramatically, but thanks to the efforts of Bob Carlin & Rounder, they have been lovingly restored. A few of the tracks are unavoidably rough, but it’s well worth it to hear Haley’s astounding fiddling.


Ed Haley – Vol. 1 – Forked Deer
Year: 1997
Label: Rounder
This will be my second copy of Forked Deer – I gave my first to a Mando friend. To me, this is an essential source for anyone who really loves old time fiddle playing. The sound quality is a bit poor, like any source, but you will soon be hearing beyond the limits of the recording equipment of the day once you get into Ed Haley’s incredible groove ( enhanced by some kick butt Mandolin playing by his wife).
Ed Haley plays the tunes with such buoyancy and spirit. Once you think you have it down, he starts adding these mind blowing variations – all delivered with lightness, agility and an almost scat singing- like consonance at the front of the bow strokes. Doot dah doot da doot. Listen and see what you think!
Disc: 1
1. Soundbite
2. Forked Deer
3. Ida Red
4. Indian Ate the Woodchuck
5. Brushy Run
6. Indian Nation
7. Humphrey’s Jig
8. Green Mountain Polka
9. Sourwood Mountain
10. Man of Constant Sorrow
11. Love Somebody
12. Dora Dean
13. Soundbite
14. Bluegrass Meadows
15. Cacklin’ Hen
16. Flop Eared Mule
17. Salt River
18. Brownlow’s Dream
Disc: 2
1. Soundbite
2. Indian Squaw
3. Dunbar
4. Lost Indian
5. Jenny Lind
6. Chicken Rebel
7. Cherry River Flag
8. Cripple Creek
9. Done Gone
10. Soundbite
11. Yellow Barber
12. Stacker Lee
13. Brushy Fork of John’s Creek
14. Red Apple Rag
15. Wake up Susan
16. Three Forks of Sandy
17. No Corn on Tygart
18. Stonewall Jackson
~96 vbr (but higher wouldn’t give you much more music) | no covers
* out-of-print
Ed Haley – Vol. 2 – Grey Eagle
Year: 1998
Label: Rounder
Amazon Review
In John Hartford’s extensive and enlightening liner notes, he compares the old-time fiddler Ed Haley to jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden and Kentucky guitarist Arnold Shultz (an associate of Bill Monroe’s Uncle Pen): legendary, enormously influential musicians who were not recorded and are therefore underappreciated. Luckily, Haley was captured by his son Ralph in a series of home recordings from the late-1940s, 32 of which are presented on this two-CD compilation. (This collection follows the other two-disc Rounder companion, Forked Deer.) Born in 1883 West Virginia and blind since the age of three, Haley’s fiery approach combines an unrefined aggression and a forward-moving drive with subtle hints of sophistication. His unique (in modern terms) playing style–holding the fiddle against his upper arm and chest–allows him to move the fiddle as well as the bow, increasing his range and dexterity. While the sound quality varies, the musical quality does not. –Marc Greilsamer
Disc: 1
1. Soundbite
2. Grey Eagle
3. Cabin Creek
4. Silver Dagger
5. Wilson’s Jig
6. Wild Horse
7. Half Past Four
8. Ox in the Mud
9. Cluck Old Hen
10. Chinese Breakdown
11. Soundbite
12. Sally Will You Marry Me
13. Bonaparte’s Retreat
14. Money Musk
15. Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom
16. Hell up Coal Holler
17. Arkansas Traveller
Disc: 2
1. Soundbite
2. Cumberland Gap
3. Parkersburg Landing
4. Flowers of the Morning
5. Cuckoo’s Nest
6. Cuckoo’s Nest
7. Boatsman
8. Old Sledge
9. Paddy on the Turnpike
10. Soundbite
11. Catlettsburg
12. Fire on the Mountain
13. Poplar Bluff
14. Sally Goodin’
15. Cherokee Polka
16. Pumpkin Ridge
17. Mississippi Sawyer
18. Kiss Me Quick
19. Rebel Raid
Alternate Link *added 9-11-2010
~96 vbr (but higher wouldn’t give you much more music) | no covers

* out-of-print

oh, and if you want to hear another Fiddlin’ Originator, check out Eck Robertson – Famous Cowboy Fiddler over at the Down Home Radio Show
This entry was posted in fiddle, old-time, Roots. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Ed Haley

  1. bruce says:

    Thank you, thank you.

  2. Gadaya says:

    Thank you very much Pirate. I looked for these recordings for a long time now and here they are, the complete two double-cds. Any chance to have the liner notes?

  3. banjobrown1 says:

    I cannot get pt 2 to unpack I tried twice

  4. Sorry Gadaya, I got them from someone else already as mp3s, so no notes.

    Sorry jazzme, I'm traveling right now so I'll have to wait till I get back to re-up.

    You're welcome Bruce!

  5. Anonymous says:

    hey thanks for making this amazing fiddler available again.

  6. roldo says:

    Another rare treat – thanks, cap'n.

  7. banjobrown1 says:

    Will vol 2 of this be re uploaded . these are great posts

  8. banjobrown1 says:

    Thanks these are just great

  9. this is wonderful, thank you so much…

  10. Wow. I am so pleased to see this up. I have Ed's Forked Deer and was saddened to see Rounder let it go out of print. Bruce said it best, “Thank you, thank you.”

  11. Taraletti says:

    Hello Irate. Change the adress on Patrimonios de la Humanidad: http://patrimonios.mforos.com/

    Registration it's free as always 😉

  12. Jeremy says:

    I trust you're well, Pirate, it's been awful quiet around here lately. With any luck you're travelling or otherwise happily engaged, discovering more treasured sonic archaeology. Hope to see you around before long

  13. mikewj says:

    Great stuff. Thanks so much.

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