Fraley on Haley


Ed Haley and family

edited from Brandon Kirk:

J.P. Fraley: “You know, Ed Haley fascinated me. When I was just a kid learning to fiddle, my daddy was a merchant. He’d take me into Ashland and stand me on the street just to listen to this blind fiddler and his boy play. I was about twelve or fourteen. Well, even earlier than that I was listening to him on the street – watching him – and I swear to god, his fingers, when he played the fiddle just looked like they was dancing. It was out of this world. Now, I don’t know which world’s fair it was, but they picked him up – I think it was Mr. Holbrook, the doctor – and took him to the world’s fair and the critics in New York – might have been ’35 or somewhere in there – wrote about him. Said he was a ‘fiddling genius.’ Just what I already knew, and I was just a kid.”

As for Haley’s technique, J.P. said he “leaned” the fiddle against his chest when playing and held the bow at its end. I wondered if he played long or short bow strokes. “He done it both. I know when he played for his own benefit he used more bow. But he played a lot for dances and as they used to say they had to play ‘quick and devilish.’”

I asked J.P. if he remembered Haley playing the eastern Kentucky version of “Blackberry Blossom” and he said yes – that he played it, too. He knew a little bit about the tune’s history: “Well, General Garfield was a fiddler. A lot of people didn’t know it. I guess it had to be in the Civil War. The ‘Blackberry Blossom’ – the old one – was General Garfield’s favorite tune. Ed – I never will forget it – he told me that that was General Garfield’s ‘Blackberry Blossom’.” This “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom”, J.P. said, was a different tune entirely than the one made famous by Arthur Smith. J.P. said local fiddler Asa Neal also played the tune. “He was from around the Portsmouth area. He’s dead, and he was quite a fiddler. Now, he knew Ed. Fact of the matter, he learned a lot from Ed, but he was about Ed’s age.”

J.P. said Haley never talked about where he learned to play. “I have an idea that it was probably a lot like I learned. See Catlettsburg was a jumping off place, I call it, for loggers and coal miners and rousters and so forth, and they was always some musicians in them. And Ed had this ability – he couldn’t read – but he had an ear like nobody’s business. If he heard a tune and liked it, he’d play it and he’d just figure out his own way to do it.”

J.P. was on a roll: “See, Ed has become more or less of a legend now…and rightfully so. His range was from, say, Portsmouth, Ohio to Ashland, Catlettsburg, and up to Charleston, West Virginia. I think he was at Columbus, Ohio, and then he went to the world’s fair. He played consistently up and down the river. He made good money on the boats.”


5 Responses to “Fraley on Haley”

  1. Rephrasing McDowell Says:

    Great reflection of one great fiddler on another great fiddler! As I sit reading this in the Putney Vt Coop, I recall how i grew up in Catlettsburg KY and Ed and JP were still legends to those how “knew” in the 70’s & 80’s….. Very cool how the Old Time Dance party keeps me in touch with personal heritage all the way up “north” here!
    Thanks Y’all


  2. Jim Nelson Says:

    Where does this come from and is there more?

    • Brandon Ray Kirk Says:

      Hello, Jim. This material reflects the research of John Hartford and myself into the story of Ed Haley’s life and music. Our interviews were conducted between 1991 and 2001. You can see more at my blog:

  3. Gil Sayre Says:

    My dad often spoke about seeing Haley play in Pt. Pleasant the Court House steps,and again on his Uncle Lincoln’s farm where they had weekend boxing matches.This was from around 1930 up to 39 or 40. Dad said he sometimes had a woman with him and she played banjo or mandolin.Locals called him a ‘hobo fiddler’. He was a little on the grouchy side and at the boxing matches demanded to be paid up front. He slept in the barn at these events and loved to drink buttermilk.

  4. Steve Goldfield Says:

    J.P. told me the same story about his dad bringing him to town, leaving him with Ed Haley, and telling him to listen and watch. Haley’s “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” has about four times as many notes as the “Blackberry Blossom” recorded by Dick Burnett.

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