“Uh oh. This is pretty good.”

by

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edited from Brandon Ray Kirk (http://brankirk.wix.com/brandonkirk):

I rediscovered Parkersburg Landing (Ed Haley’s Rounder LP) filed away on one of the crowded shelves in my office. I put it on the record player and as soon as the title track started, I thought, “Uh oh. This is pretty good.”

I turned up the volume knob and slumped down in my chair. I sat there stunned for the next twenty or so minutes listening to Haley plow through tunes with names like “Humphrey’s Jig,” “Cherokee Polka” and “Cherry River Rag.” By the time I reached out to flip the album to Side 2, my fingers were trembling and I was almost breathless.

I tried to focus on every nuance as Haley played “Flower of the Morning,” “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Dunbar.”  Then, when he took off on “Forked Deer,” I almost fell out of my chair. It was a profound experience…the kind that pulls you away from everything you’ve done up to that moment and sends you off into another direction. I don’t even remember listening to the rest of the album, although I’m sure I did.

Where did these recordings come from?

“The present recordings were made by Ralph Haley, who also plays guitar on several selections,” I read in the album liner notes. “Ralph had served in the Signal Corps during the war and used a home disc-cutting machine of the Wilcox-Gay type. After Ralph’s death in the late forties, the collection of discs were evenly divided among the five remaining children. It is estimated that the 106 sides presently accounted for represent approximately one third of the original total. Most of these records were preserved by Lawrence Haley of Ashland, who kindly gave us permission to issue them here. The discs were transferred at the Library of Congress under the supervision of Larry Haley and Alan Jabbour and were remastered at Intermedia Studios in Boston.”

I spent the next several years glued to Parkersburg Landing. I talked about Haley constantly. Every now and then I would call up friends and play some of the album, saying, “Now, that’s how it’s supposed to go.” No one had a clue who Ed Haley was; most seemed unimpressed. But to me, the scratchy recordings were like old faded photographs and I was so excited by what I heard that the imperfections in recording technique quickly disappeared to my ear.

It was only natural that I would want to know more about this man who had such a strong grip on me. I first turned to a brief biography written on the Parkersburg Landing album cover. Right away, his life interested me almost as much as did his music.

“James Edward Haley was born in 1883 on Hart’s Creek in Logan County, WV. When he was quite young, his mother was killed in an altercation with the Hatfield and McCoy feud. He was subsequently raised by his Aunt Liza. An attack of the measles when he was three left him completely blind. He received no formal schooling [and] on occasion food was so scarce that his dinner would consist of nothing but a bunch of wild onions washed in a nearby stream.”

For more biographical info see here, here, here, and here.

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