Old-Time Fiddlers Hall of Fame

(MP3 - 524


  Ed HaleyEd Haley
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


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.