ROSIN UP YOUR BOW
Ed Haley was one of the many musicians based in the Tri-State region that made history while they were alive.
Haley, a member of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame, was born in nearby Logan County, West Virginia, and moved to Ashland, where he cemented his reputation as one of the most unusual and unique fiddlers to ever cross a bow.
As a result, and to keep music history alive, the Ed Haley Fiddle Contest was created over two decades ago to encourage fiddle playing in this area and across the nation. Now, the Ed Haley Fiddle Contest is a part of the big Poage Landing Days Street festival held every autumn in Ashland, Ky.
The Ed Haley Fiddle Contest takes place Saturday, Sept. 22. There is no prior registration needed and there is no entrance fee to compete. That means a person can travel to Ashland by noon today, register and play for the over $1500 in prize money. The competition in the Youth, Teen, Adult and Senior categories begins at 12:30 p.m.
The top three fiddlers in each of the four categories will earn money with 1st place fiddlers in both the Adult and Senior categories winning $500, the 1st place winner in the Teen category winning $250 and 1st place in Youth category winning $75.
Contestants will get to perform two old-time fiddle tunes of their choice in the competition with scoring emphasis based on “playing in an old-time traditional style that reflects this region’s character.”
There will also be a special Ed Haley Award given to the contestant who best plays one of Haley’s fiddle tunes.
Musician, music historian and retired Librarian at the West Virginia Division of Culture and History Bobby Taylor is a judge again at this year’s Ed Haley Fiddle Contest. Taylor is not only a renowned fiddler in his own right; he is also part-time custodian of Ed Haley’s fiddle, loaned to him by Haley’s grandson Steve Haley.
Haley was a blind musician who lived from 1883 until his death in 1951. His style of fiddling still influences musicians today.
“Ed and his wife were both blind and they raised their family while blind and traveled around,” said Bobby Taylor.
“People would drop what they were doing on their farms back then to go and see Ed Haley play. That happened at a lot of places he went to perform. Not a lot of people know this, but he actually played in a fiddle contest near Charleston, WV, that happened somewhere up on the Elk River. At the time, Ed Haley was playing his fiddle down in Charleston when somebody told him about the fiddle contest and they took him up there. All of the great fiddlers of that time were in this contest like Clark Kessinger and a whole bunch of other really good fiddlers. Ed Haley won that contest. I would guess that happened in the 1930s.”
After Ed Haley died, the music world thought that there were no recordings made of Haley’s playing that existed. That all changed when news broke that Haley’s son Ralph had recorded over 100 songs of his father’s fiddling on a disc cutting machine. The recordings were shared with each of Haley’s children and eventually they were released to the public.
“Haley was very much appreciated when he was still alive, but after he died, no one knew at the time that he had made any recordings,” said Taylor.
“When his son Ralph was interviewed in the 1970s, Ralph would say, ‘Would you like to hear him play?’ From then on, his family decided that they should share those rare recordings with the world. When those Ed Haley recordings came out in the 1970s, I wasn’t very old then, but I had my driver’s license, although I hadn’t been driving very long. A guitar player who lived in Dunbar, W.Va., named Bill Miller told me, ‘Blind Ed Haley was on the front of an album at the record shop.’ I said, ‘You must be joking. There is no way that is true.’ I got in my car and went straight to buy that recording and I felt like the richest person on Earth.”
The introduction of the ‘lost’ Ed Haley recordings was a revelation to the American roots music community.
“Now, I could hear somebody that I thought I’d never get to hear play,” said Taylor.
“And, did Ed Haley’s recordings live up to the reputation of him being a surreal musician, that he was from another world, that there was soul and spirit in his playing that you could never imagine or figure out? Yes! And to this day, we are still trying to figure out his playing style.”
If you are a fiddler or know of one, head to Ashland, Kentucky, enter the Ed’s contest and become a part of Ed Haley’s continuing musical legacy.
The Ed Haley Fiddle Contest takes place at the Christian Life Center located at 1628 Winchester Ave. in Ashland, Ky.