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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 9/4/15 Brushy Run

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JanetB - Posted - 09/04/2015:  05:03:08

Brushy Run is this week’s TOTW.  I was inspired to learn by listening to Bruce Molsky – the awesome engineer-turned-fiddler-who-never-looked-back.  He, as well as Art Stamper, listened to Ed Haley’s fiddle recordings – the talented blind fiddler from West Virginia (and later from eastern Kentucky) whose scratchy recordings are rough diamonds.  Surprisingly, there was only one other recording of Brushy Run on BHO besides mine.

Titles of old-time tunes can have personal meanings.  When I learned Brushy Run I was reminded of the prickly Ceanothus bushes (called buck brush) that outlie our home, of the poison oak very nearby that is worse than bee stings when I get it, and also of hound hunts I’d been on where you had to gingerly make your way through prickly, thorny berry branches.  The tune meanders and then jumps up, just as if you’d been poked by something sharp, especially in the B part.

The actual place called Brushy Run is both a small community and the name of a creek in eastern West Virginia’s Pendleton County.  The tune was named, according to Wilson Douglas, for the locale where an unknown fiddler lived and composed the piece. Brushy Run is located on U.S. Highway 220 in Pendleton County, WV, lying where Stony Creek and Brushy Run Creek meet to form North Mill Creek.

The oldest recording of Brushy Run (1945) appears to be from West Virginian fiddler Ed Haley (1883 – 1951).  Wilson Douglas knew him personally, as well as the tune’s origins, but doesn’t cite how Haley learned the tune.   Wilson states that this was also a Carpenter family tune which was composed around the time of the Civil War. The locale of this tune was “over beyond Widen.  It was just a big holler, with so much underbrush – some old fiddler was bacheloring there and he just composed this and he called it the Brushy Run.”  French Carpenter played it well (recorded in 1963) and perhaps taught Haley much earlier.

Because of its importance as the oldest source recording I choose to focus the TOTW on Ed Haley.  The blind fiddler with his blind mandolin-playing wife made a living by performing and raised a family as well.   If you are curious about Haley’s life, delve into the current long-running blog by Brandon Ray Kirk, who along with John Hartford, sought out and interviewed everyone they could related to Ed Haley.  There are over 300 posts here, some of them written by Hartford in these blog journals called "In Search of Ed Haley" .  If you scroll down you’ll read Hartford’s words about the book they were together writing which he entitled The Search for Ed Haley, Vol. 1, promised to be published soon.  By using the “previous or next” tab arrow you’ll find more blog entries. 

In reading Brandon's long blog you get a feel for the lifestyle and fiddling techniques of the great fiddler – one centered on music which included busking, lots of drinking, some fighting, and many late-into-the-night house performances.  For just a coin or a greenback he was known to play requested tunes for an hour.  Memories of Haley range from a polite, serious and good-humored man to a forceful one who wasn’t timid about speaking his mind, cursing, or punishing his children.

Upon my inquiry, here’s what Brandon said about Brushy Run:   “Ed Haley frequently visited as far north as Parkersburg, WV, and over into Roane, Calhoun, and Clay counties. He may have learned Brushy Run from one of the many fiddlers he met along the way. For what it’s worth, we did not find any reference to him visiting Pendleton County.”

It’s said that Ed Haley had an incredible ear for music all his life and began playing as a child with a cornstalk fiddle from his Uncle Peter and then with his father’s fiddle.  Tradition has it that his father, Milt Haley (also an incredible fiddler) may have caused Ed’s blindness by dipping him in ice cold water when he was a baby, either for a self-styled baptism, a health tonic, or perhaps to bring down the high fever from measles (which definitely can cause blindness).  Milt was lynched by a mob in Lincoln County, WV when Ed was three years old, along with one of the McCoy relations (a fiddler from the infamous family of the Hatfields and McCoys feud) after allegedly shooting  two people for pay, including a woman – a gruesome episode in the complex Lincoln County feud in the late 1880’s.

I’ve learned more by reading Blood in West Virginia written by Brandon Ray Kirk after 25 years of research.  The book is dedicated to his "best friend, John Hartford."  His family is related to the feudists and his research is on-going.  One of Brandon's relatives, Mervin Kirk, actually helped bury Milt Haley after the lynching in spite of threats. 

These are Brandon’s comments about how Ed Haley’s unfortunate childhood affected his future:  “Ed Haley, of course, appears as a child in the book. Knowing what we know about his biography, we realize that great things are waiting for him in life, at least musically speaking.  Ed Haley’s life during the feud, however, is a bit bleak.  Without question, for those who are interested in Ed’s music, the story of his family background leads to a better understanding of his music.  John and I believed that Milt’s life and demise had a profound influence on Ed’s life and music. When you play Ed’s tunes or hear his tunes being played, knowing the tragedy and hardship in his early life, in light of his father’s long shadow (and other things not revealed in the book), the music becomes almost unbearably powerful and deep.”

Back to the TOTW music, here’s a bit of information on-line:  Fiddler's Companion description of Brushy Run.     

Source fiddle recordings include:  Ed Haley,  French CarpenterArt Stamper,  and  Bruce Molsky.  Recently posted on BHO you can listen to J-Walk John and friends performing as a great band ensemble.  John W. says it’s the first time the foursome got together to play and record without others in the mix.  There are several youtube videos of the tune.  Choose your favorite for sharing, or please post your own recording.



VIDEO: Brushy Run
(click to view)

Brushy Run

Brushy Run (CH) tab

Kernel - Posted - 09/04/2015:  07:16:34

Nice write up and a good reason to revisit the tune. I love the Art Stamper recording (Goodbye Girls I'm Going To Boston) and particularly John Herrmann's banjo playing. There's also a real nice version by Mac Benford (Half Past Four: A Clawhammer Tribute To The Music Of Ed Haley) with just guitar accompaniment that is worth a listen.

Here's a fairly simple tab of mine.

And, here's a transcription of the fiddle part. One from Art Stamper, one from Rhys Jones, and one from Bruce Molsky. Each are in G but also A which also gets used some times.   

Lew H - Posted - 09/04/2015:  07:43:33

Janet,  I like the tune and your picking. It must sound, I think, much better than the  "scratchy record" you listened to. I'll try to learn this one.

greenbrooms - Posted - 09/04/2015:  08:26:46

one of my favorite parts about TOTW are people sharing recordings - first time checking out that Art Stamper album and MAN is it great! i've been looking for some recordings with john hermann on banjo, this one does not disappoint.

the fiance is away for the long weekend, which means i get to spend all my free time plunking away catching up on past TOTW's big this is a fun one - thanks for sharing, janet!

bhniko - Posted - 09/04/2015:  12:41:33

Always delightful. Truly enjoyed the tracks of Haley, Carpenter, Stampler and Molsky.

jack_beuthin - Posted - 09/04/2015:  13:54:47

Great stuff Janet!

Brushy Run is a place I have passed through many times running geology field trips in West Virginia. I don't have a picture of the exact place, but here is a picture looking over Germany Valley in Pendleton County.  Brushy Run is on the other side of North Fork Mountain.  For those of you who unfamiliar with the Appalachians, and West Virginia, this panoramic photo is fairly representative of Pendleton County.

Edited by - jack_beuthin on 09/04/2015 13:56:33

Germany Valley, Pendleton County, West Virginia


JanetB - Posted - 09/04/2015:  21:45:27

Thanks for the tab, Ken, and for the fiddle notations.  And thanks for the photo, Jack.  Looking at it, the timber in that part of West Virginia (in the eastern part of the state) doesn't look to be what it might have been when the timber industry was booming in the late 1800's.  Greed for land and the sale of its big trees were the main cause of the Lincoln County feud involving Ed Haley's father (in the western part of the state).  Dwight Diller describes how harvesting the trees in his part of West Virginia decimated the land.  As he put it, "The lumber companies brought money into this barter economy. Ultimately, the land was raped and plundered."  Pocahontas County, home to Mr. Diller, is adjacent to Pendleton County where Brushy Run is located.  Is my conclusion correct that the forests of West Virginia aren't what they once were?

jack_beuthin - Posted - 09/05/2015:  06:56:29

Yes, Janet, by the early 1900s, many parts of West Virginia had been timbered and deforested.  Forests have come back in many areas, but I doubt that the forests are extensive as they were before the industrial revolution.

BrendanD - Posted - 09/07/2015:  02:35:38

Terrific, detailed writeup, Janet, and fine playing, too! You've got a nice, relaxed bounce to the tune, and lovely tone. I can hear Adam Hurt's influence on your playing!

I first heard Brushy Run from Wilson Douglas during a 1979 visit to his home. I may have a recording of Wilson playing the tune from that visit, but I don't seem to have a digitized version; if I do find the tape it might be on, I may digitize and post the tune. But I do have one recording I'll post here of my friend Rich Hartness playing the tune, with me on banjo, recorded at Rich's house in North Carolina in 2002. It's based on Ed Haley's version, but as is his custom, Rich makes the tune his own - or "enRiches" it, as I like to say - and I chased him as best I could.

Brushy Run

greenbrooms - Posted - 09/07/2015:  05:37:11

this is such a fun tune to play! much like "ora lee" from a few weeks ago, it really begs for another instrument to play along with. here's my stab at it:


edit: i really need to start closing that door when i do these things.. sorry about the sun glare

Edited by - greenbrooms on 09/07/2015 05:37:45

VIDEO: TOTW 9/4/15 Brushy Run
(click to view)


rudy - Posted - 09/07/2015:  12:58:45

Great choice, Janet.  You always pick super-cool tunes.  This is another one of those tunes that invites a bit of creativity.  I listened to it severasl times and then turned to the banjo.  I most likely could have spent time wisely on a bit of melody work, but sometimes these just cry out "Work with me!"

Anyhow, here's a quick spin on my heavily syncopated interpretation. wink

Brushy Run


JanetB - Posted - 09/07/2015:  15:00:16

The previous three versions are pleasing and great!  Taking a tune and making it our own is what it's all about. 

One thing I discovered is that the tune as portrayed in Stacy Phillips' Traditional American Fiddle Tunes, Vol. 1 came from Wilson Douglas through Dan Gardella.  I was able to find Wilson Douglas' recording on amazon from a hard-to-buy album, but digitally available, "The Right Hand Fork of Rush's Creek:  Old Time Fiddling by  Wilson Douglas."  Upon listening I found it was most similar to French Carpenter's, a more swinging and fancier version than Ed Haley's: Wilson Douglas' Brushy Run (track 10).    

If you read about Wilson Douglas in Mountains of Music, West Virginia Traditional Music from Goldenseal you learn he spent time listening directly to Ed Haley and thereby became inspired to learn fiddling at age 17.  After Ed Haley died Wilson spent time with French Carpenter beginning in 1958.  Wilson's grandfather was half-brother to Saul Carpenter so the two fiddlers also had a good family connection to each other. 

Wilson Douglas (1922 - 1999)

French Carpenter (1899 - 1965)

I've also learned from Brandon Ray Kirk that the Ed Haley book is set to be published in 2016 and that Steve Haley is currently collaborating with Brandon.  I plan to spend more of Labor Day today reading in Brandon's blog.  It truly takes hours, there's that much information and photography.  He even has a very rare picture of Ed Haley as a three year old.

Thanks again for reading and adding to this week's TOTW discussion.


Edited by - JanetB on 09/07/2015 15:01:05

Zischkale - Posted - 09/10/2015:  22:01:57

Great choice and playing, Janet, and thanks as always for sharing your arrangement (you've inspired me to be more diligent about writing my own, helps me pick up new tunes!). I'm adding Ed Haley to my long list of old-time for newbies, need to check more of his work out.

I happen to have been loaned a Rhys Jones album (All I've Gots Done Gone) with a version of this, Rhys really punctuates that "jump" you mention in the B part! Enjoyed your write-up, it's great when you can get lost in good memories while you play (it's mostly the reason I do it). Thanks againf or sharing!

JanetB - Posted - 09/19/2015:  17:29:23

I'd like to add one more link that introduces the work of Brandon Ray Kirk, describing how he discovered what has become his life's passion -- searching for information about the fiddler Ed Haley.  By chance Brandon bought an album called Parkersburg Landing with home recordings of Ed Haley and the music he heard changed his life.  The article from the Appalachian History website also posts the picture of a 3-year old blind Ed Haley.  In the following article there's also a link to Brandon's log-running blog discussed above:

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