SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - STINSON NATIVE RECTOR HICKS OFT FORGOTTEN MOUNTAIN MUSIC MAKER

(02/01/2022)
Compiled Bob Weaver

Rector Hicks (pictured right) was born at wild and wooly Stinson ("Mud Fork") in 1914 and died in 1989. Fiddler blind Ed Haley wrote a song about the area called, "Don't go up Stinson After Dark."

Although his father played mouth harp, no one in his immediate family was a fiddler. Rector learned from fiddlers in the area, beginning to play the instrument when he was about ten years old. Rector said that he never played for dances, a typical training ground for a country fiddler. Instead, he refined his craft through hours of solitary playing and in sessions with other musicians.

Rector didn’t have to look far for excellent fiddling role models, learning much from time spent with a distant cousin, Laury Hicks, a generation older than Rector and one of the foremost fiddlers in the area, a contemporary and friend of one of America's greatest fiddlers - Blind Ed Haley.

How Rector ended up in Akron, Ohio is a story similar to that of thousands of other West Virginians of his generation. Depressed economic conditions in rural Appalachia along with boom times in the industrial North resulted in a mass migration of working age men to the industrial cities.

A major magnet for West Virginians was Akron, with its rubber factories practically begging for workers through the first half of the 20th Century. Rector went to Akron in the early 1940s and started working at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. He and his wife Bonnie raised a family in Akron, and Rector retired from Goodyear as a machinist in 1967.

His fiddle playing friends said they were in absolute awe of his playing and mastery after listening again to his recordings. Joe LaRose said, "Rector played fast, and we youngsters did all we could to keep up. It was invigorating to play with Rector. So many times, the second after a tune ended, before the last guitar chord had even faded and we were trying to catch our breaths, Rector would say, “Now, here’s a pretty one … did you ever play that [names tune]?”― and we'd launch into another…"

Hicks was a Calhoun original, dedicated to preserving mountain music.

RECTOR HICKS: IN SEARCH OF BLIND ED HAYLEY By Brandon Ray Kirk

Not long after visiting Ugee Postalwait, I received some great information in the mail regarding Rector Hicks, a fiddler and nephew to Ed’s friend Laury Hicks. Rector grew up watching his uncle Laury play the fiddle.

“Rector was born out in the country around Chloe, Calhoun County, West Virginia, in 1914,” Joe LaRose wrote in Traditional Music and Dance in Northeast Ohio (March 1985).

“His father was a good mouth harp player, but no one else in his family played music. Rector learned from fiddlers who lived in his area, beginning to play the instrument when he was around ten years old. Rector learned a lot from time spent with a distant cousin, Laury Hicks, a generation older than Rector and one of the foremost fiddlers in the area.

‘I don’t know of a fiddle player, really, that played like him. Ed Haley said Laury was the best fiddler he ever heard on the old time tunes, you know, and old fast ones. Hisself, he said that. And I always thought he was.'”

While at Laury’s, Rector Hicks also had the opportunity to see Ed.

“He was hard to figure out,” Rector told LaRose. “When I was around him most I didn’t know too much about fiddling, and a lot of that stuff I could pick up now if I was around him. How he got all that in there with his bow like he did you’d never believe it. He just set there this way (passes the length of the bow back and forth across the strings) but everything seemed like it just come in there."

"If you’d hear him play … Now that record, that’s not Ed Haley. That’s him, but that’s no good. You don’t get a lot of what he puts in. But he puts every note in that thing. His left hand, his fingers just flew. But his right hand … He just set there and his fiddle laid on his arm, set there and rocked. That’s the way he played. All them fastest tunes he played, didn’t seem like he put any of the bow in hardly. But it was all in there.”

Rector seemed to idolize Haley, at least according to Kerry Blech, a fiddling buff and friend of mine.

“Rector, when he was a teenager, had saved up some money and got him a pretty good fiddle and when Ed would come and stay at Laury’s house Rector would always come over,” Kerry wrote.

“For a couple of years, Ed would tease him and say, ‘Well, I really like that fiddle you got, Rector. We should swap.’ And once he did and went off and played in some other town, then came back through about a week later and got his fiddle back. Rector said he was just really thrilled to’ve had Ed’s fiddle for even a week.”

As Rector got older and learned more about the fiddle, he really patterned after Haley’s style.

“Rector’s approach to playing has much in common with Haley’s,” LaRose wrote of Hicks. “Like Haley, Rector holds his fiddle against his upper arm and chest and supports it with his wrist (he does not rock the fiddle under the bow, though, like Haley did.) Rector uses a variety of bow strokes. Like Haley, he uses the length of the bow, sometimes playing a passage of several notes with one long stroke, deftly rocking the bow as he plays.

He will accent the melody at chosen times with short, quick strokes. Rather than overlay the melody with a patterned or constant bow rhythm as some dance-oriented fiddlers do, Rector adapts his bowing to the melody of the particular tune he’s playing. Much of the lilt and movement of his tunes is built into the sequence of notes played with his left hand.”

Rector apparently kept in touch with Ed’s family, who he sometimes visited long after Haley’s death, and was very disappointed with the quality of fiddling on the Parkersburg Landing album.

“When I met Rector in the mid-70s, the Haley LP had just come out and Rector called me up to tell me it was awful,” Kerry wrote. “He said it was not representative of the man’s genius. He told me that he knew the man, and although many years had passed, the Haley genius was still in his mind’s eye.

He also said that there were many other home recordings beyond what Gus Meade had copied. He said that Haley’s children had split up the recordings, that Lawrence had a number of them, and that a daughter, who lived in the Akron-Canton area, had over a hundred of them, and that Rector occasionally went over there and listened. He said that the family was irritated by how the Rounder record came to be and did not want to be involved with any of us city folk any more, afraid that someone would exploit their father’s music.”

At that time in his life, Rector mostly played Tommy Jarrell tunes but also several Ed Haley tunes, like “Birdie”, “Sugar in the Morning” (“Banjo Tramp”), “Ragpicker Bill”, “Black Sheep”, and “Staggerlee”.

THE HUR HERALD ARCHIVES HAS DOZENS OF STORIES ABOUT CALHOUN'S MOUNTAIN MUSICIANS, INCLUDING STORIES ABOUT BLIND ED HALEY