Raising the roof and bringing down the house

By Bland Simpson     Photograph by Tim Sayer

Stephen Smith — teacher, journalist, poet, and the witty and imaginative inventor of the Bushnell Hamp tales — has over many years graciously kept me involved with Moore County, and for that I owe him quite a lot. Though the doors of the old Pine Crest Inn at Pinehurst or those of the Sunrise Theater across from the vintage Seaboard Coast Line Railroad depot in Southern Pines are each only an hour and fifteen minutes’ drive from our Clover Garden home, what a world of difference that short drive always made, as we drifted from the mixed Piedmont oak and loblolly pine and hickory woods to the rolling sandhills and longleaf pine, turkey oak, and blackjack.

An invitation came to me from Stephen and Audrey Moriarty, the fine, elegant Pinehurst archivist and author, to join in and do a short set for a “Raise the Roof” fundraiser at the movie house, the Sunrise, which the community was all about repairing and returning to its status as a small legitimate theatre and concert venue. The multifaceted evening, a musical revue, also included the first-tier Moore County musicians Craig Fuller (songwriter and lead singer of Pure Prairie League’s lovely ballad “Amie,” which he sang this night backed by Fayetteville’s Bill Joyner and Danny Young) and Jimmy Jones (coauthor of “Handyman” and lead singer of “Good Timin’”) — the place was packed, and Jimmy sat on a high stool downstage to lay out extended versions of his two major hits, introducing “Handyman” with a tale.

Seems Jimmy had once hit a rough patch in his career and, against his common sense and better judgment, he called upon a New York City loan shark he knew, and he was about to take out an extortionary loan that he knew would be bound to hurt him. But just before he signed in blood and took the cash, Jimmy got an urgent call from a close friend saying, “Jimmy, don’t do it — James Taylor is just about to release his version of ‘Handyman’! You won’t need that loan anymore!” The crowd, knowing both versions of the song, roared with laughter, and Jimmy then said, “I stood up, said ‘Thank you so very much,’ and backed out of that loan shark’s office just as fast as I could!”

And there and then in the Sunrise, Jimmy Jones, still laughing at his own tale, lit into “Handyman” with an unmitigated joy, while a racially integrated cadre of senior women in green and red sateen hot pants, a dancing group from a nearby Moore County fitness parlor, poured forth from the wings and, surrounding the R&B hero, kicked, shuffled, and ball-changed for him from start to finish, as we all sang with him: “I fix broken hearts — I’m your handyman!”

If joy could be bottled, jugged, or jarred, the contents would sound and feel and even taste something very like what all was present in this little old Southern Pines theatre that moment, that night. Like one of Faulkner’s characters, I felt both humble and proud to be a part of it, or even just to see and hear it, too.  PS

From North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky by Bland Simpson, photography by Ann Cary Simpson, Scott Taylor, and Tom Earnhardt. Copyright 2021 by Bland Simpson. Used by permission of the publisher, www.uncpress.org.

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