Almost Mayberry

In a North Carolina town that identifies with Andy Griffith, the homespun songs of Doug Reeves are getting a warm welcome, thank you kindly.

October 08, 2002|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

MOUNT AIRY, N.C. - Doug Reeves parked his station wagon at the meterless curb on Main Street, leaving it open and unlocked - you can do that here - and walked through the door of Floyd's Barber Shop.

There, like an old black and white television rerun come to life, the customers looked up, put down their magazines and joined in friendly banter: How's the family ... Good to see ya ... Yer lookin' well ... Thank you, kindly.

Back home after eight years in Nashville, Tenn., Reeves wasn't looking to get his well-moussed silvery mane touched up; nor was he looking for Floyd the barber - for he knows no Floyd exists.

Instead, he was checking on sales of his new CD, a collection of songs about Mayberry, the fictional North Carolina town in The Andy Griffith Show - modeled after Mount Airy, some maintain - where the pace was slow, the people friendly, and the problems, well, never so serious they couldn't be solved in 30 minutes.

As Reeves sees it, Americans, especially since Sept. 11, 2001, are aching for the simple and secure, wholesome and worry-free life that Mayberry epitomized.

So, taking a couple of songs from other writers and writing or co-writing eight more himself - songs like, "Ernest T., Don't Throw That Rock at Me," "It's Sunday (Aunt Bee), Fry That Chicken," and "One Bullet Man," an ode to Barney Fife - he assembled his first CD, Searching the Map for Mayberry.

It starts off with a narrative, backed by the mournful strains of a dobro: "In today's world, more so than ever before, people are searching for a Mayberry," Reeves says. "Is Mayberry a fictitious town? Well I don't think so, because I'm from there."

Reeves released the CD, under his own label, a few weeks ago and commenced to marketing it - taking it to the local AM radio station and talking local merchants, like the owner of Floyd's, into selling it.

There, on a recent weekday, the barber who is not Floyd, shop owner Russell Hiatt, left a customer in mid-haircut to share small talk with Reeves, and report that sales were brisk: Three of the five copies Reeves had left had already sold. "Word's getting out," Hiatt told him.

Could Reeves - a country songwriter who has never sold a song; a local boy who worked as an equipment technician for Ronnie Milsap and as a backup musician for Dolly Parton's sister, Stella; a 50-year-old man who packed up his horse, Joe, and left Nashville this year after he and the "missus" had a falling out - have the beginnings of a hit on his hands?

He does, at least, in Mount Airy, the town of 8,500 that lays claim to being (and has increasingly marketed itself to tourists as) the inspiration for Mayberry.

Celebrating the past

While the creators and writers of the television show always insisted Mayberry was made up, the show's references to local establishments and nearby towns and the fact that Griffith grew up in Mount Airy - though he hasn't returned for a public appearance since 1957 - were evidence enough.

A push began in the late 1980s to make the most of the connection. Floyd's City Barber Shop, for instance, was just the City Barber Shop up until 1989, when the town started its annual Mayberry Days festival.

"The arts council kept coming to me and trying to get me to change the name. They kept telling me, `You know this is Floyd's,'" said Hiatt, who has been cutting hair there for 56 years. He said he was still considering the name change when he went to dinner one day, and returned to find a "Floyd's" sign on his barbershop.

Whether art had originally imitated life in Mount Airy, life in Mount Airy began imitating Mayberry. Local businesses mentioned in the show, like Snappy Lunch, touted the link. The Mayberry Days festival was launched. The Mount Airy Motor Inn became the Mayberry Motor Inn. And Griffith's childhood home, long just another house, became the Andy Griffith Homeplace, a bed and breakfast (though, for the breakfast part, you are sent to Snappy Lunch).

Which is where Reeves, touring around town on a lazy Monday afternoon, opts to go for "dinner."

"Down here we eat breakfast, then dinner, then supper," he explains, ordering Snappy's Famous Pork Chop sandwich - a huge battered and deep-fried pork chop served on a bun with dressing, chili, tomatoes and cole slaw. Andy Griffith is pictured on one side of the menu, saying, "Mmm ... m Good;" TV son Opie is on the other, saying, "Sure is, Pa!"

Whether Reeves is gaining local attention was hard to tell. A steady stream of well-wishers approached while he ate, but he says that's normal here.

Reeves and his band, the Carolina Eagles, performed recently at the Mayberry Days festival - at, where else, the Andy Griffith Playhouse. The weekend also featured appearances by Andy Griffith Show supporting cast members Betty Lynn (Thelma Lou), Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) and Maggie Peterson Mancuso (Charlene Darling).

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