SISSONVILLE – Fifty years ago last week, James Harrison, patriarch of the Hillbreed Family Band, had a near death experience that changed his perspective on life—and that enlightening event has become the subject for a country music song.
As an employee of the Charleston Concrete Floor Company, Harrison, then 23, was working with three others in digging a hole for a Interstate 64 pier on Norwood Road in Huntington. The holes was shorn up with 12-inch steel.
"We were about 30 feet down and it all gave way," Harrison recalls. "When it started caving in, everybody ran for the ladder (used for access to and exit from the bridge footer pit). I was young and had never thought about dying until that day, so I didn't get in as big a hurry as the others.
"All of a sudden, everything went black. The guy ahead of me only got covered to his knees, which was about even with my face below him. When he moved and got his legs out, I could see daylight. Then I started moving and got my arms free. They dropped me a rope and told me to tie it around me.
"They said since it was too dangerous for anyone to come down, they were going to try to pull me out, because they were sure the rest of the hole was going to collapse. They hooked the rope to the bumper of an ambulance and jerked a couple of times. But it was hurting me too much so they had to quit."
Harrison said that moment was when his world changed.
"I had thought I was the only one in that hole until I realized the One I had always heard about was there with me," he said with a smile. "It seemed that His image was there in front of me. That was the moment that turned me from a believer into a knower. I said, 'If you'll help me, I promise I'll do better.'"
Harrison said the rescuers pulled on the rope again and he was pulled to safety. "It didn't even feel like the rope was tight," he said. Harrison was trapped for some 25 minutes by the 200 tons for earth that suddenly cascaded into the pit.
"Since then, which was 50 years ago, a lot of people have asked me if I'm a believer," Harrison said. "I'd say, 'No, I'm a knower.'"
A few years ago, some professional songwriters who write for a lot of stars were palying music with the Hillbreed Harrisons. When they heard about his life-changing experience, they told James Harrison, "That's a song." Harrison said they wrote it, put music to it, recorded it, got a copyright and sent it to him.
"Knower (the James Harrison Story)" was written by Connie Wolfe and Justin Peters for Songs for the Planet recorded in Nashville, TN.
Page 2 of 2 - Over the years, the Hillbreed Harrisons have continued to make music and entertain, touching thousands of lives with their talents and their humor in hundreds of venues and events, as well as their annual Hillbreed for Kids benefit concert at Sissonville High School.
All of it would have never happened if not for that singular life-changing moment of deliverance 50 years ago.