R.C. Nanney has exemplified the spirit of Cleveland County musical heritage throughout his long life. Music has been the foundation of his various professional and leisure creative pursuits. The ability to combine his natural curiosity, wholesome humor and clever innovations while adapting to changes in tastes and technology keeps his work vital and appealing, even today.
Born in Charlotte, NC on August 30, 1923, he was raised in Cliffside, NC where he had experiences that influenced his early interest in music. He worked in a bicycle shop with his dad early on, and at WSPA on Saturdays. He took the stage name “The Rhythm Kid” as a young man playing music around the area, and at WGNC’s Saturday Night Barn Dance at the Gastonia Armory. He enjoyed visiting on weekends and jamming with his cousin “Whitey” (Roy Grant), one of the founders of the Briar Hoppers. R.C. married Selma Lee Canipe, a Cleveland County native from the Belwood area, in December 1941, and they settled here to work together on many projects over the years of their long and happy marriage.
R.C. made a lifelong friend of Paul Lemmon, photographer for The Star when he came to interview R.C. and Selma as they opened Park View Rest Home on West Marion Street, Shelby in 1952. Later R. C. became photographer at the Cleveland Times. Paul and R.C. both can recall what they purchased with monies earned when their photographs were picked up for syndication. R. C. tells a story about photographing Don Gibson while he was home with the first Cadillac he purchased when fame came his way.
In 1956, R. C. Nanney signed WADA on the air for its first day of broadcasting with Boyce Hannah as owner. He hosted a country music radio show as Curly Lee (a combination of his curly hair and Selma’s middle name), and interviewed and played with many famous guests including a rodeo show with Gene Autry. While at the station, he and Selma organized talent shows at local schools, obtaining sponsors for prizes and granting the winning bands a 15 minute spot on the Curly Lee Radio Show.
In 1962 R.C. and Selma sold the nursing home they ran for 10 years and purchased a house on Highland Avenue to open a photography studio there. They photographed many residents and events around the region, including many weddings. Later in the 1960s and early 1970s they traveled for a company that inspected retail stores. R.C. had a routine after they settled in their motel for the night to review the phone book for anyone he might know. In one town near Nashville, Tennessee, he found Don McClain who had been Sports Announcer at WOHS when R.C. was at WADA. He called Don and talked for about two hours. Don told him about an opportunity that he thought R. C. would be well-suited for, a new TV show getting ready to start called “Hee-Haw”. R.C. felt it wasn’t worth the risk of the good situation he and Selma had. In retrospect, he uses an expression from his dad, “That’s where I dropped my candy”.
R.C. describes their decision to stop traveling with this adage: “When you get so far from home they don’t know what livermush is, it’s time to come home.” Throughout the years of earning a livelihood, they always had other artistic endeavors that usually involved music. They traveled and played gigs around the region with friends, and formed Nanco Productions to make their own movies that included their musical offerings ("Clean Up in Selma County" was an early one that featured the lovely Selma playing castanets), but several of their projects carried their names beyond the boundaries of Cleveland County.
R.C. says he was born acting the fool, so he just kept right on doing what came naturally. His acting roles include several Earl Owensby movies, (interestingly Earl Owensby grew up on the same street as R.C.), the TV miniseries "Chiefs", many TV commercials and his own film productions. Some of these, such as "Hyperspace", became popular in other countries.
The TV commercials became widely popular for their homespun humor. The most memorable involved a “Re-bait” on Pontiacs. R.C. and Selma provided really effective advertising for local companies, appearing in some continuing segments with the byline, “The Love Affair Goes On”.
R.C. bought land near Selma’s family land close to Knob Creek and he and Selma built the home where he still lives. This put them in the right place for another foray with fame. The legend of Knobby, a bigfoot-type creature sighted several times near Carpenter’s Knob in the late 1970s, caught R.C. and Selma’s fancy. In fact, R.C. gave the creature its delightful name. In 1979, they wrote, produced and acted in a film with other friends and neighbors starring Knobby. The film became a cult classic and was in high demand in video stores. R.C. performed and recorded the music for the movie including the Knobby Song, describing characteristics of the creature, identified finally as the Belwood Wampus Cat. The popularity of the original Knobby movie led to sequels: “Return of Knobby” in 1983, and “Knobbett” in 2005. R.C. printed T-shirts and hats with his drawings of Knobby on a screen printer he made. Sightings of Knobby in more recent years brought about a revival of interest in all things Knobby.
Nanco Productions made several other movies with local actors, and R. C. made a shorter film, “The Lizard Man”, with the help of his friend Paul Lemmon after the death of his beloved Selma. He stays active with Outsider Art projects and also records jam sessions with his friends, including Buster Kendrick, Heritage Bridge Award recipient in 2013. He recorded a musical variety show, "Curly Lee Takes Vegas", with help from his friends at Creative Network Studios, and a paintball commercial with Buster last year. Even at over 90 years old, he still has other projects in mind.
All of the Nanco Productions include beautiful scenery of Cleveland County and original music by R.C. They remain as compelling evidence of the Nanney’s talents, their love for one another and their home, and how one can enrich life by using imagination, ingenuity, and wit. And always, the power of music.