R.C. Harris passes

Banjo and guitar player, Roby Carter Harris, lovingly known as R.C. by his friends, family, and the wider bluegrass community, passed away on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Harris, formerly of Mooresville, NC, was 83. 

At age 11, R.C. began picking banjo at the old historic Playhouse Theater in Statesville, NC, and became well-known for his musical skills. His accomplishments included playing banjo and singing baritone with Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys at the Grand Ole Opry in 1971. 

Doug Hutchens, another former Blue Grass Boy, reflected, “R.C. worked with Bill in December of ’70 and until March of ’71.  He had a very good paying job with a bank and tried to do it and play with Bill, but it was just too much. In March of ’71, Bill had asked me to come see him at the Opry. When I got there, I found that R.C. was snowed in in North Carolina, and wasn’t going to make it. Bill got Pete Sayers to play banjo Friday night. R.C. got there Saturday night.”

Harris was a founding member of the North Carolina band, Blue Denim. He recorded three albums for Old Homestead Records (1975-77). In 1978, the banjoist recorded an album, Grass Won’t Grow on a Busy Street, with Bobby Hicks, Del McCoury, Herschel Sizemore, and John Palmer that included four original tunes penned by Harris. In 2001, R.C. recorded Scenic Route with guest musicians John Duffey, Ben Eldridge, Tom Gray, Mike Auldridge, T. Michael Coleman, Jimmy Gaudreau, Chris Eldridge, and Jimmy Arnold. After playing country music for several years, he released Comin’ Back to Bluegrass in 2005.

He also served as a guest musician and singer on countless other recordings. R.C. also had a passion for good barbeque and created his own 5-String Barbeque Sauce.

Former band mate Joe Mahaffey shared, “The first time that I met R.C. he came to my uncle’s house to talk banjos. I was there with my dad. I was 14 years old. R.C. came driving up in a bronze ’57 Chevy two-door hard top. It would be 10 years before I saw him again. He was organizing a new band. Ray Cline had given him my name. That band was Blue Denim. That was the start of a life-time friendship. He was responsible for the music career I have enjoyed for the last 50 years.”

Another Blue Denim alum, mandolinist Wendell Wiles, added, “(My brother) Darel and I met R.C. in the early ’60s and began playing locally by the early ’70s. He introduced us to Jim Connell and Joe Mahaffey. He had worked up a great trio. He wanted Darel and me to provide the music and the band Blue Denim was born! The rest is history! We had a great run. R.C. did a great job managing our group! RIP R.C. Harris.”

Connell, who played bass in the band, said of Harris…

“There are times in our lives when someone crosses your path and that encounter changes your life forever. For me, that person was R.C. Harris. I first met R.C. at his home one night in early 1972. He was fresh off a stint playing banjo with Bill Monroe as one of his Blue Grass Boys. R.C. was starting his own band. The Wiles brothers, Darel on dobro and Wendell on mandolin, along with Joe Mahaffey on guitar, were all there as well. I was a fledgling upright bass player with little or no bluegrass background. But, in the end, I was chosen to be a part of this group that would become Blue Denim. 

R.C. could have picked anyone for that job, someone much more talented and experienced, but he chose me. With great patience and many hours, R.C. made a bluegrass musician out of me by the sheer force of his will and experience. In the end, he took us to places we never imagined we would go. He took us to Nashville and the Grand Old Opry stage, to festivals all over country, and into the recording studio to cut three albums for Old Homestead Records. He was a great banjo player, a fine vocalist, and a strong band leader. Moreover, he was a good man. He had the respect of many of the pioneers of our music. I am forever grateful to R.C. Harris for giving me the gift of bluegrass, something that I continue to be a part of some 50 years after that first meeting, and will cherish until my dying day. Rest in peace, my old friend. And keep on pickin’!”

Mandolinist Rick Allred, formerly of the Country Gentlemen and Summer Wages, recalled performing with R.C. in the late 1980s. “RC played guitar, Kent Dowell played banjo, and Jimmy Bowen played bass. We played a club in Charlotte every Wednesday for about a year. R.C., Terry Baucom, and me, just us three, played Tweetsie (Railroad) quite a lot one summer.”

A celebration of life service will be held at 2:00 p.m., Friday, June 30, 2023, at First Baptist Church of Mooresville, 150 S. Church Street, Mooresville, NC. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to St. Jude Children’s Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN 38105, or online.

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About the Author

Sandy Hatley

Sandy Chrisco Hatley is a free lance writer for several NC newspapers and Bluegrass Unlimited magazine. As a teenager, she picked banjo with an all girl band called the Happy Hollow String Band. Today, she plays dobro with her husband's band, the Hatley Family.