The People, Places, Events, History, Businesses, and Music of Upstate SC

Not “Just a Bill” | Take 10 Q and A with Bill Canny


I met Bill Canny 15 or so years ago (no, moonshine wasn’t involved), and have always enjoyed his company, intelligent conversation, and musicianship. He’s one of those people in our local music scene who doesn’t seek spotlight, though he has been in the international public eye via the show Moonshiners on the Discovery Channel. Bill is as eclectic of a musician as they come, and a talented carpenter as well. My aim in this interview is to share a bit of the Bill Canny I’ve known in the music scene, and to also learn more about his background out of my own curiosity. So, pour a glass of whatever you wish, and read on…

1) What’s your earliest musical memory?
My earliest musical memory is my Grandmother playing piano in her living room. I was about 3 or 4. When I tried beating on the keys myself, my Grandfather pitched a fit like I was going to break it, but my Grandmother stopped him and let me bang away.

2) Who is someone who made a significant impact on your early musical development?
The person who had the most significant impact on my early musical development was my father. He had an old Hammond M-3 organ & I used to play with the harmonic slides hearing all the overtones of the notes. There was also always a nylon string classical guitar leaning in a corner somewhere. I think I was 13 when I first picked it up and started learning chords.

3) Where did you get your penchant for Irish music?
I’ve always known that I’m half Irish, but when WNCW first came on the air and was playing Celtic music every weekend, I really started listening and learning more about it.

4) You play-and create-so many instruments. Which one do you find yourself playing the most?
As far as my love for musical instruments, I’ve become something of a “Jack-of-All-Trades; Master-of-None.” I’ve never found a stringed instrument I can’t get a tune out of, but I play so many that it’s difficult for me to focus on just one to be the most proficient with. Guitar is my stand-by though. I have at least one in every room in the house and I never go out of town (even overnight) without one.

5) Through your eyes as a performer, supporter, and sound engineer, how has the local music scene changed over the years?
….6) Where do you see it going?
The music scene in the area has changed almost as much as my musical tastes have through the years. Most of the places don’t have a cover charge on the nights there is live music, so the crowds don’t seem to have a level of commitment to actually listen or stick around compared to venues they’ve got to pay $5 bucks to see a band. I’m not complaining, just observing the change in the spectators’ involvement.
I ran sound for close to 10,000 bands at Ground Zero over the course of 17 years, and I’ve noticed some major changes in the local scene. We would have an “Open Mic” night every Wednesday in honour and memoriam of the Dawg Gone jam nights of the ’80’s and ’90’s. Some nights, there would be 2 or 3 bands, some nights there would be 9 or 10 bands that showed up. There was always a wide variety of genres from acoustic folk to reggae to punk and metal. We gave EVERYONE a chance to come out of their basement or garage and play through the same PA we were using for national and international acts. It seems within the last 5 to 8 years, there have been less and less NEW local bands participating. I seriously hope this is not a sign of the future of the local music scene.

7) Your role on the show Moonshiners brought more limelight in your life. What’s the first thing most people say to you who know you solely from the show?
After ending up on cable TV for 5 years, it’s difficult to go somewhere I’m not recognized. Most people are respectful, but some have had no qualms about interrupting me during a meal or when I’m trying to spend time with my family. The question that gets asked the most is usually “How can I get some of your liquor?” Sad news: I never make any more than I can drink!!

8 ) What’s your earliest memory of being out at Plum Hollow?
My first time at the Plum Hollow Festival was in 2002. I showed up on Saturday just expecting to hang out for the afternoon. I didn’t bring any food or camping equipment but after joining in a few pickin’ circles, people were cooking me hot dogs, keeping me supplied with plenty to drink and offering shelter as well. I stayed the night and haven’t missed a festival since then.

9) What’s the role of music in your life?
I feel I’d be lost without music in my life. I play with a group called The Wes, Bob and Bill Show. (catchy name, huh..?) We practice every week even if we don’t have a gig coming up any time soon. It’s our weekly therapy to drop all the stresses of our jobs and life in general, just to get together and PLAY. Col Gene Wyatt used to say “Music is one of the few anomalies in applied physics of creating something from nothing. One moment, you’ve got silence and air. Musicians take that air and make notes, harmonies, songs.”

10) You and your dad have a tradition of Christmas caroling at nursing homes each year. How did that tradition start? What are some of your most moving memories from those visits?
A few years ago, I got a wild idea to go Christmas Caroling at local nursing homes, sometimes showing up un-invited and un-announced. We chose the nursing homes with the least desirable conditions and the lowest incomes. It’s grown to the point this past year where we made 7 stops and had 3 other musicians join in with us along the way. Of everything we have to be grateful for in our lives, it’s just another way we can try to spread some joy and cheer to an almost forgotten element of our society.

Are you thirsty for local music yet? I hope your reading this has brought a bit of joy and cheer(s) to your day, as it did mine in writing this. Sláinte! Cheers!

Alison Hughey, Contributor

Alison has been involved in performing arts throughout her life. She is a graduate of Converse College & a music therapist. She also serves as the Vice President of Carma, Inc. Alison covers Upstate Performing Arts stories for Upstate Exposures. Contact her at


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