C. W. McCall

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C. W. McCall
Bill Fries.jpg
Background information
Birth nameBillie Dale Fries
Also known asWilliam Dale Fries Jr.
Born(1928-11-15)November 15, 1928
Audubon, Iowa, U.S.
DiedApril 1, 2022(2022-04-01) (aged 93)
Ouray, Colorado, U.S.
Genres
Occupation(s)Graphic artist and set designer, Art director, Singer-songwriter
Years active1944–2003
LabelsMGM, Polydor, Mercury, American Gramaphone
Mayor of Ouray, Colorado
In office
1986–1992

William Dale Fries Jr. (November 15, 1928 – April 1, 2022) was an American advertising executive and spoken word artist who won several Clio Awards for his advertising campaigns. He is best known for his character C. W. McCall, a truck-driving country singer he originally created for a series of bread commercials; Fries later assumed the role of McCall for a series of outlaw albums and songs in the 1970s, in collaboration with co-worker (and Mannheim Steamroller founder) Chip Davis. McCall's most successful song was "Convoy", a surprise pop-crossover hit in 1975, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and number 2 in the British charts in March 1976. Fries was elected mayor of Ouray, Colorado, and served in that position from 1986 to 1992.

Early life[edit]

McCall was born Billie Dale Fries[1] on November 15, 1928, in Audubon, Iowa.[2] He later legally changed his name to William Dale Fries, Jr.[1] His father was also called Billie and so he was the junior. One of his sons is now Bill Fries III.[3]

His family was musical as his father performed with his two brothers in The Fries Brothers Band, though his day job was as a foreman at a factory for farm equipment.[4] His father played the violin while his mother, Margaret, played the piano and the two played ragtime together at dances. Their son first performed at the age of three in a local talent contest, singing "Coming ' Round the Mountain" while his mother played the piano. He studied music at school, playing the clarinet and the music of John Philip Sousa and became the drum major for the school's marching band. As a child, he enjoyed listening to country music,[5] but he was even more interested in art, having started copying the cartoon characters of Walt Disney as a child. He went to the Fine Arts School at the University of Iowa where he majored in commercial art and also performed in the university's symphony orchestra. But he had to leave the university after one year as he could not afford to compete with the many demobbed soldiers who were going through college on the GI Bill of Rights.[6][7] He then returned to Audubon to work as a signwriter.[3]

In 1950, he got a job as a commercial artist with KMTV in Omaha, Nebraska. He worked for them for ten years, doing graphic work, lettering and set design. He also supported the local ballet and opera societies, doing work which won an award from the Omaha Artists and Art Directors Club. This attracted the attention of Bozell & Jacobs which was a local advertising agency and they gave him a job as an art director, doubling his salary.[6][7]

He married Rena Bonnema on February 15, 1952; the two remained married for 70 years until his death.[8] At the time of his death he had three children, four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.[1] His hobbies included model railroading and working on his old military jeep.[9]

Advertising[edit]

In 1973, while working for Bozell & Jacobs, Fries created a television advertising campaign for Old Home Bread. The bread was trucked across the Midwest from the Metz Baking Company's plant in Sioux City, Iowa. As the big semi-trailer trucks carrying the Old Home Bread logo were a familiar sight on the highway, this suggested a trucking theme. The advertisements featured deliveries of the bread to the Old Home café, whose name expanded to become the "Old Home Filler-Up an' Keep on a-Truckin' Café". Its waitress was named Mavis after a real waitress at the White Spot café in Audubon where Fries grew up. Her role was to flirt with the truck driver who was named C. W. McCall. The name McCall was inspired by McCall's magazine, which Fries had on his desk at the time. A James Garner movie, Cash McCall, was also an influence. To complete the name, Fries added initials, shown embroidered on the trucker's shirt, and chose "C. W." for country and western.[9]

Singing[edit]

The commercial won a Clio Award and its success led to other trucking songs such as "Wolf Creek Pass" and "Black Bear Road".[2] Fries wrote the lyrics and sang while Chip Davis, who wrote jingles at Bozell & Jacobs, wrote the music. Classically-trained Davis went on to create Mannheim Steamroller and win Country Music Writer of the Year in 1976, despite not liking the genre.[10]

McCall is best known for the 1976 No. 1 hit song, "Convoy" which was inspired by his own experience of driving in a growing group of vehicles out of Denver.[2][11] Its theme of using CB radio to rebel against the new federal speed limit of 55 mph was popular and topical so the single sold over two million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA in December 1975.[12] Though McCall is not a one-hit wonder, "Convoy" went on to become his signature song. McCall first charted the song "Wolf Creek Pass", which reached No. 40 on the U.S. pop top 40 in 1975. Two other songs reached the Billboard Hot 100, "Old Home Filler-Up an' Keep on a-Truckin' Cafe", as well as the environmentally-oriented "There Won't Be No Country Music (There Won't Be No Rock 'n' Roll)".[2] "Classified" and "'Round the World with the Rubber Duck" (a pirate-flavored sequel to "Convoy") bubbled under the Hot 100. A dozen McCall songs appeared on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart, including the sentimental "Roses for Mama" (1977).[2]

In 1978, the movie Convoy was released, based on the C. W. McCall song.[2] The film starred Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Burt Young, and Ernest Borgnine and was directed by Sam Peckinpah.[2] It featured a new version of the song, written specially for the film.

The song "Convoy" is featured in Grand Theft Auto V. In 2014, Rolling Stone ranked "Convoy" No. 98 on their list of 100 Greatest Country Songs.[13]

In addition to the "original six" McCall albums released between 1975 and 1979, two rare singles exist. "Kidnap America" was a politically/socially-conscious track released in 1980 during the Iran hostage crisis, while "Pine Tar Wars" referred to an event that actually happened in a New York YankeesKansas City Royals baseball game during 1983 (a dispute concerning the application of a large quantity of pine tar to a baseball bat used by George Brett, one of the Royals' players).[14]

Politics and later life in Ouray[edit]

Ouray City Hall, which was created as a replica of the Independence Hall, was restored after a fund-raising campaign led by Bill Fries as mayor

Fries and his family vacationed in Ouray, Colorado, during the 1960s. They then bought a summer home there after the financial success of "Convoy". When Fries stopped touring, he retired to Ouray with his family. In 1986, Fries was elected mayor of the town and served three terms of two years each. His main achievement as mayor was to restore the historic city hall, which had burnt down in 1950. Another major project was the San Juan Odyssey. This was an audiovisual exhibition which had originally been a slide show at Wright's Opera House. C. W. McCall had provided the narration for this in 1979 and it was shown to hundreds of thousands of visitors until the show closed in 1996. He then revised and digitized the production so that it could be shown in modern formats such as DVD.[6][15][16]

Fries died on April 1, 2022, at age 93 from complications of cancer.[17] In an interview he conducted on February 9 he gave his blessing for the use of his signature song "Convoy" for the Freedom Convoy protests in Canada, with Taste of Country noting that he was "energized and enthusiastic" about the revival of interest in the song and its message.[8]

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak chart positions Certification
(sales threshold)
US Country US AUS[18] CAN NZ
1975 Wolf Creek Pass[19] 4 143
Black Bear Road[20]
  • Released: September 1975
  • Label: MGM Records
1 12 49 16 19
1976 Wilderness[21] 9 143
Rubber Duck[22]
  • Released: 1976
  • Label: Polydor Records
29
1977 Roses for Mama[22]
  • Released: 1977
  • Label: Polydor Records
22
1979 C. W. McCall & Co.[22]
  • Released: 1979
  • Label: Polydor Records
1990 The Real McCall: An American Storyteller[22]
2003 American Spirit (with Mannheim Steamroller)[22]
  • Released: May 20, 2003
  • Label: American Gramaphone
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Compilation albums[edit]

Year Album details Peak positions
US Country
1978 C. W. McCall's Greatest Hits[22]
  • Released: 1978
  • Label: Polydor Records
45
1989 Four Wheel Cowboy[22]
1991 The Legendary C. W. McCall[22]
  • Released: 1991
  • Label: PolyGram Records
1997 The Best of C. W. McCall[22]
  • Released: 1997
  • Label: PSM Records
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Singles[edit]

Year Single Peak chart positions Album
US Country[23] US[24] CAN Country CAN CAN AC UK
[25]
AUS[18] NZ AUT
1974 "Old Home Filler-Up an' Keep On-a-Truckin' Cafe" 19 54 12 44 44 Wolf Creek Pass
"Wolf Creek Pass" 12 40 46
1975 "Classified" 13 101 45
"Black Bear Road" 24 42 Black Bear Road
"Convoy" 1 1 4 1 13 2 1 1 19
1976 "There Won't Be No Country Music
(There Won't Be No Rock 'n' Roll)"
19 73 8 77 37 77 Wilderness
"Crispy Critters" 32
"Four Wheel Cowboy" 88
"'Round the World with the Rubber Duck" 40 101 40 Rubber Duck
1977 "Audubon" 56
"Roses for Mama" 2 5 74 Roses for Mama
1978 "Outlaws and Lone Star Beer" 81 C. W. McCall & Co.
1980 "Kidnap America"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Bill Fries, who had No. 1 hit as C.W. McCall with 'Convoy,' dies at 93". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on April 2, 2022. Retrieved April 2, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1993). The Guinness Who's Who of Country Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 247. ISBN 0-85112-726-6.
  3. ^ a b Michael Levenson (April 3, 2022), "Bill Fries, Singer Known for 1970s Trucking Ballad 'Convoy,' Dies at 93", New York Times
  4. ^ "CW McCall obituary", The Times, April 7, 2022, archived from the original on April 7, 2022, retrieved April 9, 2022
  5. ^ "C.W. McCall". Oldies.com. Archived from the original on May 9, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c T Church (October 5, 2011), "From Iowa to Ouray: The Life of C.W. McCall", The Bigfoot Diaries, archived from the original on April 8, 2022, retrieved April 7, 2022
  7. ^ a b Miles Lumbard (November 17, 2010), Tales of the Four Wheel Cowboy, archived from the original on February 18, 2021, retrieved April 7, 2022
  8. ^ a b "'Convoy' Singer C.W. McCall Is in Hospice". Archived from the original on February 20, 2022. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  9. ^ a b The All-American Truck Stop Cookbook, Thomas Nelson, 2002, pp. 79–81, ISBN 9781418557829
  10. ^ Michael L. LaBlanc; Gale Research Inc (1989). Contemporary musicians : profiles of the people in music. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research. ISBN 0-8103-2211-0. OCLC 20156945.
  11. ^ Tim Scherrer (May 7, 2019), Crashed the Gate Doing Ninety-Eight, p. 244, ISBN 9780359644629
  12. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 361. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  13. ^ "98. C.W. McCall, 'Convoy' (1975) Photo - 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time". Rolling Stone. June 1, 2014. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved August 13, 2014.
  14. ^ Bondy, Filip (July 21, 2015). The Pine Tar Game: The Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees, and Baseball's Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4767-7717-7. Archived from the original on April 9, 2022. Retrieved April 9, 2022.
  15. ^ "'McCall' Leaves Office" Archived October 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Rocky Mountain News, January 14, 1992. Accessed March 25, 2008
  16. ^ William Heller (December 31, 1999), "10-4 Rubber Duck!", The Star, archived from the original on December 25, 2006, retrieved April 8, 2022
  17. ^ Brodsky, Greg (April 2022). "C.W. McCall, Who Had a #1 Novelty Hit, 'Convoy,' During CB Craze, Dies". Best Classic Bands. Archived from the original on April 1, 2022. Retrieved April 1, 2022.
  18. ^ a b Kent, David (1993). Australian Chart Book 1970–1992 (illustrated ed.). St Ives, N.S.W.: Australian Chart Book. p. 183. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  19. ^ "Top Country Albums – Year-End 1975". Billboard. Archived from the original on April 26, 2021. Retrieved June 5, 2021.
  20. ^ "Top Country Albums – Year-End 1976". Billboard. Archived from the original on June 3, 2021. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  21. ^ https://www.allmusic.com/album/r123058
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i "C.W. McCall, 'Convoy' Country Singer, Dead at 93". Rolling Stone. April 2, 2022. Archived from the original on April 5, 2022. Retrieved April 7, 2022.
  23. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1994). Top Country Singles 1944-1993 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 230. ISBN 0-89820-100-4.
  24. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 455. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
  25. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 475. ISBN 0-00-717931-6.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bernhardt, Jack. (1998). "C.W. McCall" in The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 333.

External links[edit]