CW McCall is dead at 93. For those of a certain age he will be forever remembered for his country song Convoy, celebrating the trucking industry, more particularly the Citizens’ Band radio fad of the 1970’s, that was so popular among truckers. McCall was actually William Dale Fries Jr, who worked for an Omaha advertising agency. Fries created a Clio Award-winning (1974) television advertising campaign advertising Old Home Bread for the Metz Baking Company. The advertisements featured a truck driver named C. W. McCall, who was played by Dallas, Texas, actor Jim Finlayson. The waitress named Mavis Davis was played by Dallas actress Jean McBride Capps. The commercial’s success led to songs such as “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep on a-Truckin’ Café”, “Wolf Creek Pass”, and “Black Bear Road”. Fries wrote the lyrics and sang while Chip Davis, who would later create Mannheim Steamroller, wrote the music. Classically trained Davis would win Country Music Writer of the Year in 1976 a genre he was not fond of.
CONVOY, in many ways presaged the recent trucker convoy in Ottawa, in that it celebrated outlaw truckers who dodged weigh scales, broke speed limits and falsified their trip logs but most of all used the CB radios to warn other truckers about police roadblocks and speed traps. CBers developed their own lingo. Cops were “bears” and in Convoy the line that somehow has stuck with me after all these years was the reference to a police helicopter, “they even had a bear in the air.” It was the CB movement that coined the phrase “handle” for one’s name that is today used in social media. The whole outlaw trucker-CB romanticization led to a string of Hollywood movies such as CONVOY with Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw and Smokey and the bandit with Burt Reynolds. The song CONVOY described a fictitious truck convoy that went coast to coast picking up trucks as it went, Eventually it grew to 1000 rigs, and in a line that sounds a lot like what was seen in Ottawa:
By the time we hit that Chi-town Them bears was a-gettin’ smart
They’d brought up some reinforcements From the Illinois National Guard
There’s armored cars, and tanks, and Jeeps And rigs of ev’ry size
Yeah, them chicken coops was full’a bears And choppers filled the skies
Well, we shot the line and we went for broke With a thousand screamin’ trucks
CB radios disappeared as a phenomenon with the onset of cellular phones, but the outlaw trucker notion has persisted in popular culture. Convoy actually made it to number one on the Billboard charts in January 1976, topping more cerebral hits by the Eagles, David Bowie, Donna Summer, Queen, the Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mack. Incredible that a country song could share space on a rock station playlist, but that’s the way radio worked then.
Fries died on April 1, 2022, at age 93 from complications of cancer. In an interview he conducted on February 9 while in palliative hospice care, he gave his blessing for the use of his song “Convoy” for the Freedom Convoy protests here in Canada, with the interviewer noting that he was “energized and enthusiastic” about the revival of interest in the song and its message.