Originally published in the December 12, 1995 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Twenty years ago this month, a fictitious singing trucker created not only a No. 1 country song, but fed fuel to the fire that ignited the CB radio craze.
Many country fans know that C.W. McCall wasn’t a real person: Advertising executive William Fries provided the words for jingle writer Chip Davis’ music.
What many fans don’t know is that both men behind the make-believe McCall have gone on to real success, Fries as a small-town Colorado mayor, Davis as the creative force behind Mannheim Steamroller and its wildly popular New Age Christmas music.
“I look back on C.W. McCall with fond memories and I think, ‘Did we really do all that?’” said William Fries, 67, the former adman who is now “enjoying life” in Ouray, the southwestern Colorado town where he served three terms as mayor.
Fries and Davis did a lot with C.W. McCall, the CB lingo-spouting character Fries dreamed up for a series of bread commercials.
“It was going to be a country-western soundtrack, so I thought, ‘C.W. – Country Western.’ I needed a studly last name, when I spotted a McCall’s magazine. C.W. McCall sounded great,” Fries told Country Weekly.
Fries’ own Midwestern voice was most suitable for the character. Davis, a classically trained jingle writer, created the country music, which he wasn’t sure he’d know how to write.
“Doggone if these commercials didn’t win the top Clio Award for best television campaign in the United States, beating out Xerox and Ford,” Fries said with a laugh.
C.W. McCall’s recording career was born soon after with 1974’s “Old Home Filler‑Up an’ Keep on-a-Truckin’ Cafe.” “Convoy” was C.W.’s biggest hit – it went to No. 1 on both the country and pop charts—reached No. 1 on Billboard’s The Hot 100 chart on January 10, 1976—and inspired a 1978 movie starring Kris Kristofferson.
The first live performance of “Convoy” came before a national audience watching The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. “I was absolutely frozen when they introduced me, but there’s no question about it, that was the highlight of my life,” recalled Fries.
“My highlight was writing songs with Bill, the topics we would dream up, and the way Bill would treat things,” added Davis, 47. “It gave me a great foundation for the music business.”
Davis eventually became the composer and musician behind Mannheim Steamroller, whose music he describes as “18th Century rock ’n’ roll.” Mannheim Steamroller has already sold more than 31 million albums. Its newest, Christmas in the Aire, is already in the pop charts’ Top 20.
“I’m on my own personal quest to bring back the origin of Christmas,” Davis said.
photo courtesy Chip Davis