CW McCall, Artist Behind ‘Convoy’ and Other Trucker Anthems, Dies at 93

“Convoy” was a hit on pop and country charts at the height of the trucking craze in the 70s.

byKristin V. Shaw|
People photo

If you grew up in the 1970s (or your parents did), you might remember the number-one hit song “Convoy” about a group of renegade truckers. The song spent one glorious week as number one on the pop charts and six weeks as number one on the country charts in 1975. Bill Fries, who wrote the song and performed it as his alter ego C.W. McCall, has died at 93.

An advertising executive and entertainer, Fries wrote “Convoy” with Chip Davis, who later founded new age rock act Mannheim Steamroller. It all started when Fries was tasked with developing an ad campaign for Old Home bread, a regional bakery in the Midwest. He came up with two memorable characters–trucker C.W. McCall and gum-snapping, winking waitress Mavis–who met up at the fictional Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe. Filled with trucker CB radio lingo and a fast-talking narrative, the commercials were a big hit with the public and the series of 12 bits finished with a proposal by C.W. to his waitress paramour.

After that, Fries took on the persona of C.W. McCall and performed “Convoy” and several other trucker anthems in his distinct baritone narrative. As Joe Ligo wrote for The Drive last year, “Convoy” was entirely fictional but inspired by reality.

“Fries owned multiple CB radios and overheard the Rubber Duck name when listening to chatter between drivers," Ligo wrote. "By the mid-'70s, the trucking industry was being squeezed by rising fuel costs and lower speed limits, both of which hurt productivity and profitability. Convoy was seen as a working class, anti-government protest song, and soon Fries was touring the country as C.W. McCall and performing on network TV.”

In the 70s, if you don't remember, it was common for kids to pump an arm from a car window to a trucker as a request to honk the horn. Squeals of delight and grins would follow if the trucker complied. "Convoy" spawned a whole generation of movie and TV shows about truckers and on-road car chases like B.J. and the Bear, The Dukes of Hazzard, and even a movie of the same name starring Kris Kristoffersen. With lyrics celebrating the unique language of truckers including code words like "smokies" for police and "10-4" for "affirmative," Fries' song became an icon in its own right. 

'Cause we got a little ol' convoy

Rockin' through the night

Yeah, we got a little ol' convoy

Ain't she a beautiful sight?

Come on and join our convoy

Ain't nothin' gonna get in our way

We gonna roll this truckin' convoy

'Cross the USA

Fries’ son Bill Fries III confirmed to The Washington Post that his father had passed away after a stay in hospice for cancer in Ouray, Colorado. 

I'll be singing "Convoy" softly to myself today as I work. 

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