Bill Fries, who enjoyed country hits in the 1970s as CW McCall, dies at 93

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The death was confirmed by his son Bill Fries III. Mr. Fries announced in February that he was in hospice care for cancer.

After creating the character of CW McCall, a truck driver in a series of commercials for a Midwestern bread company, Mr. Fries (pronounced “freeze”) adopted the name as his alter ego and recorded several humorous songs and free on long-haul renegades. truckers.

I say, Earl, “I’m not one to complain

But the time has come for me to explain

That if you don’t apply the brake very soon

They’ll have to come get us

With a stick and a spoon”

His best-known song was “Convoy,” which became a No. 1 country and pop hit, pushing the Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” to the top of the Billboard charts in January 1976.

Mr. Fries wrote the words to “Convoy” and spoke them in a deep, rapid twang. The song helped popularize the lingo that truckers used on their citizen, or CB, radio stations, and is nearly incomprehensible without a glossary of CB terms.

The name, or “handful”, of the song’s central character is Rubber Duck, and he chats with another driver, Pig Pen, carrying a load of smelly pigs, which becomes a running joke throughout the song. They join a driver in a “Pete with a cab-over with a fridge” – a Peterbilt refrigerated truck with the cab over the engine – heading east out of Shaky Town, or Los Angeles, and “Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy.

“I’m about to put the hammer down,” Rubber Duck says, meaning he’ll drive as fast as he can, while keeping an eye out for “smokies” or highway patrollers wearing hats. flat edges like those worn by Smokey Bear. As more trucks follow, McCall chants, “We’re gonna roll this convoy of trucks across the United States.”

By the time they arrive in Tulsa, there are 85 trucks speeding along, and “those fumes are thick like bugs on a bumper. They even had a bear in the air” — a police helicopter. As they move east through Chi-town, Chicago, the trucks go faster and the stories grow, as the convoy passes ‘Illi-noise National Guard Reinforcements’ “Well, we pulled the line and went for broke with a thousand screaming trucks…we smashed the gate doing 98, I say, ‘Let the truckers roll.’ ”

It wasn’t the first song about evading the police on the road. Chuck Berry recorded “Maybellene” in 1955, and Commander Cody and his Airmen from the Lost Planet had a hit in the early 1970s with a remake of the old rockabilly track “Hot Rod Lincoln.” But “Convoy” emerged as truckers faced rising fuel costs and a national speed limit of 55 mph, and the use of CB radios was becoming widespread.

“It was timely,” Mr. Fries told The Associated Press in 1990. “By 1975-76, that craze was sweeping the country. The jargon was colorful, and the American public loved it, too. It was mixed with humour, but there was a sense of rebellion about it and people reacted to it.

“Convoy” sold around 7 million copies and became an unexpected phenomenon, spawning Peckinpah’s 1978 film of the same name, starring Kris Kristoffersen. During the same period, Burt Reynolds’ “Smokey and the Bandit” movies were box office hits, and the “outlaw” country music of Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson was growing in popularity.

“We always took ourselves seriously, but we never thought it would become so big,” Mr. Fries said in 1975. “I’m flabbergasted by the success of ‘Convoy’. It spread like a grass fire.

Playing the role of McCall, Mr Fries had five other top 20 country hits, including the sentimental 1977 ballad ‘Roses for Mama’. He sold around 20 million records before largely abandoning his performing career in the late 1970s.

Dressed in jeans, a vest and a dented cowboy hat, Mr. Fries performed the role of McCall on network television programs, including Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”, and made one of the national concert tours.

“People came to see me but didn’t know what I looked like. They just knew my voice,” he told The Associated Press. “So I had to learn to be a face. That meant a lot of rehearsal and learning the craft of stage shows: how CW McCall was supposed to act and look. It was an identity crisis.

Billie Dale Fries was born on November 15, 1928 in Audubon, Iowa. His father was a foreman in a company that made agricultural buildings. Both of his parents played musical instruments and Mr. Fries aspired to be a classical musician from an early age.

Mr. Fries – who later legally changed his name to William Dale Fries Jr. – played clarinet in bands at the University of Iowa and later studied art and film production.

He moved in the early 1950s to Omaha, where he worked as an artist and set designer for a television station before joining the advertising agency Bozell & Jacobs in 1961. He eventually became creative director and vice president.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Fries was asked to design an advertising campaign for Old Home bread, which was sold in several Midwestern states. He created the characters of CW McCall and a waitress named Mavis at the Old Home Filler-Up an ‘Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe.

“CW McCall and I haul for Old Home. You can call me CW”

The ads became so popular that viewers called TV stations to ask when the spots would air, and they won a Clio National Award for Advertising in 1974 for Best American Television Campaign.

Mr. Fries’ musical partner was Chip Davis, a Bozell & Jacobs jingle composer who wrote the music for most of CW McCall’s songs. Davis became the creative force behind Mannheim Steamroller, a Grammy-winning group that blends classical and New Age musical elements.

Mr. Fries left Bozell & Jacobs in the mid-1970s and stopped performing as CW McCall in 1980. He recorded a few other songs over the years while living in retirement in Ouray, NY. Colorado, which he called “a mining town with whole mountains.” around and a population of 680 when we’re all here. He was mayor from 1986 to 1992.

Survivors include his wife of 70 years, Rena Bonnema Fries; and three children, Bill Fries III, Mark Fries and Nancy Fries; a sister; four grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; a great-great-grandson.

“Well, thank you, good pal, we’ll be on our way out of here,” CW McCall says at the end of “Convoy,” with a slight modification of a trucker’s farewell: “Keep the bugs out of your glass and the bears of your… tail.”

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