C.W. McCall Dies

Let Them Truckers Roll, 10-4

Born Billie Dale Fries on November 15, 1928, in Audubon, Iowa he grew up listening to country music and married Rena Bonnema on February 15, 1952. He worked for an ad company and came up with a character named C.W. McCall, a truck driver, to use in a series of commercials for a Midwestern bread company.

When he started recording music in the 70’s 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 is not fond of. Fries then took on the persona of C.W. McCall.

He then began recording music about long-haul trucking, even establishing his own CB radio lingo truckers picked up and still use today. He was well known in the ’70s for his hit country records: “Old Home Filler-Up” and “Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe,” “Wolf Creek Pass,” and most famous of all, “Convoy,” which became a No. 1 pop and country hit in 1976.

A dozen McCall songs appeared on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles chart, including the sentimental “Roses for Mama” (1977). In 1978, the movie Convoy was released, based on the C. W. McCall song. The film starred Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Burt Young, and Ernest Borgnine and was directed by Sam Peckinpah.

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 Yankees-Kansas City Royals baseball game in 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).

In 1986, Fries was elected mayor of the town of Ouray, Colorado, ultimately serving for six years. The song “Convoy” is featured in Grand Theft Auto V. Uniden even made the President “Convoy” series of CB radios. The popularity of the song sparked nationwide interest in trucker culture and ignited the CB radio fad that continued throughout the decade.

CB Radios were affordable to the average person and operators didn’t need an FCC license to use them. Truckers used slang words and phrases so if the police were listening to their conversations, they wouldn’t be able to understand them. That all changed after “Convoy” came out and people decoded the trucker vernacular.

Non-tuckers with CB radios could join in the conversations or at least eavesdrop on the truckers’ conversations. It became a hobby for many to listen to the exciting world of long-haul truckers. The song created an instant surge in sales and use of CB Radios by the US public which was sweetened when the government also lowered the license fee from $40 to $4. By 1977 there were estimated to be over 20 million CBS in use in the US alone.

C.W. died on April 1, 2022, in his Colorado home after battling cancer. He was 93 years old. McCall is survived by his wife of 70 years, Rena Bonnema Fries. The pair have three children, Bill, Mark, and Nancy. The couple also has four grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson.


Historic Tech
New York Post

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: