Bill Fries of ‘Convoy’ dead at 93

Bill Fries, who under the stage name CW McCall sang hit country records in the 1970s about long-haul truck driving, died Friday at his home in Ouray, Colo. He was 93.

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

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

Fries wrote the words of “Convoy” and delivered them in a deep, fast-talking twang. The song helped popularize the lingo that truck drivers used over their citizens band radios.

It was not the first song about evading the police on the open road. But “Convoy” came along when truckers faced rising fuel costs and a nationwide 55 mph speed limit, and the use of CB radios was becoming widespread.

“It was timely,” Fries told The Associated Press in 1990. “Back in 1975-76, that craze was sweeping the country. The jargon was colorful, and the American public liked that, too. It was laced with humor, but it had a rebellious feeling about it and people responded to it.”

“Convoy” sold an estimated 7 million copies, spawning Sam Peckinpah’s 1978 film of the same name, starring Kris Kristoffersen.

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

Performing as McCall, Fries had five other top 20 country hits, including the sentimental 1977 ballad “Roses for Mama.” He sold about 20 million records before largely abandoning his performing career in the late 1970s.

Billie Dale Fries was born Nov. 15, 1928, in Audubon, Iowa. His father was a foreman at a company that manufactured farm buildings. Both of his parents played musical instruments and he had early aspirations of being a classical musician.

Fries — who later legally changed his name to William Dale Fries Jr. – Played the 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 was an artist and set designer at a television station before joining the Bozell & Jacobs advertising agency in 1961. He eventually became creative director and vice president.

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

The commercials became so popular that viewers called TV stations asking when the spots would air. They won a national Clio Award for advertising in 1974 for the best US television campaign.

Fries’s musical partner was Chip Davis, a Bozell & Jacobs Jingle composer who wrote the music for most of the CW McCall songs. Davis became the creative force behind Mannheim Steamroller.

Fries left Bozell & Jacobs in the mid-1970s and stopped performing as CW McCall by 1980. He recorded a few other songs over the years while living in retirement in Ouray, Colo., where he served as mayor from 1986-92.

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; and a great-great-grandson.

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