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Bill Fries, singer best known for 1970s trucking ballad ‘Convoy’, dies at 93


Bill Fries, the deep-voiced country singer known as CW McCall, who turned an ad campaign for an Iowa bread company into the outlaw trucker anthem, “Convoy,” which hit No. 1 on the charts in 1976 and inspired a film by Sam Peckinpah, died Friday at his home in Ouray, Colorado. He was 93 years old.

His death was confirmed by his son, Bill Fries III, who said his father had been in hospice care for about six months.

Mr. Fries was working as an advertising manager at Bozell & Jacobs in Omaha in the 1970s, when he helped create a series of television commercials for Metz Baking Company about a trucker named CW McCall hauling Old Home bread in a ten- eight-wheelers and a waitress named Mavis at the Old Home Filler-Up an ‘Keep On A-Truckin’ Cafe.

The ads — including one that ended with the tagline “Old Home is good buns” — became hugely popular and helped boost Old Home bun sales by telling the story of a diesel-flavored romance between Mavis and the CW. , who spoke in a tremendous twang voiced by Mr. Fries.

“It was just amazing,” Mr. Fries once told Bozell. “Fan clubs were springing up and people were calling TV and radio stations to find out when spots were going to air.”

In 1974, the advertisements were recognized by the Clio Awards as the best television advertising campaign in the country.

“When I accepted the award, I could see the shock and horror on the faces of all those New York publicists,” Mr. Fries told the Omaha World-Herald in 2001. All of them have never thought something this good could come out of Omaha.

Mr. Fries helped turn the ads into a promotional disc for Metz Baking Company, titled “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On A-Truckin’ Cafe,” which sold about 30,000 copies, according to Bozell. Before long, MGM Records in Nashville was calling.

Crackling with CB radio lingo, the song tells the story of truckers Rubber Duck and Pig Pen who “put the hammer down” as they thumb their noses at speed limits, road rules and industry and law enforcement – “bears” and “smokies”. in CB parlance. Along the way, they end up driving 1,000 trucks and “11 long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus.”

Originally recorded simply to fill an album, “Convoy” tapped into the growing popularity of trucker culture and CB radio, which truckers used to communicate during long, lonely hours on the road. It was part of a boom in trucking-themed country songs like Joe Stampley’s “Roll On Big Mama” and Little Feat’s “Willin’.”

“Convoy” spent six weeks at the top of the country charts and topped the pop charts for one week, according to The World-Herald. More than 20 million copies of the single have been sold, according to Bozell. In 1978, Mr. Peckinpah turned the song into a movie, “Convoy”, starring Kris Kristofferson as Rubber Duck.

“It went further than I ever dreamed of,” Mr. Fries told the World-Herald. “I have a whole scrapbook full of articles people have written over the years about ‘Convoy’ and the ‘Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On A-Truckin’ Cafe.'”

Billie Dale Fries was born November 15, 1928, in Audubon, Iowa, and later changed his name to William Dale Fries Jr. His father, Billie Fries, was a supervisor at a farm equipment factory that manufactured hog pens. His mother, Margaret Fries, was a housewife.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Fries attended the University of Iowa for a year, then returned to Audubon and started a sign painting business.

In the late 1940s he went to work for the NBC affiliate in Omaha as an art director, which led to publicity and a job at Bozell & Jacobs.

Besides his son, Bill Fries III, he is survived by his wife of 70 years, Rena Fries, two other children, Mark Fries and Nancy Fries, four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. -son.

Mr. Fries said he came up with the idea for “Convoy” while sitting in his Jeep listening to CB radio conversations.

“It looks like a war going on there,” he told Mr. Davis. “Might be an idea for the album.”

Mr. Fries, who eventually released nine albums, according to his son, retired to Ouray, a town about 300 miles southwest of Denver, in 1981. He was elected mayor in 1986 and served until in 1992, his son said.

Even after his country music career ended, Mr. Fries said the runaway success of “Convoy” remained a lasting source of pride.

“It’s one of those things that can only happen in America,” he told the World-Herald. “The CBs all faded into the woodwork. Most young people don’t even know about CBs or truck convoys, but back then that was the thing. It was quite special.

Jack Beg contributed to the research.

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