The title of today’s post are the opening words to one of my favorite songs, “Wilderness” by C.W. McCall. Bill Fries, the man who sang those words, passed away on April 1 at the age of 93. Back in 1975 and 76, it was hard to tune to a country music station and not hear his words. C.W. McCall’s trucker ballad “Convoy” rose to the top of the country music charts. It would serve as the inspiration for a Sam Peckinpah film of the same name and Rolling Stone Magazine would eventually name it one of the 100 greatest Country Songs of all time.
C.W. McCall was a character created by two people working at an advertising agency in Omaha, Nebraska: Bill Fries and Chip Davis. They created a series of commercials for Old-Home Bread featuring the trucker C.W. and his romance with a waitress named Mavis. An actor played C.W. and Fries voiced him in musical narration. The commercials were popular and they recorded a version of the jingle, which went on to become a popular record. Soon after, MGM Records offered them a deal. At that point, Fries went on to become the face of C.W. McCall as well as the voice.
I was nine-years-old when “Convoy” hit the top of the charts. My dad heard the song “Wolf Creek Pass” on the radio, loved it, and bought the album. Soon after, I talked my parents into buying the Black Bear Road album which contained “Convoy.” I loved the music and would go on to buy every C.W. McCall album I could find. To this day, the music is a favorite for road trips and I can sing many of the songs.
It should come as no surprise the songs influenced my writing. I’ve written two stories directly influenced by C.W. McCall songs. One was “Captain’s Holiday” which appeared in David B. Riley’s Ghost Town anthology. Influenced by a song that paints a word picture of a ghost town, I tell the story of a starship captain who returns to Earth and connects to its history by visiting an abandoned town in the New Mexico desert. Another story was “The Convoy” which forms part of Firebrandt’s Legacy. In this case, pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt is hauling logs from a distant colony world and joins a convoy of space vessels. One of the captains falls sick and the pirates have to find a way to get help. Words and phrases from the songs have gone on to influence me in smaller ways as well.
After the C.W. McCall years, Bill Fries settled in Ouray, Colorado where he served as mayor for six years. Meanwhile, in the final years of C.W. McCall, Chip Davis and other members of the band created Mannheim Steamroller. In fact, if you go back and listen to C.W. McCall songs, you can often hear the sound that would make Mannheim Steamroller famous a few years later. Even “Convoy” has a violin section! As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I don’t often write to music with lyrics because I find it distracting, but Mannheim Steamroller is often playing in the background when I write.
Back in 2001, I learned through the C.W. McCall fan club that Bill Fries was open to correspondence. I sent him a letter and a CD to sign. I received a gracious reply along with my signed CD. It was a small connection with someone who has been a great influence and who touched my life, but a treasured one. I look back and have fond memories of listening to C.W. McCall songs with my dad, mom, and brothers. I remember sharing the songs with my friends. I remember singing the songs with my kids on road trips. As Bill Fries said at the end of “Aurora Borealis,” “I realized that life is just a collection of memories. And memories are like starlight: they go on forever.”