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How the Powerful Song “Convoy” Shifted Gears for Country Music

How the Powerful Song “Convoy” Shifted Gears for Country Music

CW McCall made a name for himself and truckers everywhere with his hit song, Convoy

Some may think it sounds like a kitschy, novelty tune now. However, it was the driving force behind a significant cultural movement in the 1970s.

Today, we’re blazing a trail to see what all the fuss was about.

Let’s hit the road!

Who Originally Wrote Convoy?

William Dale Fries Jr, better known as CW McCall, lived a fascinating life. He was born in 1928 in Audobon, Iowa, to a musically inclined family. His father and two brothers performed in a band, sparking an early interest in Junior, as his parents and siblings called him. 

He grew up playing drums and clarinet and later attended the University of Iowa’s Fine Arts School. However, he left after only a year and returned to Audobon. 

Fries began working as a commercial artist for a local radio station. After winning several awards, he caught the eye of the Bozell & Jacobs advertising agency. They offered him a job as their in-house art director. 

It was in this fateful position that CW McCall was born.

The agency put Fries in charge of an ad campaign for Old Home Bread. He created a series of commercials featuring a truck driver delivering their products nationwide. The artist narrated the shorts himself, with his iconic spoken-word-style delivery fans would later hear in Convoy

CW was the name of the main character, short for Country Western. McCall’s, a popular magazine, as well as the movie Cash McCall, served as inspiration for his last name. He’d deliver fresh bread to the Old Home Cafe, flirt with Mavis, the waitress, and then continue his journey. 

Fries won several Clio Awards for the campaign before leaving his position to pursue a music career as CW McCall. 

We’ve also gathered 7 Classic Country Truck Driving Songs.

What’s the Story Behind the Song Convoy?

Before his days in advertising, Fries worked out of Denver as a trucker. His history in the role helped inspire his ad campaign and the iconic novelty song, Convoy

When he wrote the tune in 1975, the US economy was struggling. A gas crisis hit the trucking industry especially hard. It could take hours to fill up a tank, assuming you could find fuel at all. As another blow, the government implemented a national 55-mile-per-hour speed limit. 

Anyone tuning into Citizens Band (CB) radio could hear the frustration. Drivers used these devices to communicate, warn others of speed traps or accidents ahead, and keep each other awake on long hauls. They’d even use them to form convoys, long bands of vehicles going over the speed limit.

After all, the cops can’t possibly catch everyone, right?

Of course, the police also had access to CB radios, so drivers developed unique language and handles to protect their identities. Fries and Chip Davis, his colleague at the ad agency, bought a radio and picked up the slang quickly for their famous campaign. Together, the two took CW McCall beyond his commercial slots and onto the airwaves.

The lyrics, written by Fries, tell the story of a fictional team of truckers led by Rubber Duck, who band together to protest stifling government regulations.

Public reception of the song was far beyond anyone’s expectations, topping both the pop and country music charts. In 2014, Rolling Stone named it one of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time.

Convoy ignited a movement in the US and a near obsession with trucker culture. Folks started buying CB radios to join into the lifestyle. Other topical media followed, including the film by the same name, starring Kris Kristofferson as Rubber Duck. 

Was Convoy on our list? The Worst (Popular) Songs of the 1970s

What Does the CB Slang Used in Convoy Mean?

The lyrics in this trucker anthem are chock full of CB slang. To folks outside the community, it might sound like nonsense. However, the words and numbers have important meanings.

For truckers, 10-4 means affirmative, 10-9 means repeat, and 20 refers to location. 

When you hear the line, “them chicken coops was full o’bears,” you might think wildlife is ravaging a nearby farm. But they’re actually saying that the weigh station is crawling with cops. Pigs and hogs are other terms for law enforcement, while a pig pen is a truck hauling animals. 

The front door refers to the lead driver in charge of watching for police. On the other hand, a suicide jockey is a trucker hauling explosives or other hazardous materials. 

Once you get the hang of this vocabulary, Convoy makes a lot more sense. Of course, plenty more terms out there aren’t in the song. Unfortunately, cell phones have essentially wiped out the use of CB radios for non-truckers, and much of the terminology is no longer common.

Notable Covers of Convoy

CW McCall started a movement with Convoy, and many artists covered the song in their unique style. Here are three memorable versions that came out in later years. 

Boxcar Willie

If you know Boxcar Willie, it may not surprise you that he covered this song. Much like Bill Fries, he created a character whose persona he later adopted. In Boxcar Willie’s case, this was an old-time hobo who sang ballads in overalls and a floppy hat. 

His version of Convoy came out on his 1991 album, Six Days on the Road. He stays true to the original tune, only varying in that he sings more than he talks. 

Colt Ford

Professional golfer turned rapper Colt Ford covered the song as a tribute to the TruckersFinalMile. This organization helps reunite truck drivers with their families in times of despair. Whether the driver is in an accident or a tragedy happens at home, the group assists in their return, provides grief counseling, and supports them in other ways. 

Ford’s version of Convoy features melodic female voices in the chorus and a country-meets-hip-hop delivery. 

Ray Stevens

Comedian and singer-songwriter Ray Stevens released his take on Convoy on the 2009 record One for the Road. The album cover shows the artist leaning out the window of a semi-truck with a cheesy grin on his face. He later included it in his Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music. 

Again, he didn’t stray far from the classic hit. And who could blame him? The original is hard to beat.

What Happened to CW McCall?

Performing under the name CW McCall, Bill Fries released several albums and toured the country on more than one occasion. His musical career was closely tied with his longtime business partner, Chip Davis. Interestingly, Davis created the new-age neoclassical ensemble Mannheim Steamroller. 

After his success with Convoy, Fries and his family settled in Ouray, Colorado. He was a local fixture, and the town elected him mayor. He served three terms in the 1980s. One of his significant achievements was the revitalization of city hall, which burned down decades prior.

Fries passed away in 2022 after a battle with cancer. He was 93 years old. His wife of 70 years was by his side to the very end. 

Grab some popcorn! Convoy – the Movie

10-4 Good Buddy

CW McCall may have been a fictitious name, but his influence on pop culture is undeniable. His great trucker anthem, Convoy, brought awareness to the industry’s struggles and kicked off a nationwide movement. The obsession with the lifestyle infiltrated country music and even made its way into other forms of media like movies and television.

While the trucker aesthetic may seem niche today, it was downright unavoidable in the 1970s, all thanks to Bill Fries. Despite technological advances and changing tides, the song is still a hit today as far as we’re concerned!