Two-way traffic Questions for, answers from, and interviews with C.W. McCall


Questions and Answers

[Note: most of these questions were asked of Bill in 2000 and 2001. Life may have changed since then. — Ed.]

Have you ever considered rewriting “Convoy” to retell the taking of Baghdad last year [2003 —Ed.]?
There are some things in life that cannot be improved. “Convoy” is one of them. —Bill

Several Crispy Critters have written to Bill, asking about the possibility of their getting an autograph.

I have a copy of the “Best Of” album. I would be gracious if you could sign in for me. Where do I send?
I am wondering how I may obtain or receive a real autographed present or past photo of you, or just your autograph?! Is that possible?
I was wondering if there is a place to send for a autograph. Me and some friends have been huge fans since the 70s. My favorite song is “Oregon Trail” with “Lewis and Clark” a close second.
As to those requests for 8x10s and autographs: I don’t have any photos left, and I don’t like the idea of taking a new one since I look like an old dude now… which I am. If you want an autograph on something, send it to me at PO Box E, Ouray, CO 81427. —Bill

An Important Note from the Space Cadet!
That’s right, Critters. Bill will sign stuff if you send it to him. But please remember to include return postage for your item (and packaging, too, if that’s required), or you may not get it back. Bill is a one-man operation. — Ed.

Was the song “Classified” based on a personal experience or a true story?
Yes. It was a true story, but it happened to my son, Mark, back there in Iowa along about 1970. —Bill
I grew up in Colorado and went to Fort Lewis College back in the late ’70s, early 80s and am familiar with many of the places your songs and stories talk about, such as Wolf Creek Pass, Silverton, Black Bear Road and others. I would like to know if there are any guitar chords available for these songs and if so, where in the world can I get them. I have checked out a few places but none seem to exist. I am just learning to play the guitar and would love to add CW’s songs and stories into the mix.
Ed. here, subbing for Bill. So far, the only collection of C.W. McCall sheet music that I’ve found is Black Bear Road / Wolf Creek Pass published by Chappel Music in 1976. It has every song from those two albums, except for “Wolf Creek Pass” itself. A friend gave me my copy; but there must be a few more copies out there somewhere. I’m slowly working my way through the book, scanning the pages.

I asked Bill about the omission of “Wolf Creek Pass” from the book, and he said that the “…Wolf Creek lyrics were too long for the book”. Oh, well.

I have enjoyed listening to your music (of what I have) for the last 25 years. I have to say that partly because of your music and the trends at the time I drive a truck and have enjoyed your perspective on the subject in your music. I couldn’t tell from your web site if you distribute your music yourself, it is very hard to find. I would very much appreciate if you could answer that for me, and also I am glad to see that you are still hanging out in the mountains.
See Ed’s solution… and keep on truckin’. —Bill
Ed.’s Solution: Buy the four audio CDs: The Best Of C.W. McCall, C.W. McCall’s Greatest Hits, American Spirit, and The Real McCall: An American Storyteller. Bill still gets royalties from these. For the songs that do not appear on these albums, you’ll need to get the original vinyl LPs; they can be found in many record shops, both online and offline, that specialize in used records.
I know that Woody Guthrie is one of your favorite writers and I thought I would let you know about a great event every July in Woody’s hometown of Okemah, Okalahoma. It is the Woody Guthrie Free Folk Festival, a five-day festival that is packed with the great folk artists of today, and some of yesterday. Last year, Pete Seeger was there for the week along with Arlo. It would be great to see you there next year… at least it’s something to think about. In case you’re interested, here is the link: Woody Guthrie Folk Music Festival.
I am very interested. Thanks, Jim. Woody had that rarest of qualities: honesty. —Bill
A few years ago we were in Ouray for the 4th of July, what a great place to be. We were walking down the street and I could of sworn that we ran into you coming out of the grocery there, well as much of a grocery there is there. But anyway, I still say it was you and I was to awstruck to say hello, if it was you then I want to tell you Hi now, and I hope to see you in Ouray the next July 4th. By any chance, do you own a older Lincoln?
No. But I own an older Jeep: a restored M38, 1951 vintage. —Bill
I have been a fan of yours since 19 and 76 when a friend of mine in Albuquerque gave me an 8-track of Black Bear Road. Since then I have bought all the LPs and later the CDs of C.W. McCall. Anyway, when in the area of Durango, Silverton and Ouray, (last time in 1995) do you think it would be possible to meet cha? I’m planning on being in Colorado Springs the first weekend of June, 2001 and would like to cruise to the southwest of the state again (pretty country).
Take care of yourself, now. Funny thing: I’ll be in Alaska next summer [2001 — Ed.], Ketchikan. —Bill
I was wondering what in the world was the meaning of “We’ll put on our fish costumes, pass out the Vaseline and an extra ration of rum for the men,” from the movie version of Convoy?
Chris, I did not write the screenplay for the movie. Therefore, I, like you, have absolutely no idea what the phrase means. —Bill
Also, you mentioned going south, I assume for the winter [2000 - 2001 — Ed.]. Any chance on that being a Florida trip? I’d love to meet ya!
Not Florida. No way. We’ll be in Arizona. —Bill
Your description of the “Aurora Borealis” is right on! Just wonderin’ if you ever did see in person the Aurora Borealis over the Bitterroot mountains of Montana?? I’ve lived in southwestern Idaho all my life (43 years) and only once have I ever seen the Northern Lights this far south. I was actually in the central Idaho wilderness on a fishing trip when we saw them… and we were lying in our sleeping bags watching the colors “leaping and dancing”. I cannot verbalize or write how beautiful and awe-inspiring of an event it was! I thank you for the music that reminds me to look up at the stars and ponder for a moment… It keeps me humble and instills a reverence of how insignificant we really are compared to the magnitude and greatness of God’s universe. P.S. If you ever come to visit Idaho, you’re welcome at my home any time.
We have seen the Aurora twice…in the sixties on the Lolo Trail In Idaho and on the Idaho/Montana border. And, I saw it faintly on the flank of Uncompahgre Peak in Colorado in the seventies! Thanks, Reggie for your thoughts about the universe. I agree. —Bill
Do you have a favorite charity?
My favorite charity has suddenly become The Boy Scouts of America. —Bill
In a couple months I’ll be heading back from D.C. to Washington State. But I’m wondrin’— would Bill mind if I stopped in Ouray and shared a cuppa hot C with him, thank him, and move on?
I wouldn’t mind at all. But I may be in the motorhome somewhere down south a couple of months from now [“Now” is December 2000 — Ed.], so give me a call if you stop in Ouray. If I’m at home, I’ll be glad to meet up with you for that cuppa hot C. —Bill
I have been your fan since 1976. I am 38 now and still crave your music like it was yesteryear. I was wondering if you had made any videos of your songs other than “Comin’ Back For More”? I did find your “Convoy” video that aired on the Mike Douglas show in the ’70s.
Thanks for being a fan all those years. No other videos of my songs exist, but there is always the “San Juan Odyssey”. —Bill
I have so many questions; but as a mother of 4 and a Boy Scout Leader I’ve often wondered if you were ever a Boy Scout? Several of your songs, especially “Aurora Borealis”, remind me of Boy Scout Adventures. Also, We know that R.J. in “Black Bear Road” was your dear wife Rena Jayne. Are your children’s names Roy Gene and Mary Elizabeth?
Pam, of course I was a Boy Scout, about 60 years ago. We wore the “Smokey Bear” type flat-brimmed hats and colorful neckerchiefs. I remember collecting enough merit badges to get to First Class Scout status, and then a little thing called WWII came along. My experiences during that period of history can be found in my song, “Old Glory”. As for my kids’ names, Bill Jr. was “Roy Gene”, and my daughter Nancy Elizabeth was “Mary Elizabeth”. —Bill
A number of years ago, My wife Janet and I along with Miles Lumbard and his soon-to-become wife spent a week in Ouray. In the program for the week was a visit to the San Juan Odyssey, and a totally unexpected and very welcome half-hour conversation with Bill outside the ice cream parlour. The one question I never got to ask is, what is the real story behind the “Crispy Critters”? Having asked the question, I should point out that on the next visit to Ouray, we made a day trip to Telluride. Inside the door of the first gift shop we entered was (and this is no joke) a very obviously disillusioned hippy behind the counter. In front of him was an extensive collection of dried herbs, and a collection of astrological postcards. After we left the esablishment trying not to explode with laughter, I surmised that Telluride may have had something to do with the aftermath of the events chronicled in that song. How ’bout it, Bill?
The real story, Monroe, is the real story. It all happened. It really did. Al, of Al’s Conoco, was the mayor of Ouray back in the sixties, and we all watched as he ran those hippies outa town. Somehow, they took up residence in Telluride. Now you know the rest of the story. By the way, Miles is one of the Good Guys. —Bill
A simple (maybe obvious!) question, but what’s the preferred pronunciation of the surname - Fries as in ’Freeze’, or Fries as in ’french-fries’? I’ve heard it said both ways on this side of the Herring Pond, and I like to get it right.
Think of it as “Freece”. —Bill
What are the chances of you, Chip, and them Fort Calhoun boys all getting together for a nostalgic reunion concert someday?
Practically none, due to the ravages of time. But it’s a nice thought. —Bill
The song "Audubon" is an autobiographical piece on your life. Were there many embellishments to the story?
A few, but most of it is as I said it was. —Bill
What particular event (if any) triggered your writing of the song "Convoy"?
The great 55 mph speed limit controversy of the Seventies. —Bill
The cadence used in the story “Classified” was quite up-tempo. Was it difficult for you to record this piece?
No. Nailed it on the first take. —Bill
Wolf Creek Pass”: fact or fiction?
Both. Idea came from a story told to me by an old trucker from Wiggins, Colorado. —Bill
Chip Davis and yourself collaborated on much of your material. Give us a rough percentage on the amount of lyrical material Chip contributed.
Zero. The words were all mine and the music was all Chip’s. —Bill
Realizing that it might be difficult to pick only one out of your catalog of material, would you consider letting your faithful in on what your ten favorite selections would be? (if it can be narrowed to that number).
"Columbine", "The Little Brown Sparrow and Me", "Mountains On My Mind", "Old 30", "Classified", "Oregon Trail", "Aurora Borealis", "The Silverton", "Ghost Town", "Black Bear Road". —Bill
Since you’ve not recorded any new material since the ’90 CD with “Comin’ Back For More”, if an opportunity arose to record again, and continue C.W. McCall, would you consider it? Do you have any story (other than an obvious remake of “Convoy”, with an Internet theme) ideas churning in the back of your head? [The year is 2000. —Ed.]
At 72, the only thing churning is my chronic heartburn. —Bill
Thanks for the great entertainment. I am another one who sat for hours following all I could in road atlases while your vinyl was playing over and over in the headphones 25 years ago. Also, I almost wore out the “There Won’t Be No Country Music…” track by repeating it so much. What music do you listen to now?
Same as always. Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Copland, Bernstein. —Bill
What music did you hear, besides yours, when you were writing the goodies?
Woody Guthrie, of course, and Stan Freberg (one of my heroes from the advertising years). —Bill
Could you compare your work to the radio shows of the ’30s and ’40s? [1930s and 1940s — Y2K Ed.] No doubt you spent countless hours listening. I am guessing you were benevolently influenced by the genre: like them, you have been able to plant vivid images in people’s heads, without video. (Or is this guess off-base?)
Right on, Van. I’ve always thought radio was the greatest medium. Very perceptive of you. —Bill
One of the video clips that we’ve seen is an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show in 1976, where you sang “Convoy”. What can you tell us about that appearance?
Mike Douglas was one of a long string of appearances that MGM/Polydor had scheduled for me to make. In every case my biggest worry was simply remembering my own lyrics. Sometimes it was lip-synch with a recorded track, other times, such as the Johnny Carson Show, it was live with a band. I remember an overwhelming sense of “What the hell am I doing here?” —Bill
Was Sloan based on a real dog?
No. But he was named after a real town: Sloan, Iowa. —Bill
The home in Audubon in which you grew up: is it still standing? And if so, can you tell us where it is?
Yes. 103 Leroy Street, Audubon, Iowa. Last time I saw it was in 1996. The occasion was my 50th High School Class Reunion. —Bill
How did the process of writing “Convoy (new version)” for the movie compare with the writing of the original song from Black Bear Road?
The only difference was working in all the new characters in the screenplay. —Bill
What are your memories of the production of the movie Convoy?
While Sam Peckinpah was directing the shoot in New Mexico, Chip and I were busy writing new words and music for the score. I remember the post-production sessions in Hollywood as typical showbiz hype and jive. I felt the original concept of the song had been lost. But, for a couple of guys from fly-over country, it was fun. Sort of. Maybe not. —Bill
Have you noticed any resurgence in your popularity when your songs appear on television, such as in William Shatner’s commercial for in which he desecrates “Convoy”?
No. But the royalty was especially nice. —Bill
You’ve been photographed in poses with 18-wheelers; but have you ever actually driven one, even briefly?
Yes. The occasion was a “truck roadeo” in 1976. I was invited to drive a Peterbilt tractor with all the goodies. A great experience. The power was awesome. —Bill
Does the song “Mountains on My Mind”. (from Black Bear Road) reflect the way that you felt about your sudden fame, and the touring that you did?
Yes. I wrote “Mountains on My Mind” on a New York to L.A. flight. The plane flew right over Ouray, Colorado, and as I looked down on my favorite place in the whole world, I thought about how we all must do certain things in our lives that we really don’t want to do. —Bill
The theme in several of your songs is our destruction of the natural environment (“Glenwood Canyon”, “There Won’t Be No Country Music”, “Silver Iodide Blues”). Do you think that we’ve made any progress in recognizing our mistakes and correcting them?
Oh, I suppose so, but the “sea of pavement” continues to wash over us. That, of course, is the price we pay for the population explosion. —Bill
Do you use a CB radio when you travel? If so, does anyone believe you when you tell them that you’re the Rubber Duck?
Yes, and not any more. —Bill
Who was the inspiration for the character of the waitress Mavis Davis in the song “Audubon”?
A composite of all the “bag-fulla-bobcats” I’ve ever known or observed. —Bill