The Legend-News

Saturday, 2003 November 15 : Volume 6, Number 20

What We Got Here

Hey, Kids! What Time Is It? No, not "Howdy Doody time!" — although, if you thought that, you're older than you would probably admit — it's The Bill Fries Natal Anniversary! Or, in common parlance, it's his birthday.

This issue is a bit late. [Pause here until laughter dies down.] Life's been throwing nothing but curve balls lately, but I finally got a whole day to do nothing, so I did something and finished this issue. And just in time!

Important News. Long-time readers will recall that The Legend-News once had a text-only version that you could receive by e-mail. Well, I'm going to try that edition again, but I'm not sure that my list of addresses is current. So here's the deal: if you want to receive future issues of The Legend-News via e-mail, send a message to

— Ed.

75 Years Of Bill Fries

William Dennis Fries, Jr. was born on 15 November 1928 in a little town in western Iowa. His life, like that of most of us, was fairly uneventful. He played in the high school band, got married, took a job in the big city. Then the unexpected happened.

Bill was working for the advertising firm of Bozell Jacobs in their Omaha, Nebraska office when he took the project of creating a new advertising campaign for the Metz Baking Company of Sioux City, Iowa. Their major product was Old Home Bread, and their market area were the nearby states: Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, and maybe a little Kansas.

Bill's idea for the campaign wasn't a "hard sell"; instead, he'd chosen to use the Old Home products peripherally, as part of the action in a series of television commercials. Bill's father had been, among other occupations, a truck driver, and Bill's interest in the "knights of the road" led him to create his main character: a truck driver named "C.W. McCall", who hauled Old Home Bread. C.W.'s 60-second adventures would end at the "Old Home Café" in Pisgah, Iowa, where worked a waitress by the name of Mavis Davis. C.W. was sweet on her, you see.

And the commercials didn't have a word of dialog. No using the standard, "You need [name of product]!" "[Name of product]?" "[Name of product]." routine that seemed to permeate commercials. Bill's idea was for every commercial to be a song telling the story. C.W., Mavis and the other characters would be seen, but only the unknown singer — supposedly, the voice of C.W. McCall — would be heard.

So Bill wrote some songs, and when he needed music to accompany them he asked Chip Davis, an Omaha musician who was also working in advertising, to compose that music. The melody was simple, and the words were succinct, but the result wasn't really a song: the words were spoken, not sung, in a style similar to "walking blues" but in a more upbeat manner.

Well, Interstate 80
I was truckin' alive
Thermometer read about a hundred and five.
I had a ten-ton Old Home Bread truck
Pumpin' all day
Pumpin' out steam

And then the commercials were broadcast, and Bill's life took a hard right turn.

I had a thousand cubes
And they was runnin' cool
Was 'til I run out of bread truck fuel
At the Old Home Filler-Up and Keep On A'Truckin' Café

Gimme ten gallons

In the Old Home Bread commercials, the character of the truck driver, C.W. McCall, was played by Jim Finlayson. He was an ad man himself, who worked out of Dallas, Texas. Jeannie Capps, also of Dallas, played the part of Mavis Davis, the waitress at the Old Home Café.

Well, she filled my tank
I said "Thank ya, honey."
Her name was Mavis
I gave her the money
Sez, "How about an Old Home burger
An ice cream cone
To cool myself off with?"

But the songs that were heard in the commercials were not performed by Jim Finlayson, although the words did refer to his character of C.W. McCall in the first person. No, the voice of C.W. McCall was that of Bill Fries himself. Bill had auditioned singers for the part, but he didn't feel that any of them could deliver the lines the way that he had written them. So, following the dictum "if you want it done right, do it yourself", Bill talked the talk while Jim Finlayson walked the walk. To the viewers of the commercials, C.W. McCall was the tall and rangy Finlayson, and they assumed that the voice on the commercials was his.

The commercials were, to put it mildly, a success. Soon after the first series of commercials were aired, Metz Baking began to get requests for recordings of the songs; but there were no records, just the soundtrack on the commercials. Convinced by Metz and Bozell Jacobs that a record could only help the account, Bill rewrote the songs for the first commercials, combining them into one coherent tale.

Put a patty on the grill and back she came
Sez, "Tell me, Truck Man,
What's your name?"
I sez "C.W. McCall
And I haul for Old Home
But you can call me C.W."

Chip Davis, who had written the music for the commercials, was attempting to start his own recording career. He had assembled a group of local musicians to play his compositions, a style that was unlike anything so far created. The best description of Chip's music was "baroque rock 'n' roll": all-instrumental, sounding a bit classical, but having a melody that would have you tapping your feet. Think of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but without the rigid structure of "classical music", and you're getting close to the feel of Chip's recordings.

So, with the vocals of Bill Fries and the conducting of Chip Davis, the first song by "C.W. McCall" was released in local record stores and played on Midwestern radio stations. "Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café" introduced C.W., Mavis, and C.W.'s dog Sloan to a audience far beyond the limits of the television commercials.

The record sold 30,000 copies. Thirty thousand copies of a song by a singer who few had ever seen, with music by a composer who was almost unknown, bought by many people who had never seen the commercials for Old Home Bread.

Well, I gave her a wink
'N' she eyeballed me.
With Old Home love
Plain to see
And then she handed me an Old Home burger
Pretty pink tray
Nice fresh bun.

A second series of commercials was commissioned, and the further adventures of C.W. McCall commenced. New characters were introduced, including Mavis' mother and the local sheriff and C.W.'s father, B.Q. McCall. So popular were the commercials, that notices were published in the Des Moines Register telling viewers at what time they could turn on their television to watch one.

The success of "Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café" was a snowball. Bill wrote a few more songs about C.W. and truckers, and about the towns in Iowa where Bill had grown up. With Chip Davis continuing as composer, they teamed with Omaha record producer Don Sears to create the first C.W. McCall album, Wolf Creek Pass, subtitled "Old Home Filler-Up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café (And Other Wild Places)". A star was born.

But the second C.W. McCall album, Black Bear Road, propelled Bill and Chip to the top of country music charts. Its first single release, "Convoy", told the tale of a band of 55-mile-per-hour frustrated truckers and their attempt to cross the United States. In January 1976, "Convoy" was Number One.

To promote an album, an artist was required to tour the country and give live performances. Backed by the "Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant Boys" — the musicians who worked with Chip Davis — the C.W. McCall show hit the road.

Bill Fries was C.W. McCall; but the audiences who attended his concerts, if they were in the area where the Old Home Bread commercials were broadcast, were slightly confused. To them, C.W. McCall looked like Jim Finlayson, the actor who protrayed the trucker; but C.W. McCall sounded like the singer on stage, a denim-jacket-and-western-hat wearing sort-of John Denver lookalike. But that difference of appearance didn't keep "C.W. McCall" from crossing the U.S. of A., playing to the crowds at county fairs and high school auditoriums.

In the next three years, Bill and Chip created four more albums. Those albums sold well, but they didn't reach the heights that Black Bear Road and "Convoy" had achieved. Bill, who had reached his fiftieth birthday in 1978, was tiring of the demands of touring to promote the albums, and he had decided to retire.

And in those years, Chip hadn't just worked as a musician for C.W. McCall; he had also formed a group of his own, using the musicians who played on the recordings of C.W. McCall and toured as its band. Manneheim Steamroller, recording on Chip's own American Gramaphone label, struck its own gold with their first album, Fresh Aire, which was not — despite the name of the genre in which it is usually labeled — "New Age" music. The poetry on the album cover, which describes each composition, was written by Bill Fries.

Well I finished up the burger
Said "Bye now, Hon."
Then left her a truck load of Old Home buns
At the Old Home Filler-Up and Keep On A'Truckin' Café

Bill Fries and his wife Rena retired to the former silver-mining town of Ouray, Colorado, where he still resides on the side of a mountain overlooking the town. He served as Ouray's mayor for two terms in the 1980s.

Chip Davis continues as the owner of the American Gramaphone label in Omaha, releasing a new Mannheim Steamroller album when he feels like it.

Since 1980, Bill and Chip have collaborated twice on projects: first, on 1989's The Real McCall: An American Storyteller, where fifteen of C.W. McCall's best songs were rerecorded ("It must be the digital," said Bill), then in 2003 for the Mannheim Steamroller & C.W. McCall album American Spirit.

Old Home is Good Buns

"Old Home Is Good Buns" by Bill Fries and Chip Davis. Used without permission, but I don't think that they're going to sue me.

TechRen Enterprises Gets Its Bacon Saved

If you've visited my other web site, you know that — besides publishing a newsletter with questionable journalism and mediocre fiction — I have a couple of side operations: tweaking web sites and digitizing audio. Of course, when you're working nothing but part-time jobs, everything's a side operation.

Anyway, thanks to Garage 'A Records of Cromwell, Indiana for filling my needs very quickly. Two weeks ago, my main turntable — the one that can play 78 rpm records — died suddenly after twenty-two years, and I had just received an order to transfer some 78s onto CD. Great timing, eh?

I searched the Web that same morning, looking for a replacement turntable. On one site, a used record reseller's, I found what I wanted: an Esoteric Audio "Vintage" turntable with a control for all 78 rpm speeds, plus a pitch control, at $395. The bad news: the turntable didn't ship with any cartridges or styli. A Stanton P-mount LP cartridge and stylus would be $85 extra, and I'd still need another stylus for the 78s.

But with a bit more searching, I found Garage-A-Records was offering that same model turntable for $379, including both the Stanton cartridge that I needed, plus a 78 stylus and cartridge! Of course, I immediately ordered the turntable.

That was on Friday, 24 October, in the afternoon. An hour after my order was confirmed, Garage-A-Records sent to me a second message, telling me that the turntable would ship directly from the factory, probably on Monday or Tuesday of the following week, and that they (Garage 'A Records) would ship the cartridges from their location that same day.

The surprise: the turntable was shipped by the factory on Friday, and arrived on Monday. The cartridges arrived via First Class mail on Tuesday. I was expecting a wait of one week, but my order had been fulfilled in four days. If not for the intervening weekend, I'm betting that the turntable would have arrived in two days. I've dealt with a lot a mail-order companies, and the delivery time from Garage-A-Records and Esoteric Audio was fast.

In summary: if you're looking for equipment and supplies for dealing with vinyl records, try Garage-A-Records. Good prices, fast (and free, usually) delivery.

I wonder if they want to buy some advertising space on

Meanwhile, Back At The Critter Ranch

New Critters On The Block

Brad and Ramona Owens of Lexington, Tennessee. "We ain't a-gonna pay no toll!" says Brad.

Sheepdog, a truck driver and dispatcher from Vancouver, Washington. "Sheepdog" is not his real name.

Eddie Kaylor, North Brunswick, New Jersey.

Still waiting for that convoy to hit the Jersey shore, I have a rubber duck sitting on my computer at work, hope to ride the Silverton up from Durango, I know all the words to "Classified" and dream that someday I'll see the Aurora Borealis.

When I was in high school, we had an assignment to write out the lyrics of a song and then read them to the class while we all analysed what the lyrics were truely saying. Example, Don McClean's "American Pie." Write the lyrics out and discuss what it really meant. My song I chose was "Convoy." My teacher wasn't impressed saying it wasn't a real song. I argued with her that it was a national hit. Didn't matter, I got a "D" for the assignment. I think I can qualify as a Crispy Critter.

If you'd like to be listed on the Big List 'A Critters, send a message to Tell me something about yourself, and I'll add you to the only list in the world of C.W. McCall fans. How's that for a claim to fame? By the way, would you like to name a star?

Critters In The Wild

Hippouk wrote to me with clarifications about the Brit "Convoy" parody, "Convoy G.B.":

I just visited your site and read through your Convoy GB lyrics / explainations.

A couple of comments.

First, DLT's [Dave Lee Travis. — Ed.] 'Super Scout' is in fact 'Super Scouse'. His accent at this point is a poor parody of a 'scouse' accent; i.e., someone from the Liverpool area of the UK.

HRH1. I don't know if she does have this reserved or not but the Queen's car is the only car in Great Britain to not require a number plate. An ex-police officer we knew stopped her car just outside Bracknell once because he noticed the car had no number plate, as he approached the chauffeur he was acosted by bodyguards and made aware of his error.

Bracknell is not far from Windsor by the way; they're both in the county of Berkshire. The last I heard of him, the ex-P.C. was working as a security guard at Broadmoor Hospital, Britain's leading hospital for the criminally insane!

Honorary Critter Chuck Miller has written a lot of magazine articles, and one of his latest is "Convoy Rides Again", in the September / October issue of Road King. Other articles by Chuck can be found in The Chuck Miller Creative Writing Service.

Old Home Café: The Next Generation

Episode XXVII

Dreaming is the mind's mechanism for dealing with the stress of life, and Jon Bach needed a lot of dreaming. Since he'd moved to Pisgah and reopened the Old Home Café, he'd been working 18-hour days. If he was lucky, he'd take a nap in the early afternoon when business was slow after the lunch crowd had left, but lately he hadn't been lucky.

But tonight was different. The time was only 6 P.M., and he was done for the night. After far too long, as he realized, Jon had finally hired a night manager, someone to start at 6 and close up shop at 11. So tonight, Jon was planning nothing more than a lot of sack time.

[This part of today's story is intentionally blank. I could describe Jon's dreams of grandeur — his idea for turning Pisgah into a C.W. McCall theme park, the tourist-attracting World's Largest Pile Of Loose Change, the desire for a new Power Macintosh G5 — but the poor guy really needs his sleep. Maybe next time. — Ed.]

At 4:30 A.M. the clock-radio snapped to life and Jon awoke to the farm report. He yawned and scratched, and decided that he'd slept well. Then he shuffled into the bathroom and took a shower. He had a cafe to open at 5.

Song A’ Th’ Week
Words without music. Call 'em poems.

Maybe the Song A’ Th’ Week ought to be "Happy Birthday", but there's a problem with using that song: the holders of the copyright have lawyers who just love to get a couple of pennies out of anyone who performs or publishes that work, and The Legend-News is just plain cheap. Besides, we would never indulge in copyright infringement (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

(C.W. McCall, Bill Fries, Chip Davis)
From the album Rubber Duck

Well, I was born in a town called Audubon
Southwest Iowa, right where it oughta been

Twenty-three houses, fourteen saloons,
And a feed mill in nineteen-thirty.
Had a neon sign, said "Squealer Feeds"
And the bus came through when they felt the need
And they stopped at a place there in town called The Old Home Café

Now my daddy was a music lovin' man
He stood six-foot-seven, had big ol' hands
He'd lost two fingers in a chainsaw but he could still play the violin
And Mom played piana, just the keys in the middle
And Dad played a storm on his three-fingered fiddle
'Cause that's all there was to do back there folks, except ta go downtown and watch haircuts

Six-tube cathedral radio So I was raised on Dust Bowl tunes, you see
Had a six-tube radio an' no TV
It was so dog-goned hot I had to wet the bed in the summer just to keep cool.
Yeah, many's a night I'd lay awake
A-waitin' for a distant station break
Just a-settin' and a-wettin' an' a-lettin' that radio fry.

Well, I listened to Nashville and Tulsa and Dallas
And Oklahoma City gave my ear a callus
And I'll never forget them announcers at three A.M.
They'd come on an' say "Friends, there's many a soul who needs us
"So send them letters an' cards ta Jesus
"That's J-E-S-U-S friends, in care a' Del Rio, Texas."

But the place I remember, on the edge a' town
Was the place where you really got the hard-core sound
Yeah, a place where the truckers used ta stop on their way to Dees Moins
There was signs all over them windowsills
Like "If the Devil don't get ya, then Roosevelt will"
And "The bank don't sell no beer, and we don't cash no checks."

Now them truckers never talked about nothin' but haulin'
And the four-letter words was really appallin'
They thought them home-town gals was nothin' but toys for their amusement.
Rode Chevys and Macks and big ol' stacks
They's always complainin' 'bout their livers an' backs
But they was fast-livin', strung-out, truck-drivin' son of a guns

Now the gal waitin' tables was really classy
Had a rebuilt motor on a fairly new chassis
And she knew how to handle them truckers; name was Mavis Davis
Yeah, she'd pour 'em a coffee, then she'd bat her eyes
Then she'd listen to 'em tell 'er some big fat lies
Then she'd ask 'em how the wife and kids was, back there in Joplin?

Now Mavis had all of her ducks in a row
Weighed ninety-eight pounds; put on quite a show
Remind ya of a couple a' Cub Scouts tryin' ta set up a Sears, Roebuck pup tent
There's no proposition that she couldn't handle
Next ta her, nothin' could hold a candle
Not a hell of a lot upstairs, but from there on down, Disneyland!

Now the truckers, on the other hand, was really crass
They remind ya of fingernails a-scratchin' on glass
A-stompin' on in, leavin' tracks all over the Montgomery Ward linoleum
Yeah, they'd pound them counters and kick them stools
They's always pickin' fights with the local fools
But one look at Mavis, and they'd turn into a bunch a' tomcats

Well, I'll never forget them days gone by
I's just a kid, 'bout four foot high
But I never forgot that lesson an' pickin' and singin', the country way
Yeah, them walkin', talkin' truck stop blues
Came back ta life in seventy-two
As "The Old Home Filler-up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café"

Oh, the Old Home Filler-up An' Keep On A-Truckin'
Oh, the Old Home Filler-up An' Keep On A-Truckin'
Oh, the Old Home Filler-up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café
Oh, the Old Home Filler-up An' Keep On A-Truckin'
Oh, the Old Home Filler-up An' Keep On A-Truckin'
Oh, the Old Home Filler-up An' Keep On A-Truckin' Café

"Audubon" can be found on the album The Best of C.W. McCall.

Next Issue. With life being as complicated as it is, I'll publish the next issue when I get around to it. I'll make no promises on the date.

The Legend-News was published fortnightly — unless the fortnight was the fifth Monday, in which case it's published fortnightly-and-a-half, but now it's just a shot in the dark as to when an issue will be set free — by TechRen Enterprises, hoping that the new dog will someday be accepted by the old cats. Contents Copyright 2003 TechRen Enterprises, except for anything that we borrowed from someone else. Thanks to Bill Fries and Chip Davis for the words and music. "Nothing shocks me. I'm a scientist."