What We Got Here
Continuing the Legend-News tradition of reporting the news long after it happens, this issue contains an article about the recent induction of Bill Fries into the Iowa RockNRoll Music Association’s Hall of Fame; and notes the passing of one of the C.W. McCall backup singers.
Somewhere In Iowa
If you’ve read the front page of this site, C.W. McCall: An American Legend, at anytime since January 2009, you have noticed a press release from the Iowa RockNRoll Music Association (hereinafter referred to as IRRMA, because I’m not going to wear out my fingers typing that name again).
Friday, January 2, 2009
For Immediate Release
2009 Hall of Fame Honorees Announced
(Arnolds Park): The famous voice immortalized in the Smokey & the Bandit movies, the subject of the Wayne’s World exhibit in the Surf Ballroom and that rowdy band with a catchy name will be among the 2009 inductees into the Iowa RockNRoll Music Association Hall of Fame.
Audubon native Bill Fries is known throughout the world as the fictional truck driver C.W. McCall. Fries created the character to sing on commercials for Old Home Bread. His lyrics, combined with music by Chip Davis made “Convoy” a musical giant and C.W. a folk hero nationally.
Okay, we’ll skip the erroneous reference to Smokey and the Bandit, and move on to the point: Bill Fries was getting a plaque on the wall of the IRRMA museum in Arnolds Park, Iowa. Loren Paulson, director of the Southeast region, had contacted me a few weeks earlier, wanting to make contact with Bill; and, as I always do in my unpaid position as Bill’s front door, I pointed Loren in the direction of Ouray, Colorado and the man himself.
I pencilled-in the dates (September 5 and 6) on my calendar, with a 90 percent or better intention of attending the ceremony, because (a) Arnolds Park was only an eight-hour drive from McHenry, Illinois (my base), and (b) as the leader of the Crispy Critters and the unofficial head of the C.W. McCall Fan Club, I had a responsibility to be there.
Now, at the time of the announcement of the award, Bill Fries had planned to attend. But as most of you know, Bill was the sudden recipient of a heart pacemaker in May; and since then, any plans which he may have made for traveling have been reduced or canceled. So that you’re not disappointed when I get around to describing the Big Day, I’m telling you now that Bill wasn’t there to receive his award. But someone did accept the award for him…
Out of Town, Again
Before I took off for Silverton, Colorado and the Great Western Rocky Mountain Brass Band Festival (see the previous issue of The Legend-News), I made reservations for a three-night stay near Arnolds Park and bought all of the tickets that I needed for the various events that would be held (charity breakfasts, a cruise around Lake Okoboji). And on Friday, September 4, I once again headed west toward Dubuque, Iowa and points west. Not that Dubuque is the only way to get into Iowa from Illinois; it’s just the quickest way from where I am.
Unlike my trip to Silverton, I was not planning to stop and smell the historical markers along the way; but there were two locations which I needed to visit, as I hadn’t seen either of them before. Westbound on US 20, I turned north at Waterloo and made my way up to US 18, then west again to Clear Lake, Iowa.
Clear Lake, Iowa is — if you haven’t yet remembered why — the location of the Surf Ballroom, where Buddy Holly, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, and Ritchie Valens played the Winter Dance Party on the night of 1959 February 2. In the early hours of the next day, this trio of musicians and their pilot, Roger Peterson, died when their small plane crashed into a field north of Clear Lake.
Their plane had taken off from the Mason City airport, east of Clear Lake, but it crashed about four miles north of Clear Lake. At the intersection of 315th Street and Gull Avenue, you’ll find a the trailhead that leads to the crash site, which is about a quarter-mile west of the gravel road. The path is marked by a large pair of eyeglass frames, similar to the glasses that Buddy wore.
At the end of a dirt path, in the middle of a bean field, you’ll find memorials to the three rockers and their pilot.
After visiting the memorial, I continued west and made my way back to US 18 and toward Arnolds Park.
“Arnolds Park” is not only the name of the town, it’s the name of the amusement park from which the town got its name. Built in 1889, Arnolds Park (yes, there’s no apostrophe in “Arnolds”) is the oldest amusement park west of the Mississippi River. The IRRMA Museum is located on Lake Street, which is the entrance road to the amusement park.
One of the features of the Hall of Fame weekend was the presence of many classic cars, parked on the street outside of the museum.
There is a fascinating history to Arnolds Park and the Okoboji region, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
Inside the Museum are artifacts from the rock ’n’ roll era of Iowa ballrooms: recordings and posters of local rock groups; a mixing console from the old IGL Records studio in Milford; a 1960s-era radio broadcast booth; and memorability from the rock musicians and the ballrooms of Iowa. Bill Fries is currently noted by a signed 8x10 black and white glossy photograph, a C.W. McCall Fand Club membership card, and a 45 rpm single of “Old Home Filler-Up An’ Keep-On-A-Truckin’ Café” (B-sided with “Old 30”).
Buddy Holly’s plaque in the Hall of Fame, adjacent to some obscure group from England.
Sunday Night’s Alright for Rockin’
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, charity breakfasts were held in the Roof Garden, which is behind the Museum. Several exhibitors, including the IRRMA, where present, selling audio CDs, T-shirts, and other musically-related items. Among them, Dave Wagner of Crow (“Evil Woman”, 1969] was selling copies of his newest album.
But Sunday night was the night to be at Arnolds Park. The Hall of Fame induction began at 5 p.m., and along about a quarter ’til 6 came the mention of the one inductee that I personally knew: Bill Fries!
Accepting the Hall of Fame award for Bill Fries is Bill Metz (at the lectern). Yes, he is related the family of the Metz Baking Company, for whom Bill Fries created the character of C.W. McCall.
The awards ceremony was then followed by four-and-a-half hours of rock, featuring the inductees: The Impacts, Natural Color, Paul Wilson, The XLs, Con Brio, Morning After, Surfinks, The Charades, and Deputy Dawg Band (who had played at the Surf Ballroom on Thursday, September 3). (I’ve probably missed a few, too.)
I got back to my motel around midnight, slightly deaf and stuffed with cheeseburgers and Godfathers Pizza.
Monday, and the Way Home
I went to the final charity breakfast on Monday morning, in the Majestic Pavilion next to the Roof Garden, which is next to the IRRMA Museum. (Are you lost yet?). I said my goodbyes, and thanked Doris Welle for a great time. Then I headed up north a few miles, turned right on Iowa 9, and headed back to McHenry.
The trip was uneventful, but I did find one interesting object to photograph on the way: a rusty Cadillac ambulance, sitting in a field about three miles east of Armstrong, Iowa.
On the Web
- Iowa RockNRoll Music Association
- The IRRMA web page for Bill Fries
- Historic Arnolds Park
- Godfather’s Pizza
Weird But True
When I arrived at the Roof Garden on Saturday morning, I presented my ticket for the charity breakfast to a couple of ladies sitting at a table near the entrance. And as I did, one of them asked “Are you Mister Floden?” I was, of course, taken aback by this question, as with several hundred people arriving here at Arnolds Park for the Hall of Fame events, how could anyone identify me? I wasn’t wearing any name tag, and I hadn’t even shown my IRRMA membership card.
Well, the lady who asked me that question was Doris Welle, the Executive Director of IRRMA. She explained, “We didn’t sell too many tickets through the web site,” and if I had one of those tickets, then there was a good chance that I was that person.
Also coincidentally, I found that one of the directors of IRRMA lives near me in McHenry, Illinois! Greg Van Nostrand, vice-president of the Southeast Region, resides about two miles north of my home in McHenry. (The Southeast region of Iowa, for IRRMA purposes, is the area south of US 30 and east of Interstate 35.) Greg may live in McHenry, but he grew up in Iowa, and he’s an inductee and a lifetime member of IRRMA. He performs locally (in northeast Illinois), playing bass with Johnny B and the Stingers.
[A trivial note: the title of this article ("Somewhere In Iowa") is a reference to an episode of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” The first person to correctly identify the name of that episode will receive a free copy of the IRRMA 2009 Yearbook, which contains articles on all of this year’s inductees, including one “Billy Dale Fries”. Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Liz Westphalen, one of the backup singers on several C.W. McCall songs, died on Saturday, September 12, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Liz also sang on recordings for Mannheim Steamroller, and other performers. She was known in the Omaha area as a jazz singer and pianist.
The Legend-News is published randomly by TechRen Enterprises, one toke over the line. Copyright 2009 TechRen Enterprises. Send complaints, kudos, suggestions, news and other contributions to Legend-News@cw-mccall.com. “You’re the tallest Chinese I’ve ever seen.”