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Monday, 2011 November 7 : Volume 14, Number 11
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What We Got Here

Fearing a lawsuit, we’re not going to sing “Happy Birthday”, but we will note a Notable Natal Anniversary; a record review in Action Central Eyewitness News; a brief scene at the Old Home Café; Previously, in The Legend-News, C.W. hears the sweet sound of instant fame; and a short autobiography set to music, “Audubon”.

New items on the web site: An interview of Bill Fries, by Paul Walker of 97.5 The Hound, on 2011 October 6. And a bad trucker sketch from the “Paul Lynde Halloween Special” of 1976.

Notable Natal Anniversary

In case you haven’t noticed, someone has a birthday next week! (Anyone asking “who?” will be roundly pummeled.)

Yes, Bill Fries, the real C.W. McCall, will reach his 83rd annual milestone on the 15th of November. Happy Birthday, Bill!

If you want to send to Bill a birthday greeting, a large sum of money in appreciation of his work, or gift cards for Omaha Steaks, send it to P.O. Box E, Ouray, Colorado 81427-0685.

Other notable 83-year-old people: Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are; Dorothy Durante, a golf fan; George Plane Jr., a Walmart greeter with ambition; Ben Dawson, a candidate for the Centerville, Iowa City Council; and Marie Kolstad, a grandmother with something extra.

Action Central Eyewitness News

A comparison to C.W. McCall must be good, right? A review of the new album from The Dead Milkmen, The King in Yellow.

The Milkmen’s first album since 1995 opens with a titular burst of roots-rock that’s only slightly more C.W. McCall than the North Mississippi All-Stars before settling into American Gothic grisliness.

Listeners to Dr. Demento (back when he still had a radio show) may remember The Dead Milkmen’s biggest hit, “Bitchin’ Camaro”.

Tales of the Old Home Café

Turning Out the Lights

by Ed. Floden

Jon Bach stood outside the Old Home Café at midnight on Halloween, watching the stars in the northern sky. The few streetlamps in Hayden didn’t cause much light pollution in that direction; the view to the south was a bit hazy, though.

Jon wasn’t much of an astronomer: he could identify Polaris, and the Dippers, and the constellation of Orion when it was high in the sky; sometimes even Jupiter or Venus, if he knew that they were visible that night. And, of course, the waxing crescent Moon off to the west — but the Moon had disappeared around 7 o’clock.

Back on the ground and to the west across Main Street, the 30/30 Drive-In began to empty as the end credits of that night’s second feature began to roll. The 30/30 usually was open only on Fridays and Saturdays in October, but there was always a special show on Halloween. This year the double feature was Alien and The Evil Dead (the first, low-budget one). Afterwards, when the 30/30 staff had done a quick policing of the grounds and buttoned-up the projection booth and concession stand, they would head over to the Old Home Café for a short decompression before heading home. Even though this year Halloween was on Monday, a school night, most of the high-schoolers would still come to the Café, down a Coke® and reminisce about the past summer of Hollywood’s hits and misses.

Previously, in The Legend-News

From the 2001 October 8 issue of The Legend-News.

From the Omaha World-Herald Sunday Magazine of the Midlands, March 27, 1977. Thanks to K.C. the Stealth Fan for the xerographic copy.

Magazine of the Midlands, March 27, 1977

On The Cover. Bill Fries of Omaha, who sometimes masks as Good Buddy C.W. McCall, was a successful advertising executive when he started selling Old Home Bread. Then “Convoy” hit the airwaves, and the excitement (and problems) of instant fame arrived. Photo by James Denney.

Bill Fries playing pool

Instant Fame: What’s It Really Like?

Story by Al Pagel
Photos by James Denney

The waitress is hesitant, slightly embarassed.

“Excuse me. But you are C.W. McCall; aren’t you?”

Bill Fries looks up out of his rumpled, lived-in face and smiles.

“Yes, Ma’am, I am.”

“Well, my boy is a real fan of yours. He’s got this CB radio he’s always foolin’ with and everything. I wonder… could I get your autograph for him?”

The waitress produces three sheets of white note paper she’s been holding behind her back and puts them on the table.

“And for two of his friends?” she asks.

“Sure,” says Bill Fries, and reaches for his pen.

“So your boy’s a CBer,” says Dave Mack, promotion manager for the growing McCall enterprises. “What’s his handle?”

“Richard,” answers the waitress.

Mack’s mouth hangs open for a second, wondering whether to pursue it.

“Richard, huh,” says Fries, and starts to scrawl “To Richard,” in the arty penmanship of those who have worked their way through the advertising business.

He asks for the names of the other boys and pens a personal note to each, signed by C.W. McCall.

“Thank you,” says the waitress. “Thank you very much.”

“My pleasure,” says Fries and turns his attention back to the half-finished martini.

“That’s nice,” he says, half to himself. “That’s nice.”

Bill on the CB

Lots of nice things have happened to Bill Fries in recent years. Since he gave birth to C.W. McCall.

You remember C.W.? You do unless you’ve been hiding out somewhere the past four years. Sure, you know the guy. He drives a bread truck. Old Home, it is. Gotta gal named Mavis, out Pisgah way; a dog, Sloan. It was a right good TV commercial. Sold a lot of bread. Even won the Clio, advertising’s highest award.

Yeah, nice things have happened to Bill Fries since C.W. came along. He’s sold 10 million records, for one thing, including a gold single, a single platinum, a gold album, a near-platinum album, a gold in Canada, a gold in Australia. That’s nice.

And it’s nice he’s appeared on the Tonight Show, the Rich Little Show, the Dinah Shore Show, the Mike Douglas Show, Hee-Haw, the Tomorrow Show and a bunch of other out of Nashville and Chicago.

It’s nice, too, that Billboard magazine picked “Convoy” as the nation’s No. 1 song in 1975 and that Fries and Chip Davis (who writes the music to Fries’ lyrics) were named the best country-western song writers of 1975.

Or how’s this one? United Artists is going to make a film of “Convoy,” with Sam Peckinpah directing and Kris Kristofferson handling the male lead.

And you talk about nice… well, all of this has made a truckload of money for Fries and his two partners, Davis and Don Sears. Now that’s nice. That’s really nice.

Particularly for Fries. Not that Davis, at 27, doesn’t get a few jollies from such success; and Sears, about 10 years older. But Fries… well, at 48, a guy begins to suspect that ship he’s been waiting for all those years is hung up on a shoal somewhere.

Of course Fries wasn’t exactly on welfare before C.W. came along. He was creative director for Bozell and Jacobs, one of the nation’s top advertising agencies. It was a good job, a fine job. But Fries, like most, had his dreams. And dreams start to die, by 48.

So here’s old Bill Fries, dreams dimming, hair thinning, waist growing, and — WHAM — fame, riches, a whole new life.

Sweet, huh, Bill, really sweet?

Fries thinks about it. He thinks about the fantasy of success compared with reality, and shakes his John-Denver-look-alike head.

“It’s not what you think it’s going to be,” he says. “No it isn’t. There are an awful lot of things that go on that are not fun at all.

“At first you’re amazed that somebody recognizes you. Then, after a while, you begin to understand why some of these performers run and hide. You come out of a building in Chicago after a television show, for example, and there are a whole lot of people you’ve never seen before and they’re reaching and asking for autographs.

“And some of those gals do some pretty brazen things. They come up, for example, and pull up their blouses and say, ’Here, sign my navel.’ And they’ll want me to sign their arms and their shoulders and they’re constantly asking for kisses, you know.

“Well, I sign every autograph I’m asked to sign. That’s part of it. And I do it with a smile.

“But I’m very, very glad to get home and get some privacy.”

But home is not the haven it once was. The phone is unlisted now, insulating the family against a flood of unknown callers. You don’t just ring up Bill Fries like you used to do. There are barriers — a promotion manager, a Nashville attorney, a New York booking agent, a Chicago accountant… about 14 employes for the two companies — American Gramaphone and The McCall Group, Inc. — in which Fries, Davis and Sears are partners.

It’s a necessary isolation.

Bill in his woods

“I run into people I’ve known, vaguely known. They’re coming out of the woodwork. People I haven’t heard of in years, and thought I never would again. Suddenly, now, they’re calling and, you know, they’ve got ideas.

“It’s been tough on the family… on the kids. Suddenly their father is somebody he wasn’t before. And this creates an aura around the kids, too. You know, somebody will come up to them and say, ’Hey, your Dad is…’

“I wouldn’t say they resent it, but they’re kind of embarrassed by the whole thing.”

Fries looks out the window of his Ponca Hills home — the same one he’s owned since 1968 — out past the bird feeder, past the rambling deck, out into the 14 acres of second-growth as that go with the house.

“You know, if you’ve spent 20 years of your life not being in the spotlight and having people ask you for your autograph, suddenly, when you find yourself in that situation… well, you become two people.

“Part of the time you’re out there on the road signing autographs and acting the way people expect you to act.

“Inside, you’re the person you always were and you’re trying to be that person, too. But the only time you can be that person is when you’re home and shut off from the rest of it.

“I think I’m still the same inside. If it had happened to me when I was 27— well, you could go bananas at that age.”

But not at 48; not to Bill Fries?

“I know what you’re getting at — has all the success made me somebody else. No it hasn’t. It just hasn’t. But somebody else has to say it.”

Rena Fries, Bill’s wife for 25 years now, volunteers.

“He hasn’t changed,” she confirms. “Not a bit. He’s still Bill Fries.”

But it’s not easy, acknowledges Fries.

“It seems like people expect you to be different when something like this happens.

“It’s a funny thing. Some of the people — not necessarily friends now that I’m talking about, but acquaintances, people like that. When this thing first started happening, they’d say, ’Hey, you’re making a record. Best of luck. It’s just gonna be great. It’s gonna be super.’

“And then the next thing happens and the next thing and they say, ’Oh, boy, that’s greate.’

“And then something like ’Convoy’ comes along and it’s so huge it overwhelms everybody, even us, and suddenly those people wh, have been wishing you well all this time have a different attitude. They begin to say, ’Well, this won’t last forever so enjoy it while you can.’

“And if it keeps going up and up, then pretty soon you never hear from those people agin. Never! I mean they just go away.

“But you can spot your real friends. All of this doesn’t mean a damn thing to them. You still talk about the same things you used to talk about. It’s the same relationship as before.

“Your real friends are the ones who understand your problems. The ones you can be with and feel relaxed.”

Friends are nice to have all right, but suppose, just suppose, those others, the acquaintances, have a point. Could all this be temporary?

Fries squints his eyes and shrugs deeper into his chair.

“Well, I’m at a point where I’m befuddled by it. I don’t know whether it is or not. I tought it was a passing phenomenon when Wolf Creek Pass came out. And then with ’Convoy’… well…

“I know now that ’Convoy’ was a total smash happening that seldom occurs. I mean people who have been in the business for a long time don’t sell six million records at a crack.

“The record company did a little study. They had to go back to the Beatles to find a record that did that much in such a short time.

“And I don’t expect it to happen again. We can’t top ’Convoy.’ What it’s done is establish us. And we can keep this going at a certain level for about as long as we want to pour our energies into it.”

Fries smiles.

“But if it doesn’t work out that way, I’m not going too feel badly.”

Now don’t get Bill Fries wrong. There are a few flaws, sure, but he’s enjoyin’ the fool out of all this.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he says. “A lot of money can help you do some things you’ve always wanted to do.”

Like what? What is it a guy does, first thing, to prove to himself that fantasy has become reality?

“Well… oh boy… I don’t know. I can’t think of anything really. All this money has not meant as much as you might think it has meant.

“The only things I want now are the things I was striving to get before — a home out in Colorado to go to, some traveling… but we were going to do those things anyway.”

His face brightens.

“Hey! I did buy a bamboo fly rod. Yessir, a hundred dollar fly rod.”

And there were other things, too — some remodeling on the Ponca Hills house, that chalet in Colorado…

“But this is our home. Because it’s comfortable here. It’s nice to go down to the Florence Drug Store and walk in and say hello to somebody you know, the people you live with, your neighbors. They all know this has happened and it hasn’t changed them either. We’re all just the way we always were.

“When I go to another town now, it’s different. I really am somebody else.”

The rumpled face unfolds into a broad smile.

“I know something I did. I bought my mother a house. My dad died in ’55 and since that time my mother has been living in Audubon in my grandmother’s house. It was really an old house, built in 1880. And mom had always wanted a home of her own again, like when dad was alive. We couldn’t do anything about it. We had enough problems.

“And so now, a phone call, and we bought her a house. We let her pick it out in Des Moines. You know, her own style. Where she wanted it. That was a great satisfaction. It really was.”

It’s gratifying, too, says Fries that he and his sons, Bill Jr., 23, and Mark, 21, are now in business together out in Ouray, Colorado.

“We’re producing a 35- or 40-minute multiscreen show with narrative and music. It’s a very emotional thing, about the mountains and the area out there. (Daughter Nancy, 19, also lives in Colorado, but is not involved in the business.)

“Yeah, these are the things that are really meaningful,” says Fries.

And the future? What’s in the future?

“Well, there’s the movie, of course. We’ve got a percentage of that. And we’re working on another album and it looks like we’re gonna make a tour of Australia this spring and…”

Bill Fries pauses; grows reflective.

“You know our record contract has two more years to go. I’m going to take a very hard look then and say, ’Okay, that’s something I didn’t expect. I did my best at it, but now it’s time to live like I want to live.’

“At my point in life, I’m looking at what I’m going to be doing the next 10 years. I want to make sure it’s what I really want to do.”

And what’s that, Bill Fries? Now that you’ve tasted the riches, the fame, world acclaim, what is it you really want from life?

“What I wanted, what we all wanted out of this thing, whether we made any money or not, was a chance to be creative.

“I think what I’d like to do, when this is all over, is some serious writing. I’d like to publish some poetry or get involved in some research on Western history, because… well, because I really love it. I have that freedom now.”

Song A’ Th’ Week Month

A short autobiography of Bill Fries, the real C.W. McCall.

(C.W. McCall, Bill Fries, Chip Davis)

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

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 of 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.

The Legend-News is published monthly by TechRen Enterprises, one of the 99 percenters. Copyright 2011 TechRen Enterprises. Send subscription requests, unsubscribe demands, complaints, kudos, suggestions, news and other contributions to Almost everything in The Legend-News has been written by Ed. Floden, except for the stuff that he blames on someone else. “Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!”