It was a song that celebrated the exploits of a rebellious trucker with a reckless disregard for human life and highway safety codes. It gave the gravelly-voiced C.W. McCall his biggest pop hit on this day in 1976, except that technically, “C.W. McCall” was a figment of the imagination. The genius behind “Convoy” was, in reality, an Omaha advertising executive named Bill Fries—not a fearless runner of police roadblocks, perhaps, but certainly a man with an ear for esoteric dialogue and a finger on the pulse of one of the strangest fads ever to grip the nation, even by the standards of the 1970s.
“Convoy” marked the high-water point of a mid-70s trucking/CB radio craze that had millions of Americans creating “handles” for themselves—Beer Man, Pink Lady, Scooter Pie, etc.—and daydreaming about the glamorous life of the long-haul trucker. Hollywood responded to the craze in its typically restrained fashion with a parade of trucking-related cultural works whose highlights include Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and B.J. and the Bear (1979-1981), as well as Sam Peckinpah’s crash-filled thriller Convoy (1978), inspired by McCall’s hit song and starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw and Ernest Borgnine. Some even credit “Convoy” as a crucial evolutionary step along the path toward The Dukes of Hazzard.
But as significant as the cultural influence of “Convoy” may have been going forward, the song did not arise in a vacuum. True, it was the only trucking narrative to climb so high on the pop music charts, but “Convoy”joined a long line of such hits on the country charts, including Dick Curless’s “Tombstone Every Mile” and Red Simpson’s “Roll, Truck, Roll” and “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves.”
As for C.W. McCall, he released Rubber Duck, an entire album of trucking songs, later in 1976, but none of its tracks captured the American imagination the way “Convoy” had. After releasing two more albums in the late-1970s, including the trucking-free Roses for Mama (1978), “C.W. McCall” retired and moved to the small town of Ouray, Colorado, where he served three terms as mayor—under the name of William Dale Fries, Jr.