Iowans and Nebraskans of a certain age may remember a series of corny teevee commercials for the Old Home Bread company in 1974. They featured the voice of C.W. McCall who portrayed a hapless semi-truck driver hauling loads of Old Home products.
McCall and his canine traveling companion, Sloan, pull into the “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe” for a meal break. The two develop a romantic crush on a waitress named Mavis. In the commercials, Mavis serves breakfast or lunch featuring a particular type of baked product, bread, buns, or rolls. Eventually other scenarios are broadcast as the “relationship” between McCall and Mavis develops.
The commercials became a cult favorite among Midwesterners. Many of us privately enjoyed their camp humor, but never publicly admitted it. A country single was released to radio stations that actually got enough airplay to make it up to number 19 on the US Country Music Charts and 54 on the Billboard “Hot 100” charts in 1974. “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep On-a-Truckin’ Cafe” became C.W. McCall’s induction into American culture.
Soon, other baking companies bought variations on the Old Home theme, customized to their own product lines. C.W. McCall’s voice-over pitched their bread. The original campaign earned a 1974 Clio Award for the Omaha, Nebraska ad agency that produced it.
McCall is actually William Fries, Jr. He was born November 15, 1928 in the small Iowa town of Audubon. Fries studied fine arts at the University of Iowa and played in the concert band. Fries worked at an Omaha television station in the art department. He then was hired at Bozell & Jacobs agency in Omaha.
It was during his employment as a creative director for the Omaha agency, Bozell & Jacobs that Fries created the campaign for the Metz Baking Company. Fries and Omaha musician, Chip Davis, collaborated to create the catchy campaign. The commercials’ truck driver was played by Jim Finlayson of Dallas, Texas and Mavis by Jean McBride Capps, also from Dallas.
The commercials were so popular that viewers began calling radio stations, requesting to hear the music. There was not yet a record, so Chip Davis and William Fries rewrote the commercial copy and music then created a musical group called “The Old Home Band”. They recorded the song with MGM Records. After plenty of Midwest airplay, the two writers followed the single with an album.
A second album was released by the Old Home Band in 1975, called “Black Bear Road”. Album sales reached a respectable number 12 on the Billboard Magazine popular album charts. The first single became a sensation. “Convoy” took only two weeks to reach “gold” status. In its first month, buyers bought over 1,000,000 copies of “Convoy”. Eventually, more than 10,000,000 had been sold into the late 1970s. Another trucker themed single, “Wolf Creek Pass”, also reached cult status.
McCall’s popularity coincided with the tail end of the era of Citizens Band radios, 8-Track tape cartridges, and trucker culture. It was a no-brainer to parlay “Convoy” into a movie of the same title. “Convoy”, the movie, starred Kris Kristopherson in the leading role. Supporting actors
included: Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine, and Burt Young. The film eventually grossed $45,000,000.
By the time “Convoy” the movie was released McCall could see that the trucking fad would soon be over, and along with it, his musical career, too. In 1977, McCall released the album “Roses for Mama”. The title track became a major Country hit. He did take time out to record a couple of minor hits. In 1980 he came out with a song about the Iranian hostage crisis called “Kidnap America”. Then in 1983 McCall recorded “Pine Tar Wars”, which refers to the baseball dispute between the Yankees and the Royals in which a large quantity of pine tar resin was allegedly applied to a bat used by Kansas City player George Brett.
At the end of McCall’s musical career, he focused his energy on the nation’s environmental movement and moved to Colorado. In 1982 McCall was elected mayor of Ouray, Colorado. He served in that capacity for six years.
In 1990, McCall had a failed comeback with an off-the-wall song inspired by a supposed 19th century cannibal, Alferd Packer. “Comin’ Back For More” was only a minor hit. Many of McCall’s hits have been collected into an American Gramaphone collection on CD.
The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that C.W. McCall’s collaborator, Chip Davis, went on to enjoy fame and fortune as the founder of American Gramaphone Records and the electronic/new age group “Mannheim Steamroller”.