Forty-five years ago, there’s a good chance you heard, “Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck” at least twice a day. C.W. McCall’s Convoy was an anthem for truckers crisscrossing the land. The CB radio craze was in full throat, and we were still a year away from Smokey and the Bandit.
But did you know C.W. McCall is merely a stage name? The man behind the voice is William Dale Fries Jr. Born in Audubon, Iowa, Fries created the McCall character as part of an advertising campaign for the Metz Baking Company.
Convoy topped the charts the week of January 10, knocking the Bay City Rollers’ Saturday Night from the No. 1 spot. BCR and McCall were among 15 artists to earn their first chart-topper in ’76, including Rhythm Heritage, Johnnie Taylor, The Bellamy Brothers, The Sylvers, Starland Vocal Band, The Manhattans, Kiki Dee, Wild Cherry, Walter Murphy, Rick Dees, and Chicago.
OK, tell me that wasn’t a trip down memory lane …
Two years later, legendary director Sam Peckinpah helmed Holywood’s take on Convoy, starring Kris Kristofferson and Ali McGraw. “Truckers form a mile-long ‘convoy’ in support of a trucker’s vendetta with an abusive sheriff” is how the movie is billed.
(Fun fact: Fries and Chip Davis penned Convoy. Afterwards, Davis founded Mannheim Steamroller.)
Fries has several songs that charted after Convoy, including There Won't Be No Country Music (There Won't Be No Rock 'n' Roll), ’Round the World with the Rubber Duck, and Roses for Mama, which peaked at No. 2 in ’78.
But let’s back up for a moment. Audubon, Iowa – yep, named for John James Audubon, namesake of the National Audubon Society. In 1975, Fries wrote a song about his hometown. The final stanza of Audubon:
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”
If you’re rolling along I-80 in Iowa, consider pulling off at Exit 60. Head north on U.S. Hwy. 71 for about 16 miles. Trust me, you’ll see it: Albert, the World’s Largest Bull. Ol’ Al stands about 30 feet tall and weighs 45 tons; the span between his horns is 15 feet.
In 1986, Fries was elected to the first of two terms as mayor of Ouray, Colorado. He and his wife, Rena, still live in the former mining town. He will turn 93 on Nov. 15.
For film buffs, if you’re a fan of Sylvester Stallone, the opening scene to Over the Top runs through downtown Ouray. Likewise, John Wayne’s True Grit was filmed in Ouray County. And in the Netflix series The Ranch, the opening shot during the credits is Ouray.
Fries’ final solo album release was The Real McCall: An American Storyteller in 1990. He and Davis teamed up in 2003 for American Spirit (with Mannheim Steamroller, of course). Still, C.W. McCall remains a lynchpin in trucking lore. After all, everyone can relate:
Well, we laid a strip for the Jersey shore
Prepared to cross the line
I could see the bridge was lined with bears
But I didn’t have a dog-goned dime
I says, “Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck
“We just ain’t a-gonna pay no toll”
So we crashed the gate doing ninety-eight
I says “Let them truckers roll, 10-4”