Over 40 years after its crossover chart success, C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” probably sounds like just another novelty song. To young listeners, it’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” or Porky Pig singing “Blue Christmas,” without annual family gatherings needing its light-hearted touch. But in its time, the song sparked a legitimate cultural phenomenon, impacting more than just country music with its timely themes and glorification of the “trucker” image and citizens band (CB) radio use.
A Product of Its Time
A song built around truckers identified simply by their CB radio tags, “Rubber Duck,” “Sodbuster” and “Pig Pen,” provided the listening public of 1975 with a different kind of outlaw. These truck drivers, limited by a nationwide gas crisis and a government-mandated 55 mph speed limit for big rigs, skated the threat of highway patrol officers together. From Arizona to Illinois, the trio “put the hammer down” speeding, lied about how often they stopped to sleep on their “swindle sheets” (slang for log-books) and weren’t “a-gonna pay no toll.” Fudging such rules represents cutting corners for the greater good, not petty crimes, for this trio of modern day Robin Hoods.
Between “Tulsa Town” and the roadblock in “Chi-Town,” the convoy of professional drivers found allies in a “suicide jockey” hauling explosives and a chartreuse microbus filled with “11 long-haired friends of Jesus.” The former upped the intrigue for sure, while the latter worked at the time because truckers probably saw busloads of “Jesus freaks” heading eastbound toward big cities back then.
In all, the song presented an over-the-top fantasy about truck drivers, maneuvering the highways of the United States on their own terms. Past glamorization of cowboys as free-roaming believers in moral relativity received a modern facelift, with themes lifted from post-oil embargo headlines.
An Unlikely Hit
Songs about truck drivers were hardly new to country music audiences in the mid-1970’s. Such established stars as Buck Owens (“Truck Drivin’ Man”) and Merle Haggard (“White Line Fever”) found success with stories about a trucker’s life. Even Kris Kristofferson’s famed Bobby McGee became part of public consciousness as a hitchhiker riding along in an 18-wheeler.
The song that truly captured the public’s imagination about truck drivers came from an unlikely source. C.W. McCall wasn’t a country music legend by any means before the November 1975 release of “Convoy.” He wasn’t even a real person. Vocalist Bill Fries created the McCall persona while working for an Omaha, NE advertising agency. Fries’ lyrics for McCall’s earlier material, often paired with music composed by future Mannheim Steamroller member Chip Davis, were initially created to advertise loaf bread.