October 29, 2022 | Last updated Apr 27, 2023

When Nebraskans ruled the country albums chart for three straight months

In 1976, the “Outlaw” country movement was in full swing and truck drivers were revered as folk heroes.

By David L. Bristow, Editor

January 12, 2021

 

Country music’s first million-selling album was released 45 years ago today, January 12, 1976. Wanted! The Outlaws is a compilation of previously-released tracks by four artists associated with country’s Outlaw movement: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser.

Born in Spalding in 1933, Thomas Paul Glaser was a Nebraska farm boy who made it as a country solo artist. His biggest hit (included on this album) was his 1975 version of Shel Silverstein’s tongue-in-cheek “Put Another Log on the Fire (The Male Chauvinist National Anthem).”

Outlaw Country broke away from the traditional Nashville sound by incorporating honky-tonk and rockabilly influences. Glaser played an important role not only as an artist, but also by founding an independent recording studio in Nashville that became known as “Hillbilly Central.” He died in 2013.

Glaser wasn’t the only Nebraskan in country music in the 1970s. When Wanted: The Outlaws hit number one in February 1976, it knocked another Nebraskan’s album from the top of the country charts.

Bill Fries was a creative director for an Omaha ad agency. In 1973 he created a hugely successful TV ad campaign for Old Home Bread featuring a fictional truck driver named C. W. McCall. Songs from the commercials led to the recording of full albums and hit songs featuring the deep-voiced Fries as McCall. Fries co-wrote the songs with fellow Omahan Chip Davis, who at the time was also recording his earliest classically inspired Mannheim Steamroller “Fresh Aire” albums.

If that seems like the least-likely partnership in country music history, it gets even weirder, at least for anyone who doesn’t remember the 1970s. McCall’s biggest hit—and the song that propelled his 1975 album Black Bear Road to the top of the charts—was “Convoy,” a mostly spoken-word song narrated by a truck driver telling his story in CB radio slang. “Convoy” was full of references to “Smokeys” (highway patrol), “chicken coops” (weigh stations) and “putting the hammer down” (speeding; flooring the gas pedal). The song was so popular that it inspired a motion picture starring country star Kris Kristofferson.

Propelled by “Convoy,” Black Bear Road spent nine weeks atop the Billboard Country Albums chart before Wanted: The Outlaws began its six-week run. Granted that Texans Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were the biggest stars on the latter album, it’s still fair to boast that Nebraska artists ruled the country albums chart for more than three straight months.

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