Mac Davis Has Made It Back to Lubbock (RIP)
It was bad enough that on the evening of Tuesday, September 29th, 2020, the United States and the rest of the world got to witness the two men vying to control the cradle of Democracy devolve into the most heinous version of “debate” we’ve ever seen in a way that will be marked down in the annals of history as a national embarrassment, and at the most inopportune time when a pandemic has crippled the economy, racial and political turmoil has turned into violence, and many are searching for leadership in any form or fashion in the sheer void of it.
Then as if we didn’t have enough to hang our heads about, the social media feeds of music fans filled up with the news of the passing of songwriter and performer Mac Davis, and Australia’s Helen Reddy.
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Mac Davis is being remembered by many as a “country star,” but that tells only part of the story. In truth, the Lubbock, TX native’s musical trek spent just as much time, if not more weaving its way through the pop and rock realm, and it’s in that capacity where he may have reached his highest peaks. Not everyone will recognize the name “Mac Davis” and immediately bring to mind a country crooner whose small handful of Top 10 hits only spanned the early 80’s. But cite the songs he wrote for Elvis such as “In The Ghetto,” “Memories,” and “A Little Less Conversation,” and you will immediately get a reaction.
After leaving Lubbock at a young age and trying his hand in a couple of rock and roll bands in Atlanta, it was as a songwriter where Mac Davis found his avenue into music. While trying to make it as a performer, he became a regional manager for a couple of record companies, and that’s when he spied lucrative a opportunity in writing. Soon he began working for Nancy Sinatra’s Boots Enterprises, which became Mac’s publishing company, and where he wrote all of those big hits for Elvis and many others.
When Mac Davis songs started to get picked up by country crossover performers like Kenny Rogers and The First Edition, and B.J. Thomas, this is when Davis pointed his nose towards the country realm, signing to Columbia Records in 1970. But it was still as an outsider to country, and a crossover artist. Many of his songs started in pop, and then migrated over to country. Mac’s first major hit “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” in 1972 went #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. But it only managed #26 on the country charts. “Stop and Smell the Roses” became a big Top 10 hit in 1974, but didn’t crack the Top 40 on country radio.
Mac Davis wasn’t exactly enamored with his hillbilly roots at the time. Growing up in Lubbock where Buddy Holly loomed larger than any country star, Davis regularly ended up in fist fights for one reason or another. And with a 5′ 9″ frame and weighing 125 pounds soaking wet, it rarely went well for him. His father was very strict and very religious, and Lubbock became more of a prison for Mac Davis than a home. That’s why shortly after he graduated high school, he left to reconnect with his mother who had moved to Atlanta, and then on to bigger successes.
But after charting another Top 40 pop hit with “Rock ‘N’ Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)” in early 1975—the luster began to wear off Mac Davis in the pop and rock worlds. He got swept up in the realm of acting and variety shows for a while, including his own Mac Davis Show, which aired on NBC. He appeared in the football film North Dallas Forty. The music success Mac had in the late 70’s was on the adult contemporary chart since pop had left him behind. All of a sudden, Mac Davis was more famous for being famous than for being a music star, or a country star specifically, which can happen in the machine of show business. Eventually, Columbia Records dropped him.
It was only then that Mac Davis found himself reaching back to his Lubbock roots, and found his way through country music. He signed to Casablanca Records—a disco label of all things known as the home of Donna Summer. On a whim he wrote and recorded the joke song “It’s Hard to Be Humble,” which out of nowhere, became Davis’s first Top 10 country hit in 1980, and crossed over to pop, instead of vice versa as had been the case with his songs before. (Incidentally, Willie Nelson just released his own version of the song.) Mac followed that success with another Top 10 off the Hard to Be Humble album called “Let’s Keep It That Way.” The country record released on a disco label became Davis’s highest-charted album of his career in the country genre, reaching #3 on the charts.
All of a sudden, that country career Mac Davis had dreamed of a decade before when he initially signed to Columbia Records was becoming a reality, now that reality and pursuing stardom wasn’t getting in his way. This led to arguably Mac Davis’s greatest contribution to country music, his late 1980 album and a forgotten country classic, Texas in My Rearview Mirror. The title track, (sometimes referred to as “Happiness is Lubbock Texas in My Rear View Mirror”) recounts Mac’s real life story of being a kid from Lubbock who gets dazzled by the idea of bigger things beyond the Texas border, getting swept up in the starstruck world of Hollywood, and eventually returning when he realizes who he really is, and where he belongs.
“Texas in My Rearview Mirror” became another Top 10 country hit for Mac. And though it’s commonly and mistakenly sung and cited as an anti-Texas song by many who loathe the Lone Star State (call it the “Born in the U.S.A.” syndrome), those back in Lubbock listen through to the last verse. Due to the song and the rest of the Mac Davis legacy, Mac Davis is now a demigod in Lubbock, similar to Buddy Holly. Mac has his own street named after him, and his legacy looms large in the venues and songwriter halls of the West Texas college town. Now as an epicenter and proving ground for many of the songwriters and performers who hold some of the top flight headliner positions in Texas music, the songs, stories, and lessons of Mac Davis read like scripture in Lubbock, reminding the artists to never forget where they’re from.
Like so many aging country artists, the success of Mac Davis in mainstream country was short lived. But it was lasting, similar to his contributions to pop and rock as a songwriter and performer. One of his signature songs was one of the very first he wrote and performed himself on Columbia Records—a song called “I Believe in Music.” Released in 1970, it was a dud at the time for Davis. But it went on to be recorded by B.J. Thomas, Perry Como, the soft rock band Gallery who had one their biggest hits with it, and Australian singer Helen Reddy, who Mac Davis now shares a death date with.
When Mac Davis was asked to appear on The Johnny Cash Show in 1970, he didn’t sing his versions of “In The Ghetto” or “Memories,” which were still hot songs at the time. “I Believe in Music” is what he sang.
Music is the universal language, and love is the key
To peace hope and understanding, and living in harmony
So take your brother by the hand and come along with me
Lift your voices to the sky, tell me what you see
The song came at a time that was also very divisive in American life, with the Vietnam War raging, and racial strife roiling the streets. But for many, music wasn’t seen as a vehicle for emphasizing or enraging differences, it was a way to bridge them. So much so that a boy from Lubbock, TX brought up in a strictly religious household could sing the same song as an Australian-born activist and performer, and it could still ring true.
Mac Davis lived many lives in his 78 years, passing away in Nashville, Tennessee. But he will always be remembered in country music as the boy from Lubbock who was happy to leave, but even happier to return.
And now, Mac Davis is home for good.
I guessed happiness was Lubbock Texas in my rearview mirror
But now happiness was Lubbock Texas growing nearer and dearer
And the vision was getting clearer in my dream
And I think I finally know just what it means
And when I die you can bury me in Lubbock Texas in my jeans.
September 30, 2020 @ 11:39 am
During his variety show, Mac Davis would go out into the audience, solicit ideas, and spontaneously write a short and funny song in front of our very eyes. I’m sure i’m not the only kid whose life was changed by that. “It’s hard to be humble …” notwithstanding, he was a humble giant.
September 30, 2020 @ 11:40 am
Whoa I literally just shazammed that song like 10 minutes ago! You’ve got the google ad algorithm going on. I’d never heard of him or the song, good song. Interesting read too, as usual.
September 30, 2020 @ 12:05 pm
This is hitting me hard. Thanks for the update.
September 30, 2020 @ 12:32 pm
Great tribute. Thank you.
September 30, 2020 @ 12:59 pm
I was hoping you’d pen a tribute, Trigger- no one in the business does it better!
As an aside anecdote: I took a jr college sociology class years ago- for our term paper we were instructed to write an essay on what we believed would make the world a better place- I chose music as the topic and had “I believe in Music” at the center of my thoughts- I did a jam up good job too- yet the arrogant bitch *instructor* gave me only a B and in red, wrote at the top of the page; do you really think music can make the world a better place?
Fucking nit wit didn’t read the essay apparently as I laid out a pretty good idea as to how it would, if only for 3 minutes, the typical length of a song- that’s when I decided me and college was NOT goin to get along- I didn’t sign up for another semester.
September 30, 2020 @ 1:16 pm
I ran into the same problem as you, over and over again in college. But, unfortunately I continued on and graduated. I should have gone to trade school or started a landscaping business.
September 30, 2020 @ 3:33 pm
Ironically, and i mean this in good humour, the worst fallouts on a trade site are over music.
I can tolerate a lot of workplace issues, but when someone wants to listen to hip hop and techno all day and I’m trying to brighten my life with sad country songs, bad things happen.
I haven’t nail gunned a radio yet, but i have threatened it a few times.
RIP Mac Davis you made the world a better place
September 30, 2020 @ 4:00 pm
20+ years ago when I worked unloading trucks and delivering furniture, there were similar disputes (minus the rap and hip hop. No one listened to that garbage.) But, we had guys who liked country, guys who liked classic rock, guys who like modern rock/pop, guys who liked metal/hard rock, etc. The common denominator was Lynyrd Skynyrd. We could put on a Skynyrd album and everybody liked it. I’ve found this on hunting trips, bachelor parties, etc., as well. Just put on the “Pronounced” greatest hits and you can listen to it all the way through and everybody is at least ok with it.
September 30, 2020 @ 4:02 pm
Whoops, I meant Skynyrd’s Innyrds.
September 30, 2020 @ 10:48 pm
if i have to listen to another day of classic rock on a job site again I’ll need to borrow that nail gun. radio has completely sucked the nostalgia from that music to where it has become mind-numbing white noise .
October 1, 2020 @ 1:13 am
Have to agree. Classic rock is great. The first time you hear it.
The 100th time…. not so much
Especially because the people who like classic rock won’t be open to the least bit of variation. You would think someone who likes Skynyrd would be into Drive By truckers, but no… too modern
I miss Clint, Bigfoot & Lil Dale
September 30, 2020 @ 2:43 pm
censor eem Trigg censor eem real good
September 30, 2020 @ 1:32 pm
Trigger, this is a nice write-up. the “Texas in my Rear View” album is stellar. One of my all-time favorites. And it’s a true album; a cohesive unit, not a collection of 10 songs. My favorite is the title song, but “Me and Fat Boy” is a great song, as well as “Hooked on Music”, which is filled with nods to songs of the past, if you can spot them all.
The entire album should be more highly regarded than it is, and I appreciate your bringing it up here as the true classic that it is.
September 30, 2020 @ 1:41 pm
It’s a strange thing, but Mac seemed to have more hits than he really did. I am talking about his performing singles and not the ones he had written. Like Trigger said, “Mac Davis lived many lives.” Kudos to him. His guest appearance as the preacher in the movie “Beer For My Horses” was a neat thing as well.
September 30, 2020 @ 1:45 pm
Wow, that really is a helluva tribute, Trig.
Funny, I remember Mac Davis getting caught in the cross-fire of the “woke–me-too–cancel–snowflake” culture of several generations ago. “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” was deemed to be sexist by the p.c. police of the time, and he was forced to defend it.
September 30, 2020 @ 2:47 pm
He had a few songs that veered into that Conway Twitty creeper country style. Decided to leave that out of the remembrance.
September 30, 2020 @ 7:20 pm
Hello Darlin’, Make Believe, Fifteen Years Ago – all were great songs by Conway. However, in later years, his songs were best described by the late, GREAT Lewis Grizzard, who said he wanted Conway Twitty to take a cold shower before he went into the recording studio.
October 1, 2020 @ 11:07 am
I don’t know if I’d consider any of his songs to be “creeper” material. Perhaps the most memorable line of “Most Of All” is “I like your bottom…”, but that line is in the middle of a lyric praising everything about the woman, whom he even refers as friend. I don’t think it objectifies in the same sense as “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On” or “Honkeytonk Badonkadonk”.
I think Mac was a heck of a writer, who could be as insightful as Earl Thomas Conley, or as funny as Ray Stevens. He will be missed.
September 30, 2020 @ 3:33 pm
Yes that was well done, Trigger. Obviously don’t like when people die but some of your best stuff are these tributes.
I also liked ‘Hard To Be Humble’ even though it was a joke song because the narrator is the butt of the joke similar to Joe Walsh’s ‘Life’s Been Good’.
‘Texas In My Rear View Mirror’ is such a relatable song to anyone who grew up in a smaller town and couldn’t wait to get out whether it be LA, NY, Nashville or Seattle only to realize some time down the road how great that town was.
Amazingly talented entertainer (think he won ACM EOY once) the greats just keep on leaving us.
September 30, 2020 @ 2:00 pm
Now thats a great story Trig. Perhaps one of your very best tribute articles. You made a guy I never paid attention to, suddenly very interesting. Bravo!
September 30, 2020 @ 4:07 pm
Davis certainly had to have hit a gold mine so early on in his career when he got the artist that was arguably the single most influential in American popular music history, Elvis, to record several of his songs, including, among the ones already mentioned, “Nothingville” (for the 1968 NBC special); “Charro” (the title track of Elvis’ final Western film, in 1969); “Clean Up Your Own Backyard” (for the 1969 film THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS [AND HOW TO GET INTO IT]); and “Don’t Cry Daddy” (a #6 Hot 100 hit in January 1970).
He was quite the unique figure, whether you were a fan of country or 70s AM pop radio, where he had a sizeable amount of success. As with any big artist of our recent past, to see someone pass on like Davis (or Helen Reddy, who also passed on yesterday) is very sad, because they are irreplaceable. But he’ll be remembered for sure (IMHO).
Bill from Wisconsin
September 30, 2020 @ 4:24 pm
Early seventies I grew up hearing all his songs on the radio and watching his TV show so this definitely brings back good memories, music was a bright spot back then. I did not know he wrote In the Ghetto and the Satisfaction songs!!! Favorites of mine by Elvis.
September 30, 2020 @ 4:31 pm
They did a 50th anniversary tribute to Elvis’ comeback tv special a year or two ago and while it had some bizarre performers (Post Malone?!) it did feature Mac Davis doing I think a couple songs. He sounded like he was in pretty good form for an older singer.
Elvis’ late career stuff had some interesting songwriters like Davis and Eddie Rabbitt (the awesome ‘Kentucky Rain’). It must have been pretty amazing to Elvis record one of your songs.
September 30, 2020 @ 4:50 pm
Cut the “both siding”. Trump acted horribly. Biden was just trying to get a word in while the asshole to his left babbled on and on like a 4 year old brat.
October 1, 2020 @ 1:14 am
That’s what you gather from this article?
October 1, 2020 @ 4:00 am
Well shit–that was the lead paragraph of the article, for Chrissakes!
Wish that was left out of the remembrance.
Good luck enforcing the ‘keep the political discussions out of the comments’ rule after that, buck-o!
I am so glad that we had Mac Davis in our world. He always got your attention, always had good stories. Was a celebrity in the best sense possible. It should make people feel hopeful that a regular guy/gal could succeed in life just like Mac Davis did.
October 1, 2020 @ 9:53 am
News of the death of Mac Davis and Helen Reddy came right after the Presidential debate that over 73 million people watched, and most everyone has concluded was the worst, and most divisive in the history of American Presidential politics. I thought highlighting how both Mac Davis and Helen Reddy performed and recorded the song “I Believe in Music” that speaks specifically how music can bring people together was an important and poignant point to underscore considering the moment of their passing.
October 1, 2020 @ 8:34 am
Actually Trump was to his right.
October 1, 2020 @ 8:49 am
October 4, 2020 @ 4:19 pm
I always been a Mac Davis fan because he was from Lubbock Texas and so am I. My memory of him was when he was in Lubbock visiting back in the 80s. Some Friends and I was at a night club in the Depot district known now as the Buddy Hollie district and Mac was there. I walk up to him and asked him if he was Mac Davis and he just smiled. He didn’t confirm whether he was or was not so I just assumed it was. Nobody look like Mac Davis but Mac Davis. But that was my fondest memory of him and may he rest in peace. We are going to miss you Mac.
September 30, 2020 @ 5:26 pm
Wow – didn’t know he wrote those Elvis hits!
September 30, 2020 @ 7:07 pm
I have all of his records, from first to last. “Baby don’t get hooked on me” made me an instant fan with the slyly cool groove. Very underrated
October 1, 2020 @ 5:08 am
Texas in my rear view mirror came out about the same time I was graduating from Texas Tech some 40 years ago, moving back the the great state of NJ. Hadn’t been back in about 37 years till my daughter out of the blue decided to follow in my footsteps.
The old place had but hadn’t changed, but the charm was still there, funny thing, my daughter lived on Mac Davis Lane and her apartment was exactly on top of the house that Buddy Holly was born in and lived in the first 4 years of his RIP Mac, and I hope they do bury you back in Lubbock, in your jeans!
October 1, 2020 @ 7:03 am
What a great tribute Trigger!thankyou
October 1, 2020 @ 7:38 am
I read once that He also wrote the song “Watching Scotty Grow”, which Bobby Goldsboro made a #11 hit single in early 1971. (Scotty was Davis’s real-life son; both men joked later that when the song was released, Scotty Davis began to think Goldsboro was really his dad.)
October 1, 2020 @ 8:32 am
It is crazy how your start learning things that you didn’t know about people when something like this happens. I read yesterday that he had written songs with Bruno Mars, Avicii and Weezer.
October 1, 2020 @ 11:37 am
He was a frequent presence on TV when I was a little kid. After his appearance in the disastrous THE STING 2, he didn’t seem to be around as much anymore, except that I remember him playing Will Rogers on Broadway in the early 90s. Requiescat in pace, Mac.
October 1, 2020 @ 11:51 am
Wow so sad to hear of Mr. Davis passing away. What a huge impact his songs and his song writing had on my childhood. I absolutely loved hearing Texas in my rearview mirror. Made me happy listening to a story of a young person thinking that they have to escape the confines of their hometown, then to realize that things were not that bad and even further realizing that they have to go back. Just seemed like such a relatable tale and lots of folks I am sure have had very similar and relatable events in their own lives. Top all that awesome song writing off with writing some songs for Elvis including In the Ghetto, my absolute favorite Elvis song. I cannot thank Mr. Davis enough. Glad you will be laid to rest in Lubbock in your jeans just like you asked.
You will be missed.
PS I also loved seeing him on the Muppet show when I was a kid singing Baby don’t get hooked on me.
October 1, 2020 @ 3:36 pm
Mac Davis is one of the Great American Songwriters of any era. What a talent, loved watching his variety show back in the 70’s. Sad loss for all of music.
It was hard for him to be humble, Great tongue in cheek song.
May God Bless and keep him.
October 1, 2020 @ 5:59 pm
Good Tribute Trigger, Mac was multi talented indeed. I really respect songwriters and what they do, that Gift. Enjoyed his appearances in movies, oh those times seem so carefree…..North Dallas Forty is one of the fun movies he is great in. After Kenny Roger’s went to heaven, I looked up many of his performances on youtube. There is a duet with Mac and Kenny Roger’s singing, Hard to be Humble, I am thinking those two are having a wonderful party in Heaven 🙂
October 4, 2020 @ 6:17 am
Some friends lived in an apartment complex in the 90s. Each unit was named after a country music star. They lived in the Mac Davis unit, which always made me smile.