Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Best known for such songs as "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" and "It's Hard to Be Humble," singer-songwriter Mac Davis parlayed a modest string of hit records into national fame as a recording artist, TV star, concert draw and, for a brief time, a movie star. Initially a music executive, he first gained fame penning hits for the likes of Bobby Goldsboro, Kenny Rogers, and Elvis Presley. As a recording artist in his own right, Davis's work is characterized by a sincere vocal blending of soft pop, gospel and country, lyrics that embrace a positive romantic outlook and a Roger Miller-influenced sense of humor. At his late-1970s peak, he garnered favorable notice as the drawling playboy quarterback in the film North Dallas Forty. However, The Sting II, an ill-advised sequel to the Paul Newman-Robert Redford classic, failed miserably, ending his days as a Hollywood leading man. Nothing if not a trouper, he made a successful return to songwriting during the mid-1990s, and parlayed his country charm into a starring role in the successful Broadway musical The Will Rogers Follies.
Born in Lubbock, Texas
Born Scott Davis on January 21, 1942, in Lubbock, Texas, Mac Davis's father had to coerce him into singing in the church choir at age ten, but the youngster liked it so well that he ended up singing in various choirs throughout high school. That said, growing up in Buddy Holly's hometown during the frenzied years of early rock 'n' roll made an even bigger impression on him. "I saw Buddy Holly driving down the street with a bunch of girls in his car," Davis told Joey Kirk of the Daily Toreador. "I knew that's what I wanted to be." Another big early influence was Elvis Presley, whom Davis saw singing "That's All Right Mama" on the back of a flat bed truck at the Hub Motor Company. Little did he suspect that someday Presley would score major radio hits with Davis's own songs.
Davis started his first band after he moved to Atlanta, Georgia. While working for the Georgia State Board of Parole, he took night classes at Emory University, and fronted a rock 'n' roll combo dubbed Zotz. Performing covers of Jimmy Reed songs at area roller rinks, the band recorded a single for a local label called "Rock a Bongo" before Davis decided in 1961 that he wasn't cut out to be a full-fledged rocker.
Atlanta was a hot music town during the early 1960s and, like many artists before him, Davis decided to work his way up the ladder through music promotion, management, and publishing. Mostly he worked as a regional manager for Vee Jay Records during this era, handling area promotions of such popular artists as Jimmy Reed, Gene Chandler, and the Four Seasons.
Wrote Hits For Elvis Presley
By 1966 Davis had left Vee Jay, which was undergoing financial upheaval and reorganization, and began working for the West Coast-based Liberty Records. His interest in songwriting eventually resulted in a job with the label's publishing imprint, Metric. He caught a big break when smooth baritone R&B singer Lou Rawls recorded his tune "You're Good For Me" and the then-red-hot Glen Campbell waxed "Within My Memory." However, it was his association with Elvis Presley that made his name as a songwriter.
Working with producer/arranger Billy Strange, Davis wrote ditties for the soundtracks of Presley's later films Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), The Trouble With Girls (1969), and Charro (1969). Strange and Davis tried to help the fading rock king redraft his sound into something more contemporary with the anti-hypocrisy gospel rock of "Clean Up Your Own Backyard" (1969). Yet, it was the danceable rocker "A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action" that proved to be the more enduring movie song. Thirty-four years after its initial release, a clever disc jockey remixed the record, added fresh jams, and it became a worldwide hit all over again.
Davis provided important material for Presley's fertile comeback period of 1968–69. In addition to co-writing "Memories" along with Strange for the rock king's Singer Presents—Elvis TV special, Davis contributed the hits "In the Ghetto" and "Don't Cry Daddy" (1969).
Presley's chart smashes with Davis's songs provided opportunities to work with other major artists as well. Soul balladeer O.C. Smith scored hits with the Davis-penned "Friend, Lover, Wife" and "Daddy's Little Man," both in 1969. He also composed the politically aware "Something's Burning" (1970) for Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. The tune that eventually became his personal theme song, "I Believe in Music" (1972), was initially done in chipper style by the pop group Gallery. However, Davis's biggest non-Presley contribution as a songwriter was his authorship of "Watching Scotty Grow" (1971) for Bobby Goldsboro, a song inspired by the writer's eldest son.
For the Record …
Born Scott Davis, January 21, 1942, in Lubbock, Texas; married; first wife, Lise (divorced); second wife, Fran Cook (divorced); third wife, Sarah Barg; three children: Scotty (first marriage), Noah and Cody (second marriage).
Singer, songwriter, actor, 1962; worked as a regional manager for Vee Jay Records, 1964; worked for the publishing branch of Liberty Records, Metric Music, 1967; wrote songs for Glen Campbell, Bobby Goldsboro, Elvis Presley, Lou Rawls, Kenny Rogers, and others, 1969–72; signed with Columbia Records, 1970; hit number one on the pop charts with "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me," 1972; hit number one on the Adult Contemporary charts with "Stop and Smell the Roses," 1974; starred on the Mac Davis Show for NBC, 1974–76; appeared in the film North Dallas Forty, 1979; signed with Casablanca Records, 1980; appeared with Jackie Gleason in The Sting II, 1983; signed with MCA Records, 1985; co-wrote Dolly Parton's hit "White Limozeen" and took over the title role in the Broadway musical The Will Rogers Follies, 1990; recorded for Sony, 1994; released an album through the Combo label, 1995; appeared on national television programs and in concert worldwide, 1970–2006.
Awards: Academy of Country Music, Entertainer of the Year, 1974; John Willis's Screen World, listed as one of twelve Promising New Actors of 1979; inducted into Georgia Music Hall of Fame, 1996; inducted into West Texas Music Hall of Fame, 2001; inducted into Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2000; BMI TV Music Award, for "Las Vegas" (with Charlie Clouser), 2004; inducted into Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, 2004; inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, 2006.
Became a Star During the 1970's
Appearances on network television shows hosted by Johnny Carson, David Frost, and the Smothers Brothers led to a 1970 signing with Columbia Records as an artist in his own right. He became a headliner in major concert venues nationwide, but hit records were not immediately forthcoming. Such earnest, well-crafted efforts as "I'll Paint You a Song" and "Whoever Finds This, I Love You" in 1970 didn't exactly burn up the charts. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits recalled that Davis's producer, Rick Hall, instigated the conditions of his first breakthrough smash: "[He] asked me to write a hook song, one with a repeat phrase which is singles oriented," Davis told Billboard in 1978. "So I came up with this phrase and melody line, baby don't get hooked on me." The song "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me" spent three weeks at number one. Many subsequent singles charted on the pop, country, and adult contemporary charts, the most successful of which were "Stop and Smell the Roses" (1974) and "Rock 'N Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)" (1975).
After switching to the Casablanca label in 1979, Davis began to write songs that were more overtly country. Such 1980 hits as "Let's Keep it That Way," "Texas in My Rear View Mirror," and the comedic "It's Hard to Be Humble" personified his country-meets-adult-contemporary approach. But as the age of hip-hop took hold, Davis found he was no longer as welcome on pop radio, and his final Top Ten records—"You re My Bestest Friend" (1982) and "I Never Made Love (Till I Made it With You)" (1985)—benefitted from country airplay only.
A Multimedia Star
Loaded with folksy charm and sly wit, Davis has always been welcome on television. Besides guest appearances on nearly every major variety and talk show produced over the last three decades, he has appeared as an actor on programs ranging from Webster and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman to Murder She Wrote and Rodney. His grinning, curly-headed presence was especially put to good use on NBC's The Mac Davis Show, which ran as a summer and spring replacement series from 1974–76.
Davis made a strong impression with his acting debut in the 1979 film North Dallas Forty. Portraying a "Dandy" Don Meredith-type quarterback, his boyish charm worked well next to co-star Nick Nolte's wry cynicism. However, follow-up films such as the lightweight divorce comedy Cheaper to Keep Her and the implausible sequel The Sting II were unmitigated flops that only served to curtail his big screen acting career.
Largely an in-concert attraction, Davis's star fell during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he co-wrote "White Limozeen" for his friend Dolly Parton (1990). He rebounded during the mid-1990s with his first album of original material in a decade, the puckishly titled Will Write Songs for Food. More important, he enjoyed a well-received two-year run starring in the Broadway musical The Will Roger Follies.
With his curly locks now shorn, Davis has entered the senior phase of his career and is now regarded more for his past achievements than his future promise. He has been honored by his home town with a Mac Davis Day and presented with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his craftsmanship as a songwriter was honored in 2006 when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City.
"Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me," Columbia, 1972.
"Kiss it and Make it Better," Columbia, 1973.
"One Hell of a Woman," Columbia, 1974.
"Stop and Smell the Roses," Columbia, 1975.
"Burnin' Thing," Columbia, 1975.
"Rock 'N Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life)," Columbia, 1975.
"Forever Lovers," Columbia, 1976.
"Every Now and Then," Columbia, 1976.
"It's Hard to Be Humble," Casablanca, 1980.
"Let's Keep it That Way," Casablanca, 1980.
"Texas in My Rear View Mirror," Casablanca, 1980.
"Hooked on Music," Casablanca, 1981.
"You're My Bestest Friend," Casablanca, 1981.
"Rodeo Clown," Casablanca, 1982.
"I Never Made Love (Till I Made Love With You)," MCA, 1985.
"I Feel the Country Callin Me," MCA, 1985.
Song Painter, Columbia, 1971.
Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me, Columbia, 1972.
I Believe in Music, Columbia, 1973.
All the Love in the World, Columbia, 1974.
Stop & Smell the Roses, Columbia, 1974.
Burnin' Thing, Columbia, 1975.
Forever Lovers, Columbia, 1976.
Thunder in the Afternoon, Columbia, 1977.
Fantasy, Columbia, 1978.
It's Hard to Be Humble, Casablanca, 1980.
Texas in My Rear View Mirror, Casablanca, 1980.
Midnight Crazy, Casablanca, 1981.
Forty 82, Casablanca, 1982.
Soft Talk, Casablanca, 1984.
Very Best & More, Casablanca, 1984.
Till I Made It With You, MCA, 1985.
Will Write Songs for Food, Sony, 1994.
A Man Don't Cry, Combo, 1995.
Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me/Stop and Smell the Roses, Collectables, 1997.
The Best of Mac Davis, Razor & Tie, 2000.
20th Century Masters, Universal Music, 2006.
Bronson, Fred, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1997.
Hyatt, Wesley, The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits, Billboard, 1999.
McCloud, Barry, Definitive Country—The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Makers, Perigree, 1995.
Stambler, Irwin & Grelun Landon, Country Music—the Encyclopedia, St. Martin's Griffin, 1997.
"Gary James Interview with Bobby Goldsboro," Classic Bands.com, http://www.classicbands.com/BobbyGoldsboroInterview.html. (November 7, 2006).
"Interview with Mac Davis," Elvis Australia, http://www.elvis.com.au/presley/printer_interview_mac_davis.shtml. (November 7, 2006).
"Mac Davis," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 7, 2006).
"Mac Davis," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com. (November 7, 2006).
"Mac Davis on life: put it into song," Daily Toreador, http://www.daileytoreador.com. (July 30, 2004).
Additional information for this profile was drawn from a 2005 interview with producer/songwriter Billy Strange.
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