Mac Davis, a singer-songwriter who parlayed a string of hits for Elvis Presley into a varied career as an actor and recording artist, blending country and pop in chart-topping songs such as “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me” and playing a quarterback in the football movie “North Dallas Forty,” died Sept. 29 in Nashville. He was 78.
With a Texas drawl and country charm, Mr. Davis became a crossover country-pop success in the early 1970s, performing at cow palaces and casinos, writing a No. 1 song that started out as a joke with his producer, and hosting his own musical variety show for three years on NBC. His songwriting process was simple, he said: “I try to tell the truth and hope it rhymes.”
Mr. Davis initially worked as a record-label promoter and songwriter for other artists, collaborating with Glen Campbell and Bobby Goldsboro as well as Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. He broadened his range even further in recent years, working with the Swedish DJ Avicii, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo and singer-songwriter Bruno Mars.
As a composer, Mr. Davis was perhaps best known for his work for Presley, at a time when the King of Rock and Roll was beginning to pivot from movies back to live performances. Mr. Davis was writing a song intended for Aretha Franklin, “A Little Less Conversation,” when it was picked up for Presley’s 1968 movie musical “Live a Little, Love a Little.”
Co-written by Billy Strange, a guitarist and arranger, “A Little Less Conversation” acquired a second life after it was featured in the 2001 heist film “Ocean’s Eleven” and remixed by Dutch musician Junkie XL, in a version that went to No. 1 in more than two dozen countries.
It was followed by hits including “Memories,” for Presley’s 1968 comeback special on NBC; “Don’t Cry Daddy,” written amid the breakup of Mr. Davis’s first marriage; and “In the Ghetto,” about “a poor little baby child” who grows up hungry, steals a car and is shot dead in Chicago. The song reached No. 3 on the charts and was featured on “From Elvis in Memphis” (1969), one of Presley’s most celebrated albums.
Mr. Davis, who was White, said “In the Ghetto” was inspired by memories of a childhood friend, the son of one of his father’s construction employees, who lived in a Black section of Lubbock, Tex.
“They had dirt streets and broken glass everywhere,” he told American Songwriter magazine. “I couldn’t understand how these kids could run around barefoot on all that broken glass; I was wondering why they had to live that way and I lived another way.”
While writing for Presley, Mr. Davis began performing his own music on TV variety shows. His song “I Believe in Music” climbed the pop charts after it was covered by the band Gallery, and in 1972 Mr. Davis broke through with “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me.”
As Mr. Davis told the story, he wrote the song after his producer, Rick Hall, asked him to craft “a ‘hook’ song, one with a repeat phrase which is singles oriented.” As a joke, he took the prompt literally, suggesting the line, “Don’t get hooked on me.” Hall urged him to go into the recording studio immediately. It went to No. 1 for three weeks.
Mr. Davis had a wry sense of humor that helped him jump from music to film and television. He lent his voice to characters in the animated TV series “King of the Hill,” played country singer Rodney Carrington’s father-in-law on the ABC sitcom “Rodney” and appeared in movies such as “North Dallas Forty” (1979), based on a best-selling novel by former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Peter Gent.
Credit: Washington Post
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