Country Radio Legend Bill Mack Dies At 91

The voice of the long-haul trucking industry and a Grammy-winning songwriter, Bill Mack was one of the greats of classic country music.

The longtime national broadcast personality passed away at age 91 on Friday (July 31). Mack was elected to the Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Fame in 1982, to the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 1995 and to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.

He was famed for his all-night broadcasts from Ft. Worth, Texas over WBAP. “The Bill Mack Trucking Show” began in 1969 and continued for more than three decades with its creative programming that featured a diverse musical mix, a wide variety of guests, trucker call-ins and information for long-haul drivers about weather and road conditions.

Mack was a native Texan, born Bill Mack Smith in Shamrock on June 4, 1929. He played guitar and harmonica and formed a band while at Shamrock High School. He began his radio career in the late 1940s as a college student at West Texas State College. He worked at stations in Amarillo, San Antonio and Wichita Falls before arriving in Ft. Worth.

His dulcet speaking voice carried over into a strong singing talent. He signed with Imperial Records in 1951 and recorded such proto-rockabilly numbers as “Sue-Suzie Boogie” and “Play My Boogie.”

On Starday Records, he recorded such rockabilly classics as “Kitty Cat” and “The Cat Just Got Into Town” later in the 1950s.

He subsequently recorded for United Artists, Hickory, MGM, Phillips and other labels. His most successful single was “Ladonna” on Hickory.

But he had more success as a songwriter than he did as a recording artist. Mack’s jazzy “Drinking Champagne” became a big hit for Cal Smith in 1968. The song was revived by George Strait and again became a smash in 1990.

The songwriter’s other major copyright is “Blue.” Originally recorded by Mack in 1959, he intended to pitch it to Patsy Cline, but never did. Following her 1963 death, the song lay fallow for decades until a teenaged LeAnn Rimes launched her career with it in 1996.

It earned Bill Mack a Best Country Song Grammy Award. “Blue” was also named Song of the Year by the Academy of Country Music.

His songs have also been recorded by George Jones, Ray Price, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, Waylon Jennings, Boxcar Willie, Hank Thompson, Don Gibson, Jim Ed Brown, Johnny Cash and more.

His gospel tune “Clinging to a Saving Hand” has been recorded by Rimes, Connie Smith, Conway Twitty, Bill Monroe, The Chuck Wagon Gang, George Hamilton IV, John Conlee, Dale Ann Bradley and others.

Mack’s overnight trucking show was variously titled “The Bill Mack Trucking Show,” “The Midnight Cowboy Trucking Show,” “The U.S. 1 Trucking Show,” “Open Road” and “The Country Roads Show.” WBAP’s clear-channel signal meant that the broadcaster could be heard in most of the continental United States.

He left WBAP to launch a similar program on Sirius/XM satellite radio in 2001. He remained there until 2011, then returned to terrestrial radio on KSNZ in his hometown, Shamrock, Texas.

In addition to his trucking show, Bill Mack was the host of the nationally syndicated “Country Crossroads.” This gospel-oriented series was launched in 1969 and aired on more than 800 stations at its peak. He also hosted the syndicated “Overtime Top Ten Countdown” show.

In addition, Bill Mack was a television emcee. He hosted such syndicated series as The Buck Owens Show, The Bob Wills Show and Cowtown Jamboree. His radio show was translated into the cable TV series Country Crossroads.

He published an autobiography in 1971 titled Spins and Needles.

His death was due to complications resulting from the COVID-19 virus, with underlying conditions. His wife Cynthia (“Sweet Cindy”) was frequently his collaborator on the air, particularly in later years. She survives him, as do his children Debbie, Misty Dawn, Billy Mack Smith III and Sunday Renee, as well as several grandchildren.

 

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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