When I heard two or three days ago that Mac Davis was critically ill after heart surgery, I said, “God, please, I don’t wanna write a eulogy about Mac Davis.” Last night, when a friend told me she’d heard some sad news, I knew what it was.
Mac Davis, a native of Lubbock, Texas who later moved to Atlanta, was first highly acclaimed as a songwriter, a writer of many Elvis hits like “In the Ghetto” and “A Little More Conversation,” and a Bobby Goldsboro hit that Mac wrote about his son, “Watching Scotty Grow.” Then he became a major singing star, writing his own hits like “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” “Stop and Smell the Roses” and “It’s Hard to Be Humble.” He was becoming known as “the song painter” because of his descriptive lyrics. Then there was the very popular TV variety series, “The Mac Davis Show,” and several movies. You might say he was the Blake Shelton of the 1970s.
I wasn’t too sure what to make of Mac Davis, except that he was incredibly talented, as I observed him from afar — or meeting him quickly a couple of times over the years. Being a bit shy myself, I think I’m always initially a little wary of people who are really outgoing, maybe because I always wished I could be that way myself. But when I got to know him beyond “Hello, how are you?,” I liked him a lot, and from that moment on considered him a good friend (and a good friend to many others).
That time came in the year 2000 when we appeared together on a “legends show” at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium during Tin Pan South week, along with Loretta Lynn and the renowned Broadway musical writers Adolph Green and Betty Comden. I said something to Mac about taking Valium to calm me down when doing a performance. I guess we exchanged phone numbers that night because Mac called me the next day and told me he was doing another performance somewhere in town that night, and asked if he could have one of my Valiums. I said, “Sure, but I’m a little surprised that you would get nervous in front of a crowd; you used to have a hot TV show and must have done a couple of hundred concerts a year, at least.” He laughed and said, “Yeah, but back then I was drinkin’ a quart of whiskey every day!”
Mac and I did several writers’ shows together over the next 20 years, usually at the Bluebird Cafe. He was the best storyteller I ever knew. I remember one night at the Bluebird he had people almost rolling around on the floor with his funny stories about Elvis, having Elvis’s speaking voice down hilariously perfect. At the end of one of his Elvis stories, he said he owed a lot to Elvis for recording his songs and sort of taking him under his wing and being a mentor. He said, “If somebody held a gun at my head and told me I had to French kiss a man, it would probably be Elvis.” Legendary songwriter Sonny Curtis, also singing in our round that night, asked, “You mean they’d have to hold a gun to your head?”
Somewhere a few months ago — I think it was at the most recent Country Music Hall of Fame induction — I was recounting to Mac’s loving wife, Lise, about the time that Mac called me from L.A. and told me Lise hadn’t spoken to him for a couple of days because he couldn’t resist shouting out a wisecrack at a tearjerker movie she had talked him into seeing with her. She laughed and said, “He must have been exaggerating because I could never go that long without speaking to Mac.” She is in my thoughts, as are Mac’s three children and his countless number of good friends, on this sad day in these sad times. RIP pop and country icon Mac Davis, one of the most down-to-earth superstars ever.
Bobby Braddock is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame for writing songs including “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “People Are Crazy.” He was also Blake Shelton’s original producer and mentor. HIs latest book, “Country Music’s Greatest Lines: Lyrics, Stories and Sketches from American Classics,” was published this year.