We Got Hooked on Mac Davis

The iconic country singer, songwriter and actor dead at age 78

Mac Davis always appeared to be an amiable individual.

In a career spanning nearly 60 years, he made his mark penning hits for others, excelling as a beloved entertainer and proving himself to be a most affable individual who illuminated stages and screens wherever he appeared. 

Davis died in Nashville at age 78 this past Tuesday, September 29 following heart surgery.  He was surrounded by his family at the time of his passing. 

“He entertained and spread joy to so many people,” singer Reba McEntire commented when she learned that he had died. “What a wonderful legacy he left all of us with his music. Mac was one of a kind.”


VIDEO: Mac Davis performs “In The Ghetto” 1972

McEntire’s sentiments seemed to sum up the feelings felt by many, fans and contemporaries alike. Singer Kenny Chesney recalled how Davis took him under his wing when he was first starting out and continually encouraged him to pursue his craft.

“He welcomed me into his home and turned that tremendous creative light on me,” Chesney reflected. “Even though he wrote ‘In the Ghetto’ for Elvis and had so many incredible hits of his own, he made me feel like what I was doing mattered.” 

Others echoed those comments, noting that Davis always seemed to have a knack for sharing his smile and making others feel like they were welcomed into his world. Indeed, he never seemed to forsake his small town origins, thanks to that pleasant persona and an unpretentious attitude. That positive perspective helped nurture his success as a recording artist, actor, Broadway performer, and television personality. Nevertheless, he may be best known as a prodigious songwriter, having penned such classics as “In the Ghetto” and “A Little Less Conversation” (both of which were famously recorded by Elvis Presley), his own seminal stand-out “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” and other standards such as “Memories,” I Believe in Music,” “Something’s Burning,” and perhaps the most ironically titled tune of them all, “It’s Hard to Be Humble.”


VIDEO: Kenny Rogers and Mac Davis perform “It’s Hard To Be Humble”

Indeed, had he been anyone other than the modest man he was, it likely would have been hard to be humble when you consider the fact that so many of the songs he penned were eagerly acquired by such a varied group of world renowned performers. Besides Elvis, that list included Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Bruno Mars, among the many. In the process, Davis netted five Gold records, two Platinum records, induction into the National Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, as well as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year nod in 1974, and the rare ultimate honor of being named nothing less than a BMI Icon. 

Born in Lubbock Texas on January 21, 1942, Davis moved to Atlanta as a young man. It was there that he formed his first band, a rock and roll outfit dubbed The Zots. He also recorded several songs for a variety of small independent labels prior to switching gears and becoming a music promotion representative for the then-budding Vee Jay and Liberty record labels. He eventually relocated to L.A. and took a job as a staff writer for a publishing company owned by Nancy Sinatra, and it was there that his songwriting brought him his initial success. Throughout the mid’60s and into the early ‘70s, Davis’ talents were tapped by Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Lou Rawls, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, and Bobby Goldsboro. Nevertheless, it was Presley’s series of recordings that were written by Davis — “A Little Less Conversation,” “In the Ghetto, “Memories” and “Don’t Cry Daddy” that brought him to an even higher plateau and to literally hundreds of other artists in rapid succession.

As a solo performer, Davis scored early success with his self-penned number one pop hit “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” in 1972, resulting in a Grammy nomination as well. His hits continued throughout the ‘70s and well into the ‘80s and beyond. In the past decade, he scored an international hit via a collaboration with Avicii, “Addicted to You,” and in 2014, he returned to the pop charts after co-writing the Bruno Mars hit “Young Girls.”


VIDEO: Bruno Mars “Young Girls”

In addition to his music career, Davis hosted his own variety show on NBC from 1974-1976 and starred in any number of blockbuster films, among them, North Dallas Forty, Cheaper to Keep Her, The Sting II, and various movies made for TV, all in addition to guest appearances on a variety of popular TV series, including Murder She Wrote, The Muppets, Webster and King of the Hill. He also made his Broadway debut in The Will Rogers Follies and went on to tour with the production as well.

Mac Davis in North Dallas Forty

Jeff Davis of the band Alabama, seems to have summed him up best: “Mac was a great singer, songwriter and all around entertainer. He will be missed by many.”

Simple and succinct, that description defines Davis completely.


VIDEO: Mac Davis performs a prophetic version of “Why Don’t All Just Get Stoned?” at the 1982 CMA Awards 


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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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