Remembering Mac Davis, 1942-2020

Lost in the news this week is the death of Mac Davis Tuesday at 78. A songwriter (“I Believe in Music” who was hitmaker in his own right (“Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me”), he was even a movie star for a time in things like “North Dallas Forty” and “The Sting II.”

But his biggest legacy may have been as a trusted songwriter for Elvis Presley, helping bolster the King’s career late in his career with classics like “In the Ghetto.”

I got a chance to talk to Davis last year in advance of  TV special marking the 50th anniversary of the Elvis comeback special.

His first contact with Presley cane in his hometown of Lubbock, “ at an outdoor venue, on the back of a flatbed truck,” he said.

The effect was electric. “Oh, he changed my life. It was a life-altering moment. I just decided yeah, that’s what I want to do someday. I want to be that. Between the combination of him and Buddy Holly — I used to go to actually go to the skating rink and dance to Buddy Holly’s music. Between the two of those, that’s what I wanted to do and be, if I could do it. So I started writing songs right then and there. Not very good ones, but I was writing them!”

He was a successful songwriter by the time he saw Elvis perform again in Vegas in 1969. “It was pretty amazing,” Davis said.

It was the session musician Billy Strange who asked Davis to write a new song for Elvis to sing on the special, one that summed up the King’s career to that point. “I had basically a little over 24 hours to write it,” Davis said. So he got in Strange’s office above his garage and came up with “Memories.”

They liked it, put it in the special, and as B-side to the title song of his latest movie “Charro,” it reached No. 35 on the charts. 

“Sometimes that works, when you’re really under the gun,” Davis says. “I’m glad it did, because it sealed a deal with him. He started looking at my songs and wanting to record more of my stuff, which was phenomenal.”

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