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Country singer, Elvis Presley songwriter Mac Davis dies; Reba McEntire pays tribute

Mac Davis [Photo provided]
Mac Davis [Photo provided]

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – American music icon Mac Davis - a respected country music singer-songwriter who also penned Elvis Presley's hits "In the Ghetto" and "A Little Less Conversation" died Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee, following complications from heart surgery. 

He was 78. 

“Thank you, dear Lord Jesus, for letting us know the man to whom you gave the most incredible talent,” said Oklahoma native Reba McEntire in a statement. “He entertained and spread joy to so many people. What a wonderful legacy he left all of us with his music. Mac was one of a kind. I’m so blessed to have been one of his many friends.”

The announcement was made late Tuesday by Davis’ longtime manager and friend Jim Morey, who said Davis was surrounded by family when he died.

“Mac Davis has been my client for over 40 years, and more importantly, my best friend,” Morey said in a statement. “He was a music legend, but his most important work was that as a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend. I will miss laughing about our many adventures on the road and his insightful sense of humor.”

During a five-decade career, Davis made his mark as a songwriter, Grammy-nominated recording artist, film actor, Broadway musical star, television personality and music publisher, according to a news release. 

Among his classic songs are “In the Ghetto,” “Memories,” “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” “A Little Less Conversation,” “I Believe in Music,” “Something’s Burning” and “It’s Hard to Be Humble.”

“I met  Mac as a young artist just starting out on my journey, when he was already a legend and a songwriting hero to me," Kenny Chesney said in a statement. "He welcomed me into his home and turned that tremendous creative light on me. Even though he’d written “In the Ghetto” for Elvis and had so many incredible hits of his own, he made me feel like what I was doing mattered.

"A small-town boy who’d achieved the greatest kind of fame, he remained a good guy, a family man," Chesney added. "That was Mac: a giant heart, quick to laugh and a bigger creative spirit. I was blessed to have it shine on me. And Mac, who was joyous, funny and created a family around him never stopped writing great songs, creating music and inspiring everyone around him. He loved his wife Lise and his kids and all kinds of people. He kept in touch, always a kind word, a new joke or a piece of song he was working on, which made him a blessing to everyone who came into his life.”

Along with Elvis, Davis' songs were recorded by such musical greats as Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Bruno Mars, Glen Campbell, Tammy Wynette, Avicii, Andy Williams, Conway Twitty, Tom Jones, Johnny Cash, Bobby Blue Bland, Merle Haggard, and O.C. Smith.

“Songwriting has lost one of the true greats," BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neill said in a statement. "We are honored to have had Mac Davis as a member of the BMI family since 1964. He was the songwriter behind some of the most iconic and timeless songs that transcend genres and generations and was named a BMI Icon in 2015. Beyond his extraordinary talent, Mac was a dedicated friend and advocate for songwriters everywhere. On a personal note, Mac has been a longtime friend to BMI, to our former CEOs Frances Preston and Del Bryant, and to me. On behalf of everyone at BMI, we send our love and deepest condolences to Lise, their sons Cody, Noah and Scott, and the entire Davis family.”

Davis recorded 20 albums and charted more than 40 singles. He earned five gold records and two platinum records. He is a member of the national Songwriters Hall of Fame and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He is also a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He is among a few songwriters who have been honored with a BMI Icon award.

Davis was born Morris Mac Davis on Jan. 21, 1942, in Lubbock, Texas. He was raised there by his strict, religious father. As soon as he graduated from Lubbock High, he moved to Atlanta, where his mother was living.

In Georgia, he played in a rock 'n' roll band called The Zots and recorded a series of solo tunes for independent labels in 1962-65. “A Little Dutch Town,” “Honey Love,” “Hey Monkey” and “I Protest” went nowhere. Eager to stay in show business, Davis became a promotion man for the Vee Jay and Liberty labels.

The latter job brought him to Los Angeles, where he was signed as a staff songwriter by Nancy Sinatra’s publishing company. In 1966-67, Davis had his songs recorded by Campbell, Sinatra, Lou Rawls and Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs. Among Davis’s notable songs at the time were “Hello L.A. Bye-Bye Birmingham,” “Friend, Lover, Woman, Wife,” “Daddy’s Little Man” and “God Knows I Love You.”

In 1968, Presley recorded “A Little Less Conversation.” Although only a modest hit at the time, the song became an international success following the superstar’s death in 1977. It has now been recorded by more than 30 other artists and is the songwriter’s most licensed TV soundtrack song.

Presley followed that by recording the Davis songs “In the Ghetto,” “Memories” and “Don’t Cry Daddy” in 1968-70. All of them became hits. 

Parton covered “In the Ghetto” for the country market, and 170 other acts also recorded it. “Don’t Cry Daddy” had more than 30 other recordings, as did “Memories.”

In 1970-71, Campbell had a hit with “Everything a Man Could Ever Need,” Rogers & The First Edition did the same with “Something’s Burning,” and Bobby Goldsboro succeeded with Davis’s “Watching Scotty Grow.”

Davis’s own recording career took off with his self-penned 1972 No. 1 pop hit “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me.” It earned him a Grammy Award nomination. The singing group Gallery had a hit with his “I Believe in Music” that same year, and that song was covered by more than 60 others. 

Davis titled his debut LP "Song Painter," which became his nickname.

In 1974-75, he continued his pop successes with “One Hell of a Woman,” “Stop and Smell the Roses” and “Rock N Roll (I Gave You the Best Years of My Life).” Meanwhile on the country charts, Campbell scored with his song “Oklahoma Sunday Morning” and Ray Price hit the top-10 with “Lonesomest Lonesome.”

The big hits led to a 1974-76 NBC-TV variety series for Mac Davis. This was followed by numerous television specials. Davis was named the Academy of Country Music’s Entertainer of the Year in 1974.

The Texas native had always maintained a presence on the country charts. In 1976, Davis had his first top-20 country success, “Forever Lovers.”

In 1979, Mac Davis starred in his first movie, "North Dallas Forty." This was followed by roles in "Cheaper to Keep Her" (1981) and "The Sting II" (1983). Since then, he has appeared in more than a dozen TV movies, including serving as the narrator for "The Dukes of Hazzard: Hazzard in Hollywood" (2000).

Because he was a country music singer-songwriter succeeding in Los Angeles, Dolly Parton sought his advice. He introduced her to his managers, facilitating her transition from country headliner to pop-culture superstar.

He emerged as a bona fide country star with big singles as “It’s Hard to Be Humble” (1980), “Let’s Keep It That Way” (1980), “Texas in My Rear View Mirror” (1980), “Hooked on Music” (1981),  “You’re My Bestest Friend” (1982) and “I Never Made Love (‘Til I Made It With You)” (1985). He co-wrote Parton’s 1990 hit “White Limozeen,” as well as several other songs she recorded during the 1990s.

During this same time, Davis starred on Broadway in "The Will Rogers" Follies and toured with the musical. Mac Davis guest-starred on such TV hits as "Murder She Wrote," "The Muppets," "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," "The Client," "Webster," "Oswald," "Johnny Bravo," "King of the Hill," "Rodney," "Freaks and Geeks" and "Fargo."

In 2013, he reemerged in the music world by collaborating with Avicii on the international favorite “Addicted to You.” The following year, he reappeared on the pop charts as the co-writer of the Bruno Mars tune “Young Girls.”

His last appearance as an actor was portraying a preacher in the “J.J. Sneed” episode of the Parton’s "Heartstrings" Netflix series of mini movies in 2019.

In recent years, Davis and his wife, Lise, had been dividing their time between Tennessee and California. He was an avid golfer and continued to write music and play his beloved guitar to the end of his life. 

“Mac Davis was such a great guy and an amazing writer. One of the best in the business and a wonderful friend. This is a huge loss to the music industry. His family is in my prayers,” said Oklahoma native and fellow country hitmaker B.J. Thomas in a statement. 

Davis is survived by his loving wife of 38 years, Lise, and by sons Scott, Noah and Cody, daughters-in-law, Tammy, Amy, Cassia, granddaughter Lindsey, mother Edith and sister Linda. 

While details for arrangements are pending, Lise Davis said Mac will be buried in his hometown of Lubbock, Texas, and in a nod to his song “Texas In My Rear View Mirror,”  he will be in his jeans, according to a news release. 


Related Photos
Mac Davis [Photo provided]

Mac Davis [Photo provided]

<figure><img src="//" alt="Photo - Mac Davis [Photo provided]" title="Mac Davis [Photo provided]"><figcaption>Mac Davis [Photo provided]</figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›