Morris Mac Davis died September 29, 2020 at the age of 78. Many of you knew him as Mac Davis and if you’re older, as I am, you may remember him from his musical variety television performances on The Mac Davis Show.
That show aired 35-episodes between 1974 and 1976 and had a popular segment at the end. Members of the audience would call out a word or phrase and Mac would, on the spot, sing a song about it to the national audience with lyrics he was contemporaneously contriving.
He was not just an entertainer who starred in the movie, North Dallas Forty, opposite Nick Nolte, hosted The Muppet Show, or made hundreds and hundreds of appearances on television. He was principally a writer, a poet.
It was as a writer he would be awarded the BMI Icon Award, and gain induction into the Nashville Songwriters, Texas County Music and Georgia Music Halls of Fame. It would be as a writer many of you would come to know him, though some of you may be unaware of this fact.
Mac Davis wrote many hit songs for artists like, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Reba McIntyre, Kenny Rogers, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, and Tom Jones. Two of Presley’s most memorable hits, “In the Ghetto” and “Little Less Conversation,” were Davis’s work.
Mac Davis wrote the Bobby Goldsboro hit song, “Watching Scotty Grow.” The song, written about Mac’s son from his first marriage to Fran Cook, Joel Scott “Scotty” Davis, was a number one hit. It was and is my favorite of all the songs he wrote. Davis would marry twice more, the third time to Kristen Gerard, who he married in 1982 and to whom he was still married when he passed.
All of the above aside, make no mistake; Mac Davis was one of this country’s most talented and prolific songwriters of all time. As a writer, he was both first-rate and largely without peer, particularly in his genre.
Like many great writers, as New York Times best selling author, Chris Colfer, would relate in his oft-quoted, “All great writers have issues with their hometowns;...” Davis certainly had his with Lubbock, Texas. He left Lubbock to live with his mother in Atlanta, Georgia when he was 16-years of age.
Mac would write a terrific song about it, which became a big hit, entitled, “Happiness is Lubbock, Texas in My Rear View Mirror.” No equivocation in the title. Mac could be direct.
Mac was a really tough hombre. My father tells me Mac went to a party with Mavin Marchman and him when Marvin and my dad were both in medical school. Exactly who Marvin Marchman is to the story will be more fully described later in the piece. Anyway, someone came up and made fun of Mac’s long hair. Mac knocked him unconscious in a single blow. Like I said, the man could be rather direct.
There are other things about Mac Davis largely unknown to all but the people who were fortunate enough to have known him. My father, Larry Long, was one of those people for reasons to which I have above alluded but more fully below detail.
Mac Davis attended one of the country’s most prestigious universities, in Atlanta, Georgia. That university was then, and still is, known far and wide as Emory University.
Davis’s roommate at Emory was a man, now deceased, named Marvin Marchman. I would know Marvin Marchman as, “Uncle Marvin.” I knew and loved him very much.
Marchman, upon graduating from Emory, was accepted into and attended the University of Tennessee’s “Medical Units.” The “Medical Units” housed UT’s Medical School and conferred the degree of MD to those who successfully completed the curriculum. It also housed UT’s colleges of Pharmacology, Dentistry, and Nursing; hence why it was referred to as the “Medical Units.”
Dr. Marchman, Mac Davis, and Larry Long became lifelong friends. Larry Long would be Marvin Marchman’s best friend at the Medical Units just as Mac Davis was Marchman’s best friend at Emory.
The triumvirate would socialize and trip together frequently and come to love and appreciate each other over a span of decades. None of the three were perfect. Maybe it was the degree to which each was flawed which bound each one to the other two. The same can really be said of all of us.
I don’t believe I ever was privileged to meet Mac personally but remember my dad going on trips with Marvin and him. Mac had a run-in with my mother, the recounting of which wouldn’t make for a very fine tribute, and I am not sure he would have been welcomed at our home, which is why I never met him.
Don’t let your minds make too much of this “run-in." It was rather tame by today’s standards but something which would have seemed way worse in the late sixties, when it happened. My mother never forgets and can be slow to forgive.
That aside, I want to tell you a story about Mac Davis and my dad which I believe all of you will rather enjoy. It is a light-hearted one and kind of sums up Mac perfectly.
Before I tell you the story, I need to tell you my dad, Larry Long, has been told many times he looks, spitting image, like singer Barry Manilow. There is only one anatomical difference.
Larry Long was in the 6’4” to 6’5” range, height-wise, as a young man unbent by age, and Manilow was (perhaps, still is) a 6-footer. Height aside, especially when this story took place in the mid-seventies at the height of Mac Davis’s national fame, Larry Long and Barry Manilow were widely thought to resemble and close to identically.
So Mac Davis and Larry Long were in Las Vegas. Can’t remember exactly why, Mac could well have been headlining at a casino or something, but Dad and he were having drinks together in a Vegas hotel/casino.
Women were circling the table like buzzards circling fresh, rotting carcass. They were flirting, they were giggling, pretty much anything to get the attention of the two gentlemen at the table they believed to be universally famous and wealthy, only one of whom actually was.
Mac says to my dad, loudly enough for the women to hear, “You know, you look just like Barry Manilow.” This got the attention of the eves-droppers, straining to hear if what they suspected was about to be confirmed.
Larry Long said, “That’s ridiculous, I look about as much like Barry Manilow as you look like Mac Davis.” With that, the women dispersed like buzzards shooed away from road-kill by an approaching motorist.
Mac Davis thought that was really funny. It was one of the reasons he loved and appreciated Larry Long. It was among the many reasons Marvin, Larry, and he were good friends.
On September 29, 2020, the Lord called Morris Mac Davis home. I am hopeful he will reunite with his college roommate, Marvin Marchman, who I believe has been up there patiently waiting to see his good friend. The two of them will welcome into the society the third of their trio, Larry Long, though I hope that day is years from now.
We have lost an incredible songwriter as a society. We have lost just another talent the likes of which we don’t seem to be well replacing, at least in my opinion. I have lost another vestige of what was once my youth and naivety.
Rest in peace.
This is Fletcher Long and you can take this for whatever you find it worth but THAT’S THE LONG VERSION!