One of my friends, Carla, shared a photo of a vinyl record that she had in her Pepsi collection. Her father and grandfather were both employees of Pepsi. The first thing that caught my eye on the record was the name Bobby Mackey. Needless to say, I had to find out more on the story behind the song, “Pepsi Man.” As you know, Bobby Mackey owns the legendary haunted honky tonk in Wilder, Kentucky. Click here to read my adventures of visiting it. Over the years, I’ve gotten to learn some country music history through Bobby. I will say that he is a legend in his own right and should be included into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. Next month, they will celebrate 37 years in business as one of the oldest honky tonks in Kentucky.
The story behind the song, “Pepsi Man,” is a unique one. In 1981, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers went on an illegal strike. President Ronald Reagan ended up breaking the strike and fired all of the air traffic controllers. Two air traffic controllers that use to work out of Cincinnati wrote the song, “Pepsi Man.” They gave the song to Bobby Mackey and upon hearing it, he saw the promotional possibilities. He would record “Pepsi Man” and give a copy of it to the local Cincinnati Pepsi distributor. They would forward the song on up to New York City to the Pepsi World Headquarters.
At the same time, Scott Wills was a marketing person at Pepsi and was organizing Pepsi Rallies with the Pepsi distributors across the country. The rallies were to challenge people to take the Pepsi Challenge. They needed a theme song and Scott remembered having the cassette tape with Bobby Mackey singing on it. He thought it would be fun to have the song performed live at the larger distributors.
Scott Wills met up with Bobby Mackey in Nashville, Tennessee, to make a customized version of “Pepsi Man” for the rallies. Andy Di Martino of Moon Shine Records Nashville saw the promotional opportunity and talked Pepsi into help promote a national release of the song on his label.
Bobby Mackey, as well as his promotional guru, RJ Siefert, few up to New York City to meet with the Pepsi Brass and spent a night viewing the NYC night spots, including Studio 54. The Pepsi Brass loved the song, as well as Bobby Mackey. Moon Shine Records released the song and it would chart in the Top 50 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart in June of 1982. For several months, Bobby Mackey would perform on a National Tour of the Rallies. By the fall, the rallies were completed and as they say, the rest is history.
There are actually multiple versions of “Pepsi Man” recorded over the years beyond the customized version for the distributors. Below is one that has more of a bluegrass vibe, but still includes Bobby Mackey singing lead vocals.
So the next time you are sipping on an ice cold Pepsi drink among friends and family, be sure to tell them the story of “Pepsi Man.”