Mel McDaniel, a country artist who enjoyed his greatest success in the early ’80s with songs like “Louisiana Saturday Night” and the No. 1-charting “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” has died after a long bout with cancer. He was 68.
McDaniel started playing country music as a teenager, first in Tulsa and then briefly in Nashville, but honed his craft playing for oil field workers in Anchorage, Alaska. In the 1970s he was signed as a demo singer and songwriter, eventually landing a Columbia Records contract in 1976 and releasing his first single, “Have A Dream On Me.” It would be five years before McDaniel’s career would truly take off with the release of his rendition of the Bob McDill/Don Williams song “Louisiana Saturday Night” from his 1981 album I’m Countryfied. Many others would go on to cover it, such as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Alabama, but McDaniel’s was the most successful.
In 1984, McDaniel led off his Let It Roll album with “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” another Bob McDill composition originally intended for Conway Twitty, but which ended up being McDaniel’s signature song. As quoted by the Associated Press, McDaniel said that the song was a hit because average Americans could relate to it, saying, “The main thing everybody says to me is, `I can picture that in my mind.'" (You can, can’t you?)
In 1986, McDaniel became a regular at the Grand Ole Opry, continued to release albums through 2006’s Reloaded, and scored other minor hits like “Big Ole Brew.” He’d suffered severe health problems since 1996, when a tumble into the orchestra pit during a Lafayette performance nearly killed him, forcing to perform while holding a cane thereafter and enduring many years of surgery and chronic pain. In 2009, he was also nearly done in by a heart attack that left him in a coma, and a short time later he was diagnosed with lung cancer. McDaniel was inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall Of Fame in 2006.