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And the hits just keep on coming from the legendary Ronnie McDowell with his new release "Easy To Love"  last month. Ronnie called his latest single, his tribute to Freddie Hart and Hart's song  "Easy Loving" which impacted him tremendously when he first heard it.   McDowell vowed one day to write a song that would pay tribute to Hart's song, and now he has.  

Ronnie McDowell was a young Vietnam veteran, working  and earning his living in clubs around Bowling Green Ky. six nights a week, five shows a night and writing songs for other artists.  In other words he was making a living doing what he really loved.   In 1977 upon hearing the news of the death of Elvis Presley on his car radio, who Ronnie like millions of others idolized, he pulled over to the side of the road to collect his thoughts and grief.  Inspiration struck McDowell and before he got 15 miles down the road, he  was writing a song, “I was barely six years old when I first heard him sing. Somehow I knew from that moment on it would be a lifetime thing.”  Funny enough he didn’t know it at the time but he was literally writing his own life story.  

Ronnie went into a Nashville studio two days later where he met up with a friend of his,  Lee Morgan, who had seen McDowell's shows and knew that when McDowell sang an Elvis song in his shows,  he did it like Elvis.  Morgan asked him to listen to a song  he had written and then he listened to the song Ronnie had written.  The two decided  to combine lyrics and Ronnie would record the song. Everything after that  happened in a whirlwind of activity. 


Ronnie felt like he had something that would speak to a lot of people in the "King Is Gone".  He got up the next morning and literally took the acetate recording to WENO AM radio in Madison, Tennessee.  Ronnie convinced the receptionist to let him speak personally with the deejay who agreed to play the song.  Once the song was played the phone lines lit up. “The King Is Gone” was only Ronnie's third proper single on Scorpion Records, but it became a big smash and breakthrough  charting №13 on both the Pop and Country charts. It sold a million records in a week and two weeks later Ronnie was on American Bandstand with Dick Clark and The Midnight Special.   It was like a wonderful movie and pure magic.   To date, “The King Is Gone” has sold more than 5 Million copies. Ronnie still performs "The King Is Gone" every night during his live shows and usually follows it up with and actual Elvis song.  

McDowell scored  his second hit for the Scorpion label a short four months later with  “I Love You, I Love You, I Love You”.   The following year, he was tapped to sing the vocals for an Elvis TV movie starring Kurt Russell. The savvy McDowell although hugely grateful for the breakthrough that "The King Is Gone" provided him, quickly realized that the potential of being labelled  as an Elvis imitator if he didn’t instigate a career overhaul.   McDowell teamed up with producer Buddy Killen at Epic Records in hopes of broadening his style  and forged himself a new  path based on his own talents and merits as a singer/songwriter.   The plan worked, as McDowell became a consistent Country hitmaker.   


McDowell  charted  a string of hit singles and albums for Epic between 1979 and 1986. Every single release with the exception of just one became a Top 10 Hit including the chart toppers “Older Women” and “You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation.” Other hits during his Epic years also included “Watchin Girls Go By,” “Personally,” “You Made A Wanted Man Of Me,” “All Tied Up,” and “In A New York Minute.”  


Ronnie  jumped labels to Curb in 1986 , where he scored a Top 10 hit via  a duet with Conway Twitty a remake of "It's Only Make Believe".  Two years later and another Top 10 when Ronnie teamed up with Jerry Lee Lewis for a rocking duet that McDowell wrote, "You're Never Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll".  He also recorded yet another Top 10 hit with his version of the Pop standard “Unchained Melody,” which also became a #1 Country music video. To date, McDowell has scored over 30 top ten records.


While continuing to record for Curb through the early '90s his entertaining abilities soared and he drew large crowds.  McDowell started appearing in larger venues and touring with artists such as Conway Twitty, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, and then headlining his own shows.   McDowell toured constantly to support each album release and consequently built an astounding fan base throughout the country.   

Conway Twitty was particularly influential to McDowell.  He used to say to McDowell, “Ronnie, if you want to do this for a long, long time, work on the weekend and stay at home during the week. Rest your voice. Don’t overdo it.”  Ronnie took this piece of advice to heart and although his is still a proud road warrior and entertainer, he keeps his touring schedule at about 75 shows per year.  Ronnie also credits Conway Twitty for his relocation to Hendersonvlle, where he still lives today.   Conway became, in essence, not only his mentor but his friend as well. Twitty helped the young singer with advise about touring, recording and most of all entertaining the fans. Twitty was certainly the master and Ronnie McDowell quickly became his prize pupil.  

During our interview Ronnie referred to Conway Twitty as being like a "second father to me" and stated further, "Conway was one of the best people that I have ever known".  

Although it appeared to the world that Ronnie McDowell came out of nowhere to dazzle the world with his heartfelt and self-penned tribute song “The King Is Gone”, the truth is Ronnie McDowell had a very humble beginning.  Ronnie McDowell's parents were married for two dollars by a preacher on a front porch.  It was the height of the Great Depression,  his mother was a mere 13 years of age and his father 21.  Ronnie was born in 1950 and raised in the small town of Portland TN. and was the seventh child of eleven born to his parents. 

As early as 1953 Ronnie was walking around the house singing, "Your Cheating Heart".   Linda Sue his sister went to record store for 20 cents by train to buy records and she fell in love with Little Richard  and his song "Tutti Frutti".    His sister also  brought home and Elvis record with " You Ain't Nothin But a Hound Dog" and "Don't Be Cruel" which enthralled Ronnie to no end.    However, when his mother heard him listening to an Elvis Presley song on the radio she immediately turned off the radio and forbid Ronnie to listen to such music, not unlike a lot of her generation's thinking that Elvis' music was nothing short of blasphemous.   


Ronnie also recalled with a chuckle that he actually lied to his parents when he was about 8 years old stating that the movie he wanted to go see was a monster movie, when in fact if was an Elvis movie.   It was what Ronnie had to do at the time to hear the music that seemed to be calling to him and certainly was influencing him.   

Ronnie admits with a laugh that he was not the best of students.   His sister in 1953 was the valedictorian  of their school but in Grade 8 Ronnie was asked by a teacher, "What is your problem?"   His only response to the teacher was, "Miss. Bailey I am NOT my sister."   It seems Ronnie was always intended to forge his own way. 


Ronnie's mother worked 3 jobs trying to raise the children as his parents divorced in 1955.   The day his first song hit radio Ronnie found his mother working, mopping a floor.   McDowell pulled his mother away from her work and  turned on a radio and sure enough his mother heard "The King Is Gone" on the radio.  Ronnie McDowell made sure from that day forward his mother never worked again.  He ponders with awe that by proxy Elvis Presley in his death did for Ronnie's mother what he did for his own mother.  


Sadly, his mother died of smoking, even though she didn’t smoke, it was secondhand.  Ronnie's  little brother passed away in 2011 from it and Ronnie has stated, "He  was the worst smoker on the planet. I hate cigarette smoke. I never have understood that concept of sucking smoke into your lungs. That’s my biggest pet peeve in the whole wide world."  McDowell's mother was very proud of all of her eleven children and according to Ronnie, "She loved and treated all of us like we were all one big baby."


Ronnie's father was born in 1910, so he was only 67 years old when  “The King Is Gone”  came out in 1977.  His father was living when both Ronnie's hits “Older Women”  and “Unchained Melody”  made the top spots and was witness to  Ronnie's  whole career progress.  Coming up during the Great Depression like his father  did, then having a son that would have a number one record, you can just imagine how proud he was of Ronnie's achievements.  


Ronnie started to sing and compose music on his guitar when he was stationed in Vietnam.  He does not have the old guitar but he did save his notebook with all the original songs that he composed during that time period.   He started singing publicly while serving the Navy in the Philippines and he recalls that in 1970 he was transferred to Adak, Alaska and recorded a song called “Baby I Love You” in a church.   According to McDowell, "The preacher got mad and said, “I don’t think you boys need to be recording in a church doing secular music.” The reason we chose the church was ’cause it had this big boomy sound. Fortunately, we got the song finished before he ran us out."


Ronnie McDowell  got out of the Navy in May 1972 and appreciated how fortunate he was to live through his service and he had two buddies who never made it back.   As soon as he got home, I started writing songs and going to Nashville and the rest, as recorded above is history.   The lesser known talent of Ronnie McDowell is that he loves to paint and he usually involves his two loves, music and painting together in his subject matter


McDowell's  painting of George Jones getting a DUI while riding his lawn mower hangs in the George Jones Museum in downtown Nashville.   McDowell also donates 10% of the sale of each print to St Jude Children's Research Hospital when you purchase one of the following prints at: "Last Chance" - George Jones getting a DUI on his John Deere tractor and 2. "Reflection Of A King" - Elvis Presley as a 12 year-old boy looking at an image of himself and what he wants to become, and "I Will Always Love You" - Elvis Presley & Dolly Parton on a picnic.  Ronnie recounted how Dolly smiled when he gave her the painting saying, "You know, that is exactly what I would wear to a picnic with Elvis." 

Ronnie McDowell also hosts a Children’s Christmas shopping trip in his previous hometown of Portland.  Children from Portland schools were picked up after school by three buses donated by All Access Coach in Gallatin and McDowell’s bus. The drivers drive the buses to where the volunteers had assembled and the children are now given $200 to shop for Christmas gifts for themselves and family members. The children were assisted by the volunteers and police officers as they shopped.  Each child had a volunteer to assist with the shopping and police officers also helped the children. After the shopping was completed, the children returned to the parking lot where their parents were waiting and each family was given a pizza to enjoy when they got home.  McDowell has been doing the Christmas shopping caravan for 45 years, and does it to see that the children have gifts for Christmas.

A venture close to his heart, McDowell has said, “When I was six years old in 1956 in first grade, I can’t imagine what it would have meant to me being a family of 11 to have a big bus pull up and take me shopping.  That’s why I love taking kids that need some help, and I love doing it.”  McDowell recalled when he first began doing the shopping trips, each child got $50 but now with the cost of things going up, the children are given $200 to shop. He was pleased to see that many of the children bought gifts for their siblings and parents.


Ronnie McDowell has amassed an amazing string of hits over the years and continues recording new music. McDowell has marveled audiences for decades, with his conversational lyricism and wholehearted warmth. A songwriter as well as a story teller, Ronnie McDowell has built a career by selflessly raising others up, and his song “You Can Do It” reiterates this theme.   Now Time-Life  has released 5 great Ronnie McDowell albums to all streaming platforms available for the first time in the digital format.


Anyone of the millions of fans who have seen his live show can tell you that it is his riveting stage presence and genuine warmth that fills the seats again and again. Like all great entertainers, Ronnie McDowell has a personality that  has  inspired a nationwide network of fan-clubs with thousands of members, each one a devoted promoter of everything Ronnie McDowell does.  Ronnie continues to entertain audiences with his own blend of romantic intimacy and country excitement.   He looks great, he sounds great, and judging from the longtime adoration of his fans, he seems to grow better with each passing year. 


Ronnie has five children and eight grandchildren and continues to resides in Hendersonville, Tennessee.   McDowell has five children.   He appreciates the blessings he has had in his life, loves to paint, hanging out with his kids and now his grandkids.  


Ronnie McDowell‘s sincerity has never wavered and he will always have a place in the hearts of classic Country music fans.  Ronnie McDowell appreciates his fans immensely and he expressed, "I'm like a wheel and the fans are like the spokes and without the fans I can't wheel."    The most valuable gift Ronnie McDowell can give is his time and he intends to keep on giving that through his live performances, recording of new music and loving the life that he has been blessed with every day.  


                                                              By Deborah Gibson  

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