Ronnie McDowell, Writer of Hit Song
“The King Is Gone,” Talks Elvis
Following the death of Elvis Presley in 1977, Ronnie McDowell came out of nowhere to dazzle the world with his heartfelt and self-penned tribute song “The King Is Gone” on the independent Scorpion label. The record took off immediately, gaining airplay on country and pop stations across the country and around the world. To date, “The King Is Gone” has sold more than 5 Million copies.
All of a sudden, the young man from Portland, Tennessee was a star, and he quickly proved that he wasn’t just a one-trick pony. McDowell scored a second hit for the Scorpion label titled “I Love You, I Love You, I Love You” before being wooed and signed by CBS Records – Epic label in 1979.
We discussed the King in honor of his life and legacy:
Did you expect your song “The King Is Gone” to be such a huge success?
You know, every song any artist puts out, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. But I felt like that night I recorded “The King Is Gone” that I had a hit song. So I personally walked that record over to a little AM radio station in Madison, Tennessee. Ironically, it was just a block or two from Col. Tom Parker’s house. WENO Radio, no longer there, a little radio station, played the record. The phone lines lit up, and my whole life was turned upside down [laughs].
I know before then you were already a well-accomplished songwriter; was that your first hit as a performer?
As a singer, yes. First and foremost I am a songwriter. That is how I got into the business, writing songs, and I have written songs for everybody and his uncle and still actively doing it. I am currently writing a new theme song for a TV show, a reality show called “Making Tracks.”
On August 12th there will be a new Elvis stamp coming out; will you be getting one for your collection?
Anything that they put out on Elvis I get because I am Elvis’s biggest fan. As a matter of fact last night I was with Elvis’s first girlfriend June Jaunico. She first met Elvis here in Buloxi, Mississippi [where Ronnie was performing] in 1955 at Keisler Air Force Base, where he was performing. They went on a date and they dated for almost three years. Elvis asked her to marry him, but then she saw him with a couple of showgirls and that kind of did that in. But anyway she still lives here and is such a wonderful friend of mine and who I have got to know over the years. And I have a ghost writer who is writing an autobiography on me so I came down here specifically to put Elvis’s first girlfriend in my book because she has an interesting life.
Did you ever get to meet Elvis Presley, yourself?
Is it true when you do Elvis Presley tribute shows you use Elvis Presley’s actual band members?
I do, I have used different ones at different times. For years I had the Jordanaires on my shows. When we would do the Elvis Presley story sometimes I would use The Stamps. I have also used DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore as much as I could. Ray Walker, Jordan Stoker — all of those folks — James Burton, and it is always fun to get up and sing Elvis’s music.
You are also a really talented artist, and you painted ” The Reflection of a King.” Could you discuss that with us please?
What’s cool about that picture, and some people may not know it, but when Elvis was born as a kid he had natural blonde hair.
He was, and he was born a twin. Imagine if the world had experienced two Elvis Presleys.
That’s one thing I am comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit: Elvis was a really hand
some cat wasn’t he?
[laughs] Yeah, me too. Elvis just had the whole package.