Ronnie McDowell, Writer of Hit Song
“The King Is Gone,” Talks Elvis

Writer and Entertainment Journalist Josh Belcher - Rocking God's House (Cropped)Elvis Presley passed away August 16, 1977. In honor of his memory, the US Postal Service is commemorating a brand new Elvis Presley stamp on August 12 (my youngest daughter and grandmother’s birthday). It’s remarkable, really: the man is still loved and treasured just as much as when he first set foot on stage.
Enter Ronnie McDowell.
McDowell is one of the greatest singer-songwriters in music, and you might say that it all began with a very clear connection to Elvis. As McDowell’s bio explains from his website:

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.

Besides his own songs, Ronnie is an accomplished songwriter for legendary artists such as George Jones, Faron Young, Porter Waggoner, Tanya Tucker, and Chet Atkins, to name a few.
But it was “The King is Gone” that got him on TV. Dick Clarke personally invited McDowell to perform the song on American Bandstand, and this led to Ronnie working with Dick Clark again when Clark produced a television movie with Kurt Russell portraying Elvis. Clark had Ronnie, who has a keen similarity to Elvis Presley’s voice, record 36 songs for the movie’s soundtrack. He was also invited by Priscilla Presley, Elvis’s wife, to lend his vocal talents to the ABC television series “Elvis,” and then again in a 1997 Showtime Special “Elvis meets Nixon.”
Besides writing music, McDowell is also working hard to preserve Elvis’s legacy. Ronnie, who is an accomplished painter has painted works like “Reflection of a King” — a truly remarkable artwork that shows a young blonde Elvis, guitar in hand, practicing and looking in the mirror as his adult self is pictured, and the young Elvis sees a glimpse of the life and legacy that is to come. You can get a print at Graceland or visit or Amazon.

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].

Ronnie McDowell Promo At Rocking Gods HouseI 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?

Never laid eyes on Elvis. I was always working in clubs. I had a top 40 band at the time of his demise, and I had been working six nights a week and five shows a night for years, and whenever he came around I said to myself like everybody else, “Oh, I’ll see him later,” well later never came.

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?

Well, I woke up one day, and a painting to me is like a song. They just come to you out of the blue — the idea. I  woke up one morning, and I literally saw that painting — Elvis at 10 years old in the little house he was born in, looking in the mirror and seeing his reflection looking back at him — and I did that painting, and they sell prints at Graceland, also at the little house Elvis was born in and also at the Audubon house, the house he had in Memphis before Graceland. I never knew when I did the painting it would wind up there.

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.

Yeah, you know, like me, when Elvis was a kid he was fair-headed, and also like me Elvis’s hair got darker when he got older. And Elvis sure was a good-looking kid wasn’t he?

He was, and he was born a twin. Imagine if the world had experienced two Elvis Presleys.

Yeah, that would have been something. As a matter of fact, Elvis’s girlfriend June Juanico, she said when she first saw Elvis, when he walked out to perform at the air force base, that he was the prettiest human that she had ever seen in her life [laughs]. She said he was too pretty to be a guy [laughs].

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.