The end of Elvis was the beginning of Ronnie McDowell’s rise to country music stardom.
Presley’s death on Aug. 16, 1977 became a major turning point for McDowell, who plays the Orange Blossom Opry, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. It’s located at 16439 SE 138th Terrace in Weirsdale, just outside The Villages.
McDowell released a single, “The King Is Gone,” in 1977. It has sold over 5 million records sand established McDowell as a musical force. Until then, he had been an established songwriter, but did little on stage.
“You know, every song any artist puts out, nobody really knows what’s going to happen,” McDowell told the website rockingodshouse.com “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, Tenn. Ironically, it was just a block or two from Colonel Tom Parker’s house.
“(The) little radio station played the record. The phone lines lit up, and my whole life was turned upside down.”
McDowell’s vocal style is close to Elvis. That’s why Dick Clark hired him to do the Elvis’ vocals for the movie, “Elvis and Me,” starring Kurt Russell.
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Priscilla Presley, Elvis’s wife, signed McDowell to do the vocals for “Elvis,” an ABC television series. McDowell also did songs for another TV show, “Elvis;” and he appeared in the Showtime Special “Elvis meets Nixon.”
McDowell even played with Scotty Moore and D.J. Fontana, original members of Elvis’ band. He also sang with the Jordanaires, Presley’s first back-up singers.
McDowell, 68, has done a lot more than sing Elvis during a career that has lasted nearly a half-century. He is a Vietnam veteran who grew up in Portland, Tenn. His list of more than 30 country top-10 hits includes: “Older Woman,” “You’re Going to Ruin My Reputation,” “You Made a Wanted Man Out of Me.” He recorded “It’s Only Make Believe” with Conway Twitty and teamed with Jerry Lee Lewis on “You’re Never Too Old to Rock’N’ Roll.”
But it’s Elvis Presley that people associate with Ronnie McDowell and that’s all right with him.
“Elvis is always going to be around,” McDowell once said.