The 13th annual Branson Elvis Festival is only a few days away, and this year, the folks at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater and Up Close Concerts have partnered to bring country music star Ronnie McDowell to town for two special concerts as part of the four-day event. The entertainer will headline his “Tribute to the King” show Thursday night to open the festival, as well as a Sunday gospel show to close it.
“The Branson Elvis Festival is always a huge success, so the opportunity to work with our friends at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater and expand it with the addition of two performances by Ronnie McDowell is going to be a lot of fun,” Up Close Concerts Owner and booker Bob Cannella said. “Of course, his Thursday show will be spectacular, but the one we’re most excited about is his gospel show on Sunday morning.”
“We know Elvis Presley fans and Ronnie McDowell fans will have a great time at the festival.”
In addition to being responsible for many of his own hits, McDowell is also known for providing the singing voice for Presley. His first gig voicing “The King” came in the 1979, John Carpenter-directed TV movie “Elvis,” which starred Kurt Russell, followed by “Elvis And Me,” the ABC TV series about the early years of Presley’s career, “Elvis,” and the 1997 Showtime original film “Elvis Meets Nixon.”
According to McDowell, his Thursday night show, called “Tribute to The King,” will see him sing his biggest country hits, as well as the Presley tunes he performed in the movies and TV shows.
“I’m doing a lot of the songs I did in the movies,” McDowell said. “I’ll start with a couple of 50s songs, then the early and mid-60s, and sort of go through Elvis’ career. Then I’ll sprinkle in a couple of my tunes here and there, you know.”
The gospel show Sunday morning will feature some of McDowell’s original gospel tunes and more.
“I’m going to do some of my favorites growing up, like my all-time favorite, ‘How Great Thou Art,’” he said. “Also ‘If We Never Meet Again,’ ‘Peace in the Valley,’ and a lot of songs I just love and I hope the folks will remember from growing up.”
McDowell was born and raised in Tennessee, and was 27 when Presley died in 1977. Shortly after hearing the news, he set his sights on Memphis.
“I had never seen Elvis before, and since I couldn’t see him in concert, I decided to go see him at Graceland for the viewing,” he said.
That evening, McDowell started jotting down lyrics to what would become his first hit song, “The King is Gone.” The next day, he flew to Memphis and waited in line for more than nine hours to enter the grounds of Graceland, only to be turned away a mere 20 feet from the gates.
A somewhat dejected McDowell then returned to Nashville and called a friend named Lee Morgan, who wanted to do an Elvis tribute. According to McDowell, Morgan sang a few lyrics he had written, then McDowell sang his lyrics.
Feeling like they were on to something, the duo joined forces to write “The King Is Gone.”
McDowell recorded the song the following day, and they began taking it to local radio stations.
The song soon took off, gaining airplay on country and pop radio stations across the United States and around the world. To date, McDowell’s tribute to Presley has sold more than 6 million copies.
“I wish I could have a song like that every six months,” McDowell said with a laugh.
Shortly after “The King is Gone” hit the charts, McDowell was asked to perform on “American Bandstand.” While he was there, Dick Clark asked McDowell if he’d be the voice of Elvis in a TV movie starring Kurt Russell.
In all, McDowell sang 38 songs on the soundtrack for the TV movie “Elvis.” Even though he would always have a close connection to Presley, McDowell became a successful singer in his own right.
He scored a second hit with “I Love You, I Love You, I Love You” in 1979 and was signed by Epic Records. Over the next seven years, McDowell was a fixture on the charts. He snagged his first No. 1 hit with “Older Women,” which was followed by his second chart topper, “You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation.”
Every McDowell single released by Epic, sans one, became a Top 10 hit, including “Watching Girls Go By,” “You Made A Wanted Man Of Me,” “Wandering Eyes,” “All Tied Up” and “In A New York Minute.”
To date, McDowell has scored over 30 top ten records.
The Thursday night show kicks off the 13th annual Branson Elvis Festival, which also features a special “Legends in Concert” show Friday at 8 p.m., followed by “The Dean Z Show” at 10:45 p.m., the opening of the Elvis Vendor Village at 9 a.m., followed by the Youth Tribute Artist Showcase at 10:30 a.m.
The main event of the festival, the Branson leg of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, begins at 7 p.m. Saturday. More than a dozen competitors from all over the world will show up for the chance to capture the crown.
The fact McDowell is a part of this event honoring Presley isn’t lost on him.
“If anybody owes a debt of gratitude to Elvis Presley, it’s Ronnie McDowell,” he said. “I think it’s so cool that these boys carry on Elvis’ legacy, and they all do it with pride and heartfelt emotion because they all love Elvis. They aren’t doing for the money, they’re doing it because they love Elvis.”
In addition to being a singer and songwriter, McDowell is also an accomplished painter and author. In fact, many of his paintings are set to be on display at the Elvis Vendor Village. In fact, McDowell said one of his most recent painting is called ‘Patriotic Elvis.”
“The reason I painted that is because I’m a three-term combat veteran from the Vietnam War, and Elvis, at the height of his career in 1958, chose to do the right thing,” McDowell said. “That boy had to be scared to death to leave as the biggest star in the world, with the biggest career in the world, not knowing if he’d even have a career when he came back two years later.
“I have so much respect for him for serving his country, I truly do.”
Some of his artwork is available at ronniemcdowell.com.
Tickets are available at Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater box office, as well as at upclosecomcerts.com.