The Story and Music of Joe Dowell


Introduction to Joe Dowell

Joe Dowell (born in 1940 in Bloomington, Indiana) is a former pop singer from the 60s music scene. From Indiana, Dowell and his family moved to Bloomington, Illinois, when he was younger. Dowell got signed to Mercury Records’ subsidiary Smash Records in the early 1960s. His biggest hit single was his cover of Elvis Presley’s “Wooden Heart” which had been a hit in Europe for “The King” but wasn’t released yet in the United States until 1964. Dowell’s other charting singles were “The Bridge of Love,” “A Kiss for Christmas,” and “Little Red Rented Rowboat” (another Top 40 hit). Dowell had wanted to write songs, but because of contractual obligations, he was only made to sing material written for him by Mercury. He was later sacked by the label due to his own conflicts with his management, and from that he ultimately gave up music. He later launched a successful career in the field of radio, and later became a spokesman for banks and other financial institutions.

Early life

Best remembered by his version of “Wooden Heart,” Joe Dowell was born in Bloomington, Indiana on January 20, 1940. Young Dowell relocated to Bloomington, Illinois with his family. He had his first performance when he joined a ninth grade talent show and eventually. He was in his senior year in college when he recorded his first release, “Wooden Heart.”

Dowell’s success with “Wooden Heart”

In 1961, Dowell had his first recording session with his cover of “Wooden Heart,” an Elvis Presley original. Released on Smash Records (Mercury subsidiary) and recorded with organist Ray Stevens, “Wooden Heart” became a phenomenal success, peaking at #1 on the US Billboard charts where it enjoyed its stay for ninety days. It was also a chart-topper in the adult-contemporary charts as well. The single sold over one million copies and earned a gold disc award. Presley’s original version broke through across Europe but it wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1964.

Dowell’s retirement in the business

A couple of lesser hits followed in the late of 1961, (“The Bridge of Love,” #50 pop and “A Kiss for Christmas,” #110 pop) however, he had his sophomore hit in 1962 with “Little Red Rented Rowboat” which reached #23 on the Billboard pop charts. In the midst of his career, Dowell wanted to issue his own compositions but he was only obliged to sing the material owned by Mercury. He continued to dispute with Mercury until he was abandoned by the label. Dowell continued to release singles for a variety of labels but he didn’t meet the success he had before. Dowell finally decided to quit making music.

On the other hand, Dowell did extremely well outside the music business. He established a radio commercial production company and became an outstanding spokesperson for banks and other financial institutions.

Dowell also released a bicentennial EP for the Boy Scouts of America and radio jingles. A compilation of Dowell’s previously unreleased material was later issued by Bear Family Records.

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