1962 Joe Dowell – Little Red Rented Rowboat
Elvis Presley included an old German folksong called Muss i denn on the soundtrack of his film GI Blues in 1961. The song’s words and music on the single were credited to Bert Kaempfert, Kay Twomey, Ben Weisman, and Fred Wise. Elvis sang most of the song in English and a few verses in German. While RCA never released the single in the US, the re-titled Wooden Heart reached #1 in the UK and at least six other countries.
Joe Dowell was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and grew up in Bloomington, Illinois. He began singing and playing guitar while still in high school and had his first hit record while still a senior in college.
Joe signed a recording contract with Mercury Records, and they assigned him to their new Smash record label. Producer Shelby Singleton had Joe record a cover of Wooden Heart. Newcomer Ray Stevens, who had been recording singles for nearly four years without reaching the charts, played organ on the record. The single was the first one for both Joe and Smash records, and it reached #1 on the US Hot 100 in 1961.
Ray finally had a hit single later that year when Jeremiah Peabody’s Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills got up to #35 on the Hot 100. That song has the longest title of any non-medley single to reach the top forty.
Joe’s next single was The Bridge Of Love. Perhaps because the song started and ended in a foreign language, it peaked at a disappointing #50. The record fared better on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it reached the top ten. The record company let Joe put Just Love Me, a song he had written, on the B-side.
His third single, Little Red Rented Rowboat, reached #23 in 1962. It was to be his last visit to the charts.
Joe’s record label refused to let him record songs he wrote himself on his album and required him to record simple cover versions of songs that Mercury Records owned. When Joe objected to that restriction, the label dropped him.
Joe eventually abandoned his recording career and started a successful production company to make commercials. One commercial jingle he recorded was for Jim Mittan, The Carpet Man.
He found the most success recording ads for banks and other financial institutions. One example of those promotions was a promotional album where Joe recorded several folk songs (including Wooden Heart).
Joe suffered a heart attack and died in 2004.
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