One song that literally stopped the show was a moving rendition of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA. The song, originally a hit in the ‘90's, re-surfaced after the events of September 11, 2001. The Jordanaires sang an adapted version of this song for their Canadian audience, combining both US and Canadian content, mentioning Canadian place names such as Orillia, North Bay, St. John’s and closing with “God Bless the USA and Canada” -- the audience started cheering mid-way through the song and by the end were on their feet giving the Jordanaires and the song a long standing ovation (more on this in the “Conversation with Ray Walker”).

After the audience took their seats again, it was time for more songs by Ronnie McDowell and the Jordanaires with Scotty, DJ, and Bob Moore.

The Elvis Presley Story, as its name suggests, takes the audience on a journey down memory lane, covering songs from Elvis’ musical career -- from the '50's to the '70's. In addition to starring the multi-talented singer/songwriter/artist, Ronnie McDowell, the show features musicians and singers who contributed so much to Elvis’ career and who “made the music” -- guitarist, Scotty Moore, drummer DJ Fontana and the Jordanaires – history makers and legends all! The showband also included Bob Moore, filling in for the weekend as the standup bass player, Steve Shepherd on keyboards, Ronnie’s son, Ronnie Dean McDowell on the second set of drums, and guitarist Kevin Woods.

Ronnie McDowell needs no introduction to Elvis fans in North America. Ronnie, a Tennessee native, is a long-time Elvis fan himself. He started singing at an early age, and continued throughout his school years and three tours of Vietnam, but he first gained national prominence in l977 when he penned his hit tribute song, The King is Gone, two days after Elvis’ death. Within a week, it had shot to the top of the charts. He received a call from Dick Clark shortly thereafter, appeared on American Bandstand, and was asked if he would be the voice of Elvis in a movie starring Kurt Russell -- and that was just the beginning! Ronnie has been the “voice of Elvis” in several movies and EPE productions, has been on stage at Elvis the Concert, has performed with many of Elvis’ original musicians over the years and has recorded tribute CD’s of Elvis songs. In addition, he is a talented singer in his own right (who has had million sellers such as Older Women) and a songwriter who writes his own songs and songs for the likes of George Jones, George Strait and LeAnn Rimes (see “Fan Section”). He has also been featured in commercials, on TV...and you can hear him again singing Devil in Disguise for the ABC TV series, Karen Sisco. As if that wasn’t enough, Ronnie is also a gifted painter and artist whose prints are in high demand. [To read more about Ronnie McDowell and the talented cast of performers, check out all the websites listed below.]

The Elvis Presley Story opened with the instruments set on stage amid a surrealistic swirl of blue lights......for some reason this made me think of Sun Studio at night time, and only heightened my anticipation for the show that was about to begin. And, begin it did, with Scotty, DJ and Bob Moore appearing on stage to the sweet sounds of Mystery Train sung by Ronnie Dean, followed by Ronnie McDowell’s entrance and three of those unforgettable early songs -- all Sun Studio hits from l954/55 -- That’s Alright Mama, Blue Moon of Kentucky and My Baby Left Me (Scotty’s “list” was a little different each night). We also heard more songs from this era including Baby Let’s Play House, which was the very first song that Ronnie McDowell remembers hearing Elvis sing on the Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey show, and I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone.

During this segment, each of the band members was introduced. First up was Scotty Moore, from Humboldt, Tennessee. Scotty, a truly legendary Hall of Famer, was originally a member of The Starlite Wranglers. He recognized Elvis’ talent and became his first manager in the days when Scotty, Elvis and Bill Black were known as The Blue Moon Boys. Scotty first recorded with Elvis in l954 and was with him, off and on, until the ‘68 Comeback Special. In the years since, he has worked with many well-known artists. His is “the guitar that changed the world” . Scotty Moore is admired and respected by musicians world wide...and, along with DJ Fontana, is my “music hero.” This was the first time Scotty had performed in Canada since he came to Ottawa/Toronto/Vancouver with Elvis in l957, and he had a wonderful time...commenting that he had forgotten how beautiful our countryside is and on our enthusiastic audiences.

DJ Fontana, originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, is, of course, the legendary drummer and Hall of Famer who worked with Elvis for l4 years, starting in l955. He truly was the “beat behind the King.” Like Scotty, DJ is admired and respected by several generations of musicians and has worked with many well-known artists. DJ has also been on ETARadio – you can hear DJ and read about his career in the live interview we featured recently. DJ is always a fan favourite and it was great to see him yet once again.

Bob Moore, from Nashville, on standup bass, replaced Bill Black in 1958 and worked on Elvis’ recording sessions until l966. Bob has performed on many, many million selling songs in the past 40 years and, in addition to working with Elvis, he worked with Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, George Jones, and Rick Nelson -- to name only a few.

After the introductions, the music continued... and on we went to l956 and one of the first songs Elvis recorded at the RCA studios in Nashville --
Heartbreak Hotel – followed by a lively rendition of Blue Suede Shoes which had the audience clapping and singing along.

All these songs from Elvis’ early years highlighted the talents of Scotty Moore on guitar, DJ Fontana on drums, and Bob Moore taking Bill Black’s place on standup bass. To watch the musicians who worked with Elvis, and to hear those songs sung so well by Ronnie McDowell, was a genuine thrill and one could only imagine what it would have been like to have seen these legendary performers back in the early days -- making the music that has stood the test of time and lasted through several generations.

After a standing ovation and cries of “more,” the band and the singers came back on stage, and the audience converged at the front of the stage to hear some favourite “encore songs”....It’s Now or Never, One Night With You, and the title song from Elvis’ l958 movie, King Creole, which highlighted, one more time, the talents of the legendary Scotty Moore (the order of songs was a little different each night).

These were two wonderful concerts...even in a large theatre, playing to a capacity crowd of over 5,000 people, this highly professional, quality show managed to be “homey,” and “family-like,” -- almost like a jam session. It captured the audience’s full attention from start to finish and at the same time it was a true tribute to Elvis’ music and to the men who made it happen and are still carrying it on. The focus was on the
music and the songs and the legacy that Elvis and his musicians have left.... an “Elvis story” beautifully woven by Ronnie McDowell, Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, and the Jordanaires.

And it didn’t end there! As the audience members left the theatre, they lined up in droves in the autograph line --.both nights the lines were two hours long. These were solid audiences of knowledgeable Elvis fans and Ronnie McDowell fans, many of whom had traveled long distances, who were there to meet and greet their “heroes” -- and they weren’t disappointed. The performers signed autographs, talked to the fans, posed for photos, and remained cheerful and friendly until the very last fan had “left the building.” [Read more about the stories of some of these fans in the “Fan Section.”]

At this point, the band members took a break and out came the Jordanaires in turquoise blazers which almost matched the brilliant aquamarine floor-to-ceiling backdrop behind them. Again, the setting was almost surreal....even Ronnie McDowell commented it was a bit like being in the movie “Loving You.” The legendary Jordanaires need no introduction either. They have been featured on ETARadio in interviews and backing up some of our talented ETA’s. They are members of the Rockabilly, Country, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Gospel Halls of Fame and they have worked with many, many other artists (George Jones, Patsy Cline and Rick Nelson to name only a few). They have backed Ronnie McDowell, too, on 4 of his hit records , and they have had 26 billion sales!

This set was the Jordanaires’...and here we heard a sampling of those marvelous songs on which they backed Elvis. From l956, we heard Don’t Be Cruel (the first Elvis record to feature all four Jordanaires), I Was the One, and Hound Dog (the version that Scotty, DJ and Elvis had heard Freddy Bell and the Bellboys sing at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas..and which also included the Jordanaires’ unique “handclaps”). Following this was an a capella version of Dig a Little Deeper and then on to the l960's with a beautiful rendition of Can’t Help Falling in Love...which received a huge audience response and which the Jordanaires said was their favourite out of all the songs they had recorded with Elvis (mine too!).

Elvis first heard the Jordanaires on the Grand Old Opry...and they took us back in time to sing a couple of the gospel songs that Elvis would have listened to and sung with his parents in church -- Bear Me Away on Your Snowy Wings and the well known Swing Down Sweet Chariot.

Ronnie, a versatile singer, sang a few “non-Elvis” songs too -- a well-received first few lines of Hank Williams, I’m Movin’ On, and his own smash hit, Older Women -- along with full versions of Traveling Man and Crazy...songs that the Jordanaires and Bob Moore had worked on with Rick Nelson and Patsy Cline. Ronnie’s version of Crazy was every bit as good as Patsy’s and, as he said, “ Just imagine if Elvis had recorded this.”

One noticeable feature of Ronnie’s show is that he interacts so well with all the performers and with the audience. Ronnie is just great with humourous comebacks and impromptu repartee and quickly endears himself to old and new fans alike. Both nights, Ronnie literally jumped into the audience and selected an “Elvis fan” at random..asking the fan if he wanted to sing a favourite Elvis song along with the cast of performers on stage and with Ronnie himself. Well, I don’t know if he always picks such amazing singers, but “Steve from Bowmanville” who sang Wonder of You on Friday night and “Alex from Newmarket” who sang My Way on Saturday night, were instant hits with the audience. Alex, who is a member of the Canadian chapter of the Love for Elvis Fan Club, received a standing ovation from the sold out crowd of 5,200 people who were bowled over by his singing (read about Alex’s experience in the “Fan Section”).

Following the audience participation, we heard a moving rendition by the Jordanaires of How Great Thou Art, first recorded by Elvis in l966 (a live version recorded in l974 was the version that won Elvis his third Grammy award). And all too soon, the show moved to its finale with Ronnie McDowell singing the powerful Hurt, recorded by Elvis in l976.

In an interview that we ran with Ray Walker of the Jordanaires recently, he mentioned he wishes that Elvis Presley had lived long enough to know how truly loved he was. For this reason, it’s nice to know that Scotty Moore, DJ Fontana, and the Jordanaires have “lived long enough” to play to audiences like these ones, and to know how loved, admired, and respected they are. They will always hold a special place in the hearts of Elvis fans. Thanks to Ronnie McDowell for putting this showcase together and for bringing his own very considerable talents to Ontario, Canada. We hope you will ALL come back soon!

Ronnie McDowell official site
Ronnie McDowell Fan site
Scotty Moore
DJ Fontana
The Jordanaires

Bob Moore

Photo by Doug Ferich

Elvis Tribute Artists Radio

Ronnie McDowell's son, Ronnie Dean, helping out during the two-hour long autograph line after the show.

For more information, check out the following websites: