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Sunday, 10 February 2013

Ral Donner born 10 February 1943

Ral Donner (born Ralph Stuart Donner) (February 10, 1943 – April 6, 1984) was an early American rock and roll musician. He scored several pop hits in the US in the early 1960s, and had a voice similar to Elvis Presley's. His best known song is his 1961 top ten hit, "You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It)".

He started singing in church choirs as a boy, and by his early teens was a regular competitor in local talent contests. He
organized his two groups -- the Rockin' Five and then the Gents -- while still in his teens. His work with the Rockin' Five in his high school days was good enough to get them on television in Chicago, even earning a spot alongside Sammy Davis Jr. on one show. At 17, he broke through to Alan Freed's Big Beat show and, in 1959, appeared at the Apollo Theatre in New York. That same year, he cut a demo with his new group, the Gents, got a pair of sides out on a small label, and got to tour with the legendary South Carolina rockabilly band the Sparkletones.

Donner was doing little better than treading water
professionally, however, until a pair of Chicago producers heard his demo of "The Girl of My Best Friend," a song that Elvis Presley sang on his LP Elvis Is Back. The Presley side had been issued successfully as a single by RCA in England, but in America it was only available on the album. With a new band called the Starfires backing him up, "The Girl of My Best Friend" was re-recorded and licensed to Gone Records, the New York-based label founded by George Goldner. Suddenly, Ral Donner had a national Top 20 hit, and he sounded so much like Presley that some members of the public, utterly unfamiliar with Donner, wanted to know if he actually was Elvis Presley.

This coverage in the fan magazines, though hardly serious by today's standards, was enough to keep Donner in the public spotlight while Goldner and Gone Records searched for a follow-up single, which they got in the summer of 1961 with "You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It)," which peaked at number four. 


Donner enjoyed another pair of hits, "Please Don't Go" and "She's Everything," over the next year, but by the spring of 1962, hit days in the Top 40 were behind him. He later left Gone Records to sign with Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records (a surprising opportunity, given that Sinatra had founded the label specifically to release his kind of music, which didn't include rock & roll). By 1965, he was at Red Bird Records, Goldner's latest music business venture, but Donner's days as a rock & roll contender were over.

Red Bird folded soon after he rejoined Goldner's stable and Donner was never able to return to the charts. By the '70s, he was working in music only part-time and recording very 
sporadically for small labels. It took Presley's death in 1977 to revive interest in Donner's work; although he was always more dignified, and never as grotesque as the burgeoning group of overt visual Elvis imitators who began manifesting themselves soon after the singer's death, his stylistic link with Presley in his prime brought him new attention and more work than he had seen in years. 

Perhaps the final irony -- one hesitates to say indignity, since Donner truly admired Presley -- came when he was chosen to do the vocal impersonation of Presley for the narration in the 1981 documentary This Is Elvis. Still, in a way, little could have been sadder -- after 20 years in music, he'd not only failed to escape Presley's shadow but had become part of its manifestation in popular culture. He died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 41, an anomaly in music history and a footnote in popular culture. (info mainly AMG)

Not much video footage of Ral, but I did find this...

Ral Donner - Twist Cindy Twist by Wrestlegameshow


boppinbob said...

Go here for 2CD set "The Complete Ral Donner" 1959-1962

boppinbob said...
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