|Ral Donner, In the Footsteps of Elvis|
Elvis Presley trumpeted the merger of country music and rhythm 'n' blues as the first nationally known rockabilly singer, he also set a standard that inevitably reduced all future singers in that style to comparative failures. Presley's breakthrough in 1956 opened the door for hundreds of male singers in the rock 'n' roll "mould" and nearly all would be compared to Ol' Swivel Hips at some point in their career. Ral Donner set a standard of his own, too - he was the ultimate Elvis imitator, twenty years ahead of his time. As scores of new young male singers were being pushed as the "next new sensation" in the late '50s, Ral openly idolized Presley and did everything he could to mirror the King, going so far as to utilize his songs, his vocal mannerisms and even his songwriters. Born in Chicago in 1943, Ral was singing in a church choir at ten and participating in amateur talent contests throughout his early teens. While still in high school (he would graduate a few months before his first album release!), he formed his first group, The Rockin' Five, and with some exposure on local television in Chicago, garnered enough initial acclaim to earn a spot on a bill with Sammy Davis Jr. Appearances on Alan Freed's "Big Beat" TV show and at New York's famed Apollo Theatre were under his belt before he turned 18.
By 1959, Donner had formed a second group, The Gents, and with them recorded a demo of "Good Golly Miss Molly". He also cut two solo recordings that year in Memphis and licensed them to the local Scottie label for release. In spite of a small tour of the South with Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones (of "Black Slacks" fame) the record failed to sell. With Presley an inspiration from the beginning, Donner cut a demo of an Elvis LP cut called "Girl Of My Best Friend". When the demo was played for local producers Jan Hutchins and Prewit Rose, they suggested that he re-cut the song in a "real" studio. The idea of covering a Presley song seemed absurd at the time, but Elvis', recording had been successfully released as a single in England, and RCA had failed to issue it that way in the U.S. (The next few years would witness other attempts to "cover" Elvis.
Ral Donner's 1959-1962 recordings have been re-issued on: