Late 1950's photo
Ral with Bobby Rydell
1961 or 1962
Fontana Promo Photo
February or March 1965
Promo Photo 1961
Ral Donner and Terry Wilson in Chicago
March 28, 1972
With two hit singles under his belt it was high time for an album. Within a week Ral Donner and his Starfires recorded 16 songs, the session was produced by teenage heart throb Steve Alaimo. The 14 track album was called "Takin' Care Of Business" and was released in 1961 as Gone LP 5012. At the same time Gone Records put another single on the market ("Please Don't Go" / "I Didn't Figure On Him") which was not as successful as originally thought. His next 45, "She's Everything" did a lot better and was available with three different Flipsides ("Because We're Young"), "Will You Love Me In Heaven" and Elvis's personal favorite by Ral called " (What A Sad Way) To Love Someone". The Conway Twitty inspired "She's Everything" was to be Ral's last hit, the song went straight to the U.S. Top 20. When the moody " What A Sad Way" didn't make the charts, an argument between Ral and George Goldner about financial issues led to the split between them. The last regular 45 came onto the market in 1962, the previously withdrawn " To Love" backed with "Sweetheart" (Gone 5133). In 1962 and 1963 he recorded four 45's for Frank Sinatra's Reprise Records, "Run Little Linda" and "I Got Burned". They are outstanding, fantastic rockers! As you all know, the early 60's were not the best decade for commercial, successful, proper Rock N' Roll. So, the records did not sell too well. Which really was a shame. After Reprise he recorded for a lot of record labels like Fontana, Red Bird, Smash, Sunlight and Thunder but nothing came near to his successful early years. Luck seemed to come back when a film company offered him to take part in the 1981 Elvis documentary "This Is Elvis" where he acted as Elvis's voice. Many people out there only saw Ral as a kind of Elvis impersonator, they did not appreciate him for his own part in Rock N' Roll history which really is a shame. Ral died of lung cancer on April 6, 1984 and left behind his beloved wife Linda and his sons Erik and Ral Jr. A great big THANK YOU goes to Mr. Terry Wilson for his very much appreciated help! If you would like to read more about this great Rockin' artist check out Terry's top notch website:
Story by DJ Wildgoner
Photo credits: Terry Wilson, Ral Donner Jr., Al Sears and Don Lance. Thanks a bunch!
WLOF live radio broadcast in 1959
Live at the Jim Lounsbury record hop in 1961
In 1959, Ral formed a new band, the "Gents" and recorded a demo of "Good Golly Miss Molly" which did nothing for the band. His first real 45 was recorcded in Memphis for the little Scottie label. The songs were " Tell Me Why / That's Allright With Me" (Scottie 1310). Ral had high hopes for this record because at this time he toured with the well known Joe Bennett & The Sparkletones (of "Black Slacks" fame). The tour went very well but the 45 did not give him the needed commercial success. Early in 1960, the two producers, Jan Hutchins and Prewit Rose had a fantastic idea. One of Ral's demo tapes, " The Girl Of My Best Friend" had recently been recorded by Elvis for one of his albums. The song was a hit for Elvis in England but there wasn't even a 45 release planned in The States. So why not record the song with Ral for a 45 release? Ral really liked the idea and formed his new backing band, the great Starfires! They went to the Gloria Fox Studio in Miami, Fl and recorded four songs. Two of those, "Girl Of My Best Friend" / "It's Been A Long, Long Time" came out George Goldner's Gone label. The record sold like hot cakes and Ral now had his first hit even before the contract with the Gone label was signed. The song went to the Top 20. Many people wondered, if Ral was a real artist and not an alter ego for Elvis who wanted to break away from RCA Records and recorded the song again under a different name.
George Goldner was a real tough businessman who knew of Ral's massive potential. He knew that there had to be another hit single for Ral as soon as possible. He went for "To Love / And Then" (Gone 5108) but noticed very early after the release, that "To Love" was not really suited as another chart breaker because it sounded too much like " No More" with it's "La Paloma" theme. So he decided to withdraw the 45 from the market and came up with another one : "You Don't Know What You've Got (Until You Lose It) / So Close To Heaven". The catalog number by the way was the same one as the withdrawn 45 (Gone 5108). " You Don't Know" was the second big hit for Ral and reached the number 4 spot in the U.S. charts in August 1961. It also was a hit in the U.K. on a lovely red Parlophone 45 (R4820). It went to place 25 in September 1961.
Ral Donner with Jerry Lee Lewis
(show included Buddy Holly & Crickets with others)
Ral Donner with Chuck Berry, Ral was put on this bill at the age of 15 years old
Ral Donner really had it all: he was a very handsome young man, was mentored by Mr. Alan Freed himself and his voice was really second to none in the showbiz. His only "problem" was the fact, that he sounded exactly like Elvis Presley. When I heard Ral singing "I Got Burned" on the local radio back in the early 80's, I was absolutely sure that this song was a tune by Elvis, which I hadn't heard before. In the early 60's there was even a rumor, that the name Ral Donner was in fact an alter ego for Elvis Presley recording under a different name for a different label.
Ral was born in Chicago, Illinois as Ralph Stuart Emanuel Donner on February 10, 1943. He had two brothers and a sister. As a kid he loved the religious songs which he heard in church. The family was also very musical and they sang and played together on many occasions. When Elvis played a gig in Chicago in 1957, fourteen year old Ral simply was blown away watching Elvis move and sing. From that day on he tried to copy Elvis as best he could, his voice, his mannerism, his dressing style, everything. He also went to many talent contests in his area and soon after, he formed his first band, the "Rockin' Five". Together with them he recorded an acetate ( or lacquer) of "Miss Ann / Oh Boy" on January 3, 1959. The kids in the area really dug the band and they were booked on many occassions. They even made it to the local television stations and Alan Freed's legendary "Big Beat Show"! All went well for the boys so the time was right to find a proper record label.