Joe Dowell, who scored a #1 US pop hit with "Wooden Heart" in 1961, released a number of obscure records after being dropped by Smash Records just two years later, but his rarest album isn't Joe Dowell Sings Folk Songs, the private-label album from 1964 that was pressed in an edition of 500, or Of Earth & Heaven, his self-released inspirational CD. His rarest album is BGA Benefit Concert, a live recording of a program he performed as a fundraiser for Bloomington Grove Academy in Bloomington, Illinois, in October 2002.
I don't know anything about Bloomington Grove Academy other than that it is allegedly haunted. The live album didn't receive a retail release and doesn't even have a proper cover; it's just a CD-R with a paper label that Joe gave away to a small number of people. Joe gave me the copy above when I interviewed him for the liner notes of the Bear Family CD Wooden Heart.
In the Bloomington Grove Academy concert, Dowell performs variously with live instrumental accompaniment and pre-recorded instrumental backing tracks and was joined by his wife and daughters on vocals on some songs. A guest singer, Ronnie Jones, sings "Old Man River" and possibly "It's More Than a Tattered Flag," which is sung by someone other than Joe. One of Joe's daughters sings "I Got the Sun in the Morning" solo. The second half of the concert includes instrumental renditions of a piece by Moritz Moszkowski, Santo & Johnny's dreamy guitar instrumental "Sleepwalk," and the country standard "Steel Guitar Rag."
The only songs in the program that Joe had recorded before are "Wooden Heart" and "Jamaica Farewell," the latter of which he included on his 1964 folk album. Most of the songs are pop and folk standards, including an interpretation of Ed Ames' hit "My Cup Runneth Over." When I interviewed Joe, he told me that he wished Smash Records had allowed him to become an easy-listening vocalist like Ames instead of positioning him as a teen idol, which Joe believed sabotaged his career aspirations. He really disliked the label "teen idol."
The copy of the CD that Joe gave me has a note on the front that was written by Joe's friend Paul Dunn, a former disk jockey. At the time that we were working on the Bear Family anthology, Joe was lobbying hard for it to include an updated new recording of "Wooden Heart," which he was certain would become a #1 hit all over again and catapult him into the late-night television talk-show circuit. That didn't happen, but the note reflects some of that effort:
Here is a rare copy of Joe Dowell's LIVE Bloomington Grove Academy Fund Raising CD. HIGHLIGHTS of the CD include Joe Dowell singing a great, updated version of "Wooden Heart" with his German wife and two daughters singing on the chorus. I wish that Joe's upcoming Bear Family CD would include a year 2003 version of Joe singing "Wooden Heart" with his family! Cuts #1, 2, 9 and 18 feature Joe doing Frank Sinatra songs with Frank's original orchestral backgrounds. Joe's voice really comes through strong on cuts #5, 7 and 10. You will also enjoy guest artist Ronnie Jones doing an a capella version of Showboat's "Old Man River"!
For those who would like to experience this rare concert program and hear what Joe sounded like 40 years after "Wooden Heart" went to #1, I uploaded most of the tracks to YouTube, and they can be heard below.