Donnie Bowser was the name that country music fans knew him by. But his real name
was Donnie Bowshier; he lamented that he changed the spelling because the disc jockeys
had trouble pronouncing his name correctly.
He was a native of Madison Mills, Ohio, a town southwest of Columbus along route 62,
and really never strayed much from his Ohio roots during his long career.
But his life was not your typical life of a country music singer. When he was just three
years old, he had a polio attack. It may have left him handicapped, and facing the world
from a wheel chair, but that did not deter his musical aspirations.
He grew up in a musical environment. His father, Odes Bowshier, was a fiddle player. His
grandfather, Clifford Bowshier, played the banjo. And undated article in Hillbilly Researcher
notes that he started his musical interests when he was about twelve years old.
In 1950, when he was just thirteen years old, he formed his own band that was known
as the JR Melody Boys. The group included Paul Hopkins on lead guitar, Walt WIlson
on the steel guitar, Charlie Gore on fiddle, Zeke Turner on rhythm guitar along with
his brother, Roger, on the bass.
The JR Melody Boys did the usual personal appearances in the local venues; their popularity
and name came to the attention of the King Record label and earned them a recording contract
in 1953, when Donnie was about 16 years old. They went to Cincinnati, Ohio to do their
first two recordings with King that were released on the Skip record label that King owned.
The vocals were credited to a fellow by the name of Slim Redman.
In April of 1953, the group went back to the King studios and cut another four tunes. One
tune, "Bullfrog Boogie" was credited to Earl Slone and the Melody Boys, but the others
were gave the credits to Donnie Bowshier.
Graham and Pauline Fincher, who wrote the article in Hillbilly Researcher, mused whether
the Charlie Gore that played fiddle for Donnie was the same Charlie Gore that recorded
for King in the 1950s and was on the Midwestern Hayride show over WLW. We might also wonder
if Zeke Turner was another name associated with Donnie in his first group was the same
Zeke Turner on WLW in the 1950s as well. Having those two names in Donnie's first band
when he was just barely a teen-ager may give some indication of his talents at that early age.
Donnie's musical career took another turn in 1955 when he inked a deal with the Dess record
label based in Wilmington, Ohio. Later that same year, he formed a new group known as the
Radio Ranch Boys. That group incldued Donnie on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Homer Wooten
on lead guitar; Sonny Curtis on the steel guitar; Roger Bowshier on bass and Gene Sisco
on vocals and fiddle.
Browsing old fan club newsletters will usually provide a surprise or two from that era
as they would often provide short features on other artists of the day. Some were willing
to give a bit of notice to the up and coming artists trying to get some exposure. One
such newsletter was the Melody Trails newsletter published by Ernest Tubb's fan club.
In their September 1955 issue, they included a short feature on Donnie.
One of the details we learn is the makup of the JR Melody Boys at that time. Paul
Hopkins was his guitar player and was only 17 years old. Ray Knap was his steel guitar
player and was 24 years old while the bass fiddle player was his 16 year old brother,
That 1955 article goes on to note that Donnie and the boys had been on radio station WJEL
in Springfield, Ohio for three years and were associated with radio station WONE
in Dayton through a summer and fall one year. Donnie and the JR Melody Boys also
appeared several times on the Kenny Roberts show.
Early in 1955, the group was in Nashville and were guests on the Ernest Tubb
Midnight Jamboree. Mr. Tubb was well known for giving the younger talents a chance
to be heard and his show over a powerful clear channel radio station allowed
those struggling artists to be heard far and wide. During that visit, he also appeared on Ferlin Husky's
early morning show over WSM as well.
Later on, the band also included a disc jockey by the name of Sam Salyer who was being
heard over WCHO in Washington Court House, Ohio.
That was the group that went into the recording studios in 1956 to record a couple of songs.
One was "Rock and Roll Joys" and the other would become long associated with Donnie, "Stone
Heart". During that session, Gene Sisco did a number called "Grandma Rock and Roll" for Dess
as well. Sam Salyer was listed as co-writer of "Stone Heart" along with Donnie.
Donnie and his band did many personal appearances around Ohio. They also did many appearances
with Hardrock Gunter and the WWVA Jamboree show.
"Stone Heart" caught on with the audiences. So much so, that in 1957, Donnie regrouped
and formed a new band that he named the Stonehearts. That artcile the Finchers wrote noted
that band members included Ronnie Carpenter on guitar; Roger Bowser on bass and seemingly
another one of his brothers, Terry Bowser on drums.
By Donnie Bowshier and Sam Salyer
Oh, they tell me that stone doesn't even have a heart
And it doesn't even hurt when it's broken apart
Oh, I wish I'd never met you
You tore my dream world all apart
I wonder if someday if I'll have a chance
To melt your Stone Heart.
It was at this time he decided to change his stage name to Bowser because the disc jockeys
were not consistent in pronouncing his family name.
Before he was even 21 years old, he found himself doing his own weekly television show
over Channel 22 in Dayton, Ohio.
Donnie and the Stonehearts also found themselves recording for the Sage record label
in 1957. In one session, he re-recorded two tunes, "Stone Heart" and "I Love You Baby".
"Stone Heart" proved to be a popular song and found its way on several other labels
In an undated article for the Sprinfield News-Sun, he tells her about that recording
of "Stone Heart". "I recorded it on Sage and it was so successful that they took me
to Nashville and recorded it on another label. It did well again, so they just kept
on releasing it on other labels."
But in spite of the popularity of his recordings, Donnie decided to leave the music
behind for a while. He grew a bit disenchanted with the obstacles he faced as a handicapped
person in the entertainment industry and on the road.
But he the early 1960s found him back in the music business, recording for the Bamboo label
as well as the JD label otu of Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1965, he did his first album for the Top Tenn label and was recorded at the Megacity Recording
Studio based in Dayton, Ohio.
Again, he seemed to disappear from the recording arena for a long spell until fans heard
him again in 1972 on the Stop record label. This time, his career saw him doing
appearances on the famed WSM Grand Ole Opry in Nashville as well as the Cowtown Jamboree
in Fort Worth in 1970. In fact, he hosted that Cowtown Jamboree show for a time.
He continued to reccord for various other labels during this time.
He continued his career and had another release in 1987 on the Bil-Don label.
The Finchers noted that while his recording of "Stone Heart" sold relatively well, he had
not had a record appear on the charts. But in 1989, that changed when he found himselve
doing a release on the Playback Records label based in Miami, Florida for their Ridgewood
subsidiary. On September 16, 1989, "Falling For You" mad its appearance on the Billboard
Hot Country Singles chart at number 90.
Later on, he went back to the recording studio and cut another album that included a special
guest on a couple tracks, Bobby Bare.
Around 1991, when he was 54 years old, he did a benefit concert at the Springfield
"Freedom Road Center". The show was to raise funds to buy computers for the area
He also did a New Year's eve concert at the Clark County Fairgrounds. Other artists
that appeared on that show were Kent Westberry and the Memory Makers and Freddy Weller,
who had a few hits in country music as well, both as a solo artist and with Paul Revere
and the Raiders. It's interesting to note that ticket prices back then for that New Year's
Eve concert were only $17.50.
Andrew McGinn wrote in his obituary article for Donnie in 2002 that Donnie had
told of one of his memorable moments during an interview a couple of years prior
to that time. He was doing a show with George Jones in Columbus, Ohio. He was
doing the classic tune by Arlie duff, "Y'All Come". It seems he got caught up
in the revelry a song like that will do and well, as he explained it, he titled
the wheels of his wheelchair back, trying to do a 'wheelie'. But he may have put too
much energy in to the move and just like that his chair went straight back
and he was suddenly on his back and being the trouper he was, finished the song
on the floor, flat on his back and his wheels probably spinning right along.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Donnie shared the stage spotlight with many of the stars
of that era including Ernest Tubb, Mel Tillis, Hank Williams, Jr., Bill Anderson,
Jim Ed Brown, Bobby Bare, Johnny Paycheck, Minnie Pearl, Connie Smith, Ray Price,
Faron Young and on the list goes.
Donnie passed away suddenly in 2002 of a heart attack. Carol Simmons wrote in the Dayton
Daily News in March of 2002 that between 1,200 and 1,500 family, friends and fans went to pay their respects
to Donnie at the funeral home in Springfield, Ohio. His son Gene noted at the time of his passing
that his dad would often appear with his band and as you might expect, promptly stole the show.
When Donnie passed away, he left behind his wife of 34 years, Ann (Booth); ten children and
their spouses, 29 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren, two brothers, Ronnie and Roger.
Timeline & Trivia Notes
Group Members JR Melody Boys (circa 1950-1953):
- Donnie Bowshier, vocals, guitar
- Paul Hopkins, lead guitar
- Walt Wilson, steel guitar
- Charlie Gore, fiddle
- Zeke Turner, rhythm guitar
- Roger Bowshier (Donnie's brother), bass
Group Members Ranch Boys (circal 1955):
- Donnie Bowshier, vocals, rhythm guitar
- Homer Wooten, lead guitar
- Sonny Curtis, steel guitar
- Roger Bowshier, bass
- Gene Sisco, vocals, fiddle
Group Members Stonehearts (circa 1957):
- Donnie Bowser, vocals, rhythm guitar
- Ronnie Carpenter, guitar
- Roger Bowser, bass
- Terry Bowser, drums
Credits & Sources
- Gonna Strut My Stuff; The Donnie Bowshier Story; By Graham and
Pauline Fincher; Hillbilly Researcher No. 11; United Kingdom; Copy provided by Phyllis Ballard,
family friend of Donnie Bowser
- Donnie Bowser to play at Freedom Road Center; By Belinda M. Paschal;
Springfield News-Sun; Springfield, Ohio; Undated article; provided by Phyllis Ballard,
family friend of Donnie Bowser
- Donnie Boswer Country On Wheels; Undated Publicity Material;
Copy provided by Phyllis Ballard, family friend of Donnie Bowser
- Springfield Country singer Donnie Bowser dies at 64; Andrew McGinn;
Springfield News-Sun; Springfield, Ohio; Undated from February 2002; copy provided
by Phyllis Ballard, family friend of Donnie Bowser
- Melody Trails; Vol. XI No. 5; September 1955; Ernest Tubb Fan Club;
- Cowboy Songs; Number 53; August 1957; American Folk Publications, Inc.;
- Country Song Roundup; No. 58; January 1959; American Folk Publications, Inc.;