He was born in Bloomington, Indiana, United States, and moved to Bloomington, Illinois as a child. He first performed at a ninth-grade talent show and later attended the University of Illinois. At his first recording session (backed by organist Ray Stevens), he sang the tune "Wooden Heart", which had been a hit for Elvis Presley in Europe but which was never released as a single stateside. In 1961, "Wooden Heart" became the first single released on Smash Records to shoot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. In the wake of his success, Dowell wanted to become a songwriter in his own right, but, due to contractual obligations, he was required to sing music owned by Smash's parent company, Mercury Records. He had two further hits, "The Bridge of Love" (US No. 50) and "Little Red Rented Rowboat" (US No. 23) but, after struggles with his management, he was dropped from the label.
Dowell went on to record one single for Monument Records, a folk album in the 1960s, and a number of singles and a gospel album for his own Journey label in the 1970s and 1980s. He also recorded a bicentennial EP at Golden Voice Recording Co in South Pekin, Illinois, for the Boy Scouts of America and radio jingles.
In 2004, Bear Family Records released a CD on Joe Dowell's music, including unreleased recordings.
His publicist and friend Johnny Vallis confirmed to the Associated Press, that Joe Dowell died on February 4, 2016 in Bloomington, Illinois, after suffering a heart attack the prior weekend. He was 76.
|1961||"Wooden Heart" / "Little Bo Peep"||1||1||Smash 1708|
|1961||"The Bridge of Love" / "Just Love Me"||50||10||Smash 1717|
|1962||"Little Red Rented Rowboat" / "The One I Left for You"||23||--||Smash 1759|
|1962||"Poor Little Cupid" / "No Secrets"||--||--||Smash 1786|
- "Joe Dowell, had No. 1 hit with 'Wooden Heart," dies at 76 - US News". 6 February 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-02-06. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
- Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 727. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 134. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- Joe Dowell, AllMusic
- "Joe Dowell: An insanely complete post-Smash/Mercury discography". Musicweird.com. 2014-01-26. Retrieved 2014-03-29.
- "Joe Dowell, had No. 1 hit with 'Wooden Heart," dies at 76". Archived from the original on 2016-02-09. Retrieved 2015-02-04.