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Dowell was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and attended the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, where he met Hal Kemp. He joined Kemp's orchestra as a reed player (tenor saxophone, clarinet, and flute) and vocalist in the fall of 1925. Dowell composed "I Don't Care", which was recorded by Kemp for Brunswick in 1928. When the band's style changed in the early 1930s to that of a dance band, Dowell became the group's comedic vocalist. "Three Little Fishies" became a smash hit in 1939 and Dowell was embroiled in a legal dispute with the uncredited lyricists Josephine Carringer and Bernice Idins. Due to the success of the song Dowell left Kemp that same year and organized his own band. In 1940 he wrote the popular song "Playmates", which was set to a plagiarized melody. During World War II he served heroically in the navy aboard the ill-fated aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV13). Around 1946 he led a naval air station band, with the then 14-year-old Keely Smith as a singer. After the war he reorganized his orchestra and got some good bookings, mostly around the Chicago area, appeared in a short and made a few recordings for the Sonora label. He became a disc jockey for Chicago radio station WGN around 1949.
Saxie Dowell's song credits include "I Don't Care", "Your Magic Kisses", "Three Little Fishies", "Playmates" ("Come Out and Play With Me"), "The Canasta Song", "Tonight I'm Thinking Of You", "All I've Got Is Me" and "Turnabout is Fair Play".
He retired in the late 1950s and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. He did some part-time DJ work on KTAR in Phoenix during his retirement years.