As a teenage guitarist in California, Ron Cornelius cut his musical teeth while backing a list of artists that reads like a “Who’s Who” from the 1950s and 1960s. Chubby Checker, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & and the Miracles, Jan & Dean, and Bobby Rydell were among those that young Cornelius shared a stage with, in addition to many other major artists, such as Glen Campbell, Sonny & Cher, Jackie Wilson, The Sherrills, Gene Chandler, and Mary Wells, as they toured his home state. At age 16, Ron had a major record deal with his own group “The Untouchables” on Dot Records, a major label at the time.
After years as a backing guitarist, Cornelius formed the group West, which would bring his first national recognition. West appeared in numerous national showcases across the country that resulted in bids from 8 major record labels. In 1967, they signed with Epic Records and appeared in Las Vegas at the CBS Convention. Two albums were cut in Nashville for the label. A single, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (a Bob Dylan composition), climbed to #17 on the national charts. The group went on to record a third and final LP for Paramount Records before dissolving. Altogether, Ron Cornelius has had 5 major record deals as an artist; others included A&M Records and Polydor Records.
In 1969, Ron found himself with Johnny Cash in San Quentin as part of the production team for Cash’s album “Live at San Quentin”. Soon after, Ron returned to backing other acts as a lead guitarist, but this time on a remarkable chain of hit albums with some of the biggest names in country and popular music, such as Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Hoyt Axton, Loudon Wainwright III, and many others. Most notably, Cornelius supplied lead guitar work on seven multi-platinum albums for the legendary Bob Dylan.
Also during this time, Ron helped assemble a band for world-renowned singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, serving as bandleader for 6 major world tours, 4 albums, and 1 movie (for which Cornelius won rave reviews for his guitar styling’s). The albums, “Songs From a Room”, “Leonard Cohen Live”, “Songs of Love and Hate” and his “Greatest Hits” album were (all RIAA certified platinum), and were considered among his best.
Ron also provided his guitar expertise on several motion picture soundtracks; “I Walk the Line” starring Gregory Peck and “Tuesday Wells”, (Ron composed 2 songs that were featured in movie), “Concrete Cowboy” starring Jerry Reed, “Little Fauss and Big Halsey” starring Robert Redford and Michael J, Pollard and “The Big Lebowski” starring Jeff Bridges and John Goodman.
The movie, “Bird On A Wire” produced during his tenure with Cohen, filming started while on tour in Ireland on St. Patrick’s day and ended four months later in Israel. While there, Cornelius composed the song, “Jerusalem”, which was recorded by leading Israeli artist Esther Ofarim, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. “Jerusalem”was also featured on her live album in concert with the Tel Aviv Philharmonic..Every song on that album was a traditional 2,000-year-old Hebrew song except one ..”Jerusalem”.
Nashville, the Early Years
Ron’s next move was to Nashville where, in 1980, he pursued a career as a producer, songwriter, and publisher in addition to his work as a major guitarist. Joining forces with another industry legend, Pete Drake, he served as Professional Manager and Producer of Drake Music Group’s Nashville publishing administration service, gaining the company 23 major label song cuts for the company, his successes at the Drake Music Group led him to take charge of and produce for The A.T.V. Music Corporation’s Nashville office, which is now Sony /ATV Music. At that time, A.T.V. was the 4th largest publisher in the world administering the works of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, as well as a 6,000 song catalog of country music greats. In 1985, Michael Jackson purchased A.T.V. for $67,000,000. He elected to shut down all 14 offices on the planet and brought the catalog into his CBS/Sony administration deal, where it remains today.
The Cornelius Companies
In 1986, Ron founded The Cornelius Companies with only a typewriter and 12 songs. Today, 16 years later, the company has Gold and Platinum albums covering the wall by artists such as Alabama (RCA), Faith Hill (Warner Bros.), and Confederate Railroad (Atlantic). The catalog alone (over 1,500 songs with over 163 recorded and released. Cornelius Companies has represented and administered catalogs for Cabin Fever Entertainment, Inc., Charlie Daniels/Miss Hazel Music, and The Lowery Music Group out of Atlanta, Georgia and most recently secured the title cut on the new Little River Band album, “Cuts Like a Diamond.”.
Gateway Entertainment, Inc
1995 saw the creation of a record label and Production Company called Gateway Entertainment, Inc., a division of The Cornelius Companies. Initially directed at the increasingly popular Positive Country radio format, 1995 saw Cornelius with his own Gateway label rack up an impressive collection of his songs, Eleven top 10s, Eight top 5s, Six #2s, and Two #1 singles, all produced by Ron Cornelius. Cashbox Magazine honored Gateway Entertainment with the Top Label Award in the 1995-year end rank and figures. In 1996, 1997, and 1998, with the competition being Warner-Alliance Records, Reunion Records, Word Records, Homeland Records, and The Brentwood Group, Gateway Entertainment acquired more #1 and top 5 singles than any other label in the Positive Country radio format. Gateway Entertainment received nationwide radio, “Positive Country Label of the Year”, and production credits for 1996 through 1998). Even with competition like Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill, Marty Raybon, (the lead singer of Shenandoah), and Sawyer Brown (among others), it was common for Gateway Entertainment to have 4 – 6 songs in the top 10 when the national charts came out. Gateway was soaring high with artists such as Paula McCulla, The Causey’s, Thad Christopher, Dinah and the Dessert Crusaders, Michael Grimm, and Buddy Hyatt.
Recent years have witnessed major label recording contracts for acts that Ron has signed, developed, and produced, such as Miko Marks’ recent releases. Miko is the first African-American female country artist to win bonafide achievement awards in the history of country music (New Music Weekly’s Female Country Vocalist of the Year for 2006, Michael Grimm, a CCMA Star of Tomorrow winner in 1996 for his Positive Country crossover radio hit song “John Wayne and Jesus” , Michael went on to become an America’s Got Talent winner in 2010 and Summer Schappell, a former country/pop artist on the label was recently featured on The Voice.
The Cornelius Companies and Gateway Entertainment, Inc. continues their success and expand their reach into other areas of the music and entertainment industry with recent song placements in film and TV including placements with HBO, Steven Seagal ” Force of Execution”, and Lions Gate, Family friendly TV movie, “My Best Friend” It is because of Ron’s knowledge and vast experience in the industry and the creative talent he surrounds himself with that has led to the achievements he has had in his music career, as well as a lot of hard work and integrity.