Hornbeam Recordings: June 2014
Record Store Day 7 inch Single, April 18th featuring ‘Come Dancing’/’Dancing Version’
Bonnie Dobson is one of the great voices of folk music and a veteran of the Greenwich Village scene in the early 60s. She was born in November 1940 in Toronto, Canada where she was raised. Her mother was Scottish and her father’s family was Irish. Folk music soon became an important part of Bonnie’s life inspired by witnessing Paul Robeson perform at Toronto’s Massey Hall as well as seeing the black-listed Pete Seeger play at summer camps. In the early 60’s she moved to New York and was one of a number of talented female singers to emerge in the folk revival. Time Magazine bracketed her, Joan Baez and Judy Collins as the three top female folk singers in America among others on the scene such as Maria D’Amato (later Muldaur), Hedy West, Karen Dalton and Judy Roderick who Bonnie shared an apartment with in St Marks Place.
Most of the girls began as interpreters of either traditional material or the work of contemporary songwriters but in 1961, Bonnie announced herself as a writer when she penned the song for which she’s most renowned, ‘Morning Dew’, making its debut on Live at Folk City in 1962. Inspired by seeing Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film of Nevil Shute’s novel On The Beach, ‘Morning Dew’ was immediately recognised as an anti-war classic; it graced the cover of Broadside #7 under the title ‘Take Me For A Walk’. ‘Morning Dew’ has since become as much a rock as a folk standard, covered by a host of artists including The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Fred Neil, Tim Rose, Rod Stewart, The Jeff Beck Group and Robert Plant. Artists as diverse as Lulu, Clannad, Devo and Einstürzende Neubauten have recorded it. When Bonnie appeared with Robert Plant at the recent tribute to Bert Jansch at the Royal Festival Hall, the two of them sang ‘Morning Dew’ together.
Its ongoing popularity and a certain controversy surrounding ‘Morning Dew’ has resulted in it overshadowing most of Bonnie’s other compositions over the years. It was covered by Fred Neil on his 1964 Elektra album with Vince Martin, Tear Down The Walls, where Neil amended the lyric slightly. This was the version then recorded by Tim Rose in 1967. It became his signature song but he also claimed an unwarranted co-writing credit with Bonnie Dobson into the bargain. As she has pointed out, it’s entirely her song although if anybody else deserved a credit it would be Fred Neil, not Tim Rose.
Bonnie dropped out of college at the end of the 50’s and began touring the growing circuit of folk clubs in America and Canada in 1960 – her first tour was with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee no less. She frequently played Gerdes Folk City where Dylan was impressed by her version of the traditional ‘The Ballad of Peter Amberley’, and used the tune and spirit of the Canadian folk song for his own topical song about Seattle convict Donald White; ‘The Ballad of Donald White’ also appeared in Broadside in 1962. ‘Peter Amberley’ is one of a number of traditional songs – alongside ‘Dink’s Song’, popularised by Dave Van Ronk, and Judy Roderick’s arrangement of ‘Born in the Country’ which Bonnie has re-recorded for her new album. There are two further traditional songs which she has never recorded before, French/Canadian folk song ‘V’la L’bon Vent’ and the rousing old time band instrumental ‘Sandy Boys’.
Bonnie Dobson began recording in the early 60s, releasing four albums for Prestige, including an album of children’s songs – A Merry Go Round of Children’s Songs – also recording albums for Mercury, RCA, Argo and Polydor during the 60s and 70s as well as collaborating in 1968 with the New Lost City Ramblers on the soundtrack of the film Moving On for the United Transportation Union. Bonnie has always mixed her own songs with traditional material, and often the work of fellow Canadians such as Gordon Lightfoot and Ian and Sylvia but her compositions have often been overlooked. She revisits some of her finest songs on her new Hornbeam album; ‘I Got Stung’, ‘Rainy Windows’, ‘Winter’s Going’, ‘Come On Dancing’, as well as ‘Morning Dew’, plus a slew of originals recorded for the first time. These include stirring country rocker ‘Southern Bound’, the powerful ‘Who Are These Men?’, a breezy tale of our times ‘Living On Plastic’, and the simple, heart-rending ‘JB’s Song’.
Ambivalent about some of her earlier recordings where the production was given too much of a pop sheen and overly embellished with strings, these recent recordings may be the definitive versions – they certainly sounder fresher and completely modern in the present context, recorded in London with a full band (also her regular live outfit). Her boys include Ben Paley, fiddle, BJ Cole, pedal steel, Ben Phillipson, guitar, Felix Holt, harmonica, Jonny Bridgwood, double bass, Dave Morgan, drums, plus Ruth Tidmarsh, vocals.
It was back in 1969 that Bonnie made her British debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and that same year she moved from Toronto where she’d been living since 1965, to settle permanently in London. She continued to tour throughout Europe but recorded only intermittently after 1976. Then in 1989, Bonnie played what she thought was to be her final concert in Chicago. She enrolled that year at London University’s Birkbeck College to study Politics, Philosophy and History, going on to become the Head Administrator of the Philosophy Department at Birkbeck. She was coaxed out of retirement for Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown festival in 2007 and these days plays regular live shows with ‘her boys’, her sweet soprano voice sounding warmer, perhaps richer than ever before. “She is still an impressively original lady,” commented Robin Denselow in The Guardian.
For more news about Bonnie and Hornbeam Recordings visit http://www.hornbeamrecordings.com/