BONNIE DOBSON SINGS SHE’S LIKE A SWALLOW AND OTHER FOLK SONGS.

BONNIE DOBSON SINGS SHE’S LIKE A SWALLOW AND OTHER FOLK SONGS.

Bonnie Dobson’s career began during the early sixties folk boom. She had one of the most distinctive voices of the folk era. Clear and powerful, Bonnie’s distinctive voice breathed life, meaning and emotion into folk songs old and new. This included songs penned by Bonnie.

Amongst the best known songs Bonnie wrote are I’m Your Woman and Morning Dew, a folk rock standard. However, Morning Dew isn’t just a favourite of folk singers. No. It’s been covered by some of the biggest names in music. Everyone from Einstürzende Neubauten, Fred Neil, the Grateful Dead, Nazareth, the Jeff Beck Group, Robert Plant and The 31st of February have covered Morning Dew. It featured on Bonnie 1962 breakthrough, sophomore album Bonnie Dobson At Folk City. By then, Bonnie was well on her way to becoming one of the leading lights of the folk era. However, what looked like being a long and successful career was cut short.

As the seventies dawned, Bonnie withdrew from music.  She moved to England in 1969, and retired from music.  Bonnie decided to return to university, where she studied politics, philosophy and history. Academic life seemed to suit Bonnie. 

Once she finished her degree, Bonnie ended up  at working at the Philosophy Department of the University of London’s Birbeck College. That was home to Bonnie for the rest of her working life. By the time she retired, Bonnie was head of administration. 

Now retired, Bonnie is busier than ever. She has just released her first new album for forty-five years. So, what better time for Ace Records to release Bonnie Dobson Sings Like A Swallow and Other Folk Songs. It was recently released by Big Beat, an imprint of Ace Records. Bonnie Dobson Sings Like A Swallow and Other Folk Songs is a celebration of Bonnie’s time at Prestige Records, when she was musical pioneer, who rubbed shoulders with Bob Dylan. Bonnie’s story begins in Toronto, Canada, in 1940.

It was on November 13th 1940, that Bonnie Dobson was born. Bonnie family would influence her future career. Her father was a trade unionist and Bonnie’s elder sister was a fan of folk music. By eleven, so was Bonnie.

Her first introduction to live folk music, was seeing Pete Seeger at summer camps in Ontario and Quebec. This was during the McCarthy era. Pete Seeger had been blacklisted after refusing to testify at the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  He couldn’t work within America. So he headed to Canada, and soon became a popular draw. This included at summer camps. That’s where Bonnie first heard Pete Seeger. 

Having attended the summer camps for a couple of years, eventually, Bonnie met Pete Seeger. This was a huge moment in her life. Pete Seeger was an important influence not just musically, but politically. Bonnie who was just thirteen, hooked. So was her sister. 

Soon, Bonnie’s sister formed a folk group with her friends. They called their nascent group The Travellers. They were influenced by The Weavers and Pete Seeger, whose music was extremely political. For the daughter of a trade unionist, this struck a nerve. 

Although Bonnie’s was only thirteen, she was already politically aware. Growing up, she was aware of the injustice that surrounded her. The union songs her father sung and Pete Seeger’s songs spoke to Bonnie, and for her. Soon, she would playing the folk songs she had heard other people sing.

Whilst still in high school, Bonnie was already singing in folk clubs. She accompanied herself on guitar. Then on Fridays, Bonnie would sing a folk song in school assembly. After graduating high school, Bonnie headed to university.

The University of Toronto was Bonnie destination. Despite being so politically aware, Bonnie enrolled on an English literature course. The course didn’t work out. Bonnie was deeply unhappy. Luckily, salvation came in the form of an invite to play at a folk club in Denver, Colorado.

So, in May 1960, Bonnie made her way to the Exodus Folk Club, in Denver, Colorado. This gig resulted in Bonne being offered the opportunity to support Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. For a relative newcomer to the folk scene, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. However, things were about to get even better for Bonnie.

It wasn’t just a case of supporting Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Bonnie got the opportunity to work with blues greats Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis and Big Joe Williams. For Bonnie, this was the opportunity of a lifetime. She criss-crossed America playing two shows a day, supporting some of the biggest names in folk and blues music. 

Eventually, Bonnie reached what many people regarded as America’s folk capital, New York. Greenwich Village was the centre of New York’s folk scene. That is where Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, blues legend Leadbelly and more recently, Bob Dylan had played. The most important venue was the Folklore Centre. So, Bonnie made her way to the Folklore Centre.

At the Folklore Centre, Bonnie met the owner Izzy Young. He had booked some of the biggest names in music. Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Emmylou Harris, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee had all played at the Folklore Centre. Izzy, having met Bonnie, booked her to play. However, Bonnie met some friends and missed the gig. Despite this, Bonnie would later make her Folklore Centre debut, following in the footsteps of many a musical great. She also followed in the footsteps of many a musical legend by signing to Prestige Records.

After playing a concert at Philadelphia’s Folk Song Society, Kenny Goldstein recommended Bonnie Dobson to Prestige Records. This was a huge honour. Prestige Records had been home to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Eric Dolphy and Sonny Rollins. These were big shoes to fill, but Bonnie Dobson relished the challenge.

Like so many albums recorded during this period, Bonnie Dobson headed to Rudy Van Gelder’s Engelwood Cliffs’ studio. Rudy’s studio was state-of-the art. He was determined to constantly improve his facilities. No expense was spared, in an attempt to capture the sound as accurately as possible. With Kenny Goldstein acting as producer, Bonnie Dobson headed Rudy Van Gelder’s Engelwood Cliffs’ studio.

Recording of what became Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow took just four hours. During that period, fourteen songs were recorded. They were songs that Bonnie had chosen. This was unusual. Often, artists had no say in the material they recorded. Bonnie, however, chose what she wanted to record. 

For her debut album, Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow, Bonnie chose traditional folk songs. They are an eclectic selection of songs. Many of the songs are either Canadian, or French-Canadian in origin. 

This includes The Cruel War Is Raging and the beautiful, love lament She’s Like A Swallow. Envoyons De L’Avant, is a paddling song that was a favourite of French-Canadian lumbermen. Frankie Slide, tells of a disaster in town of Frank, in British Columbia. Monsieur Le Cure is another French Canadian song. It tells the story of a girl who falls in love with the village priest. The Jam At Gerry’s Rock is a Canadian version, of a song that was popular in American lumbering country. Then The Road To Grandmere tells the story of Art Samuels’ trip to Grandmere, in the Quebec Province. Canada, however, wasn’t the only source of songs for Bonnie’s debut album, Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow. So was America.

Across The Blue Mountains’ is a traditional American folk song. Mistress Bond is a Jewish-American folk song. Very different, is The First Time. This is a song that Bonnie heard Peggy Seeger sing at the Colorado Folk Festival, in Denver.  She added this to her repertoire, gave it a makeover. However, it was Roberta Flack who found fame and fortune with The First Time in 1972. The Old Maid’s Lament is a song Peggy heard in California. Again, she decided to add it to her repertoire, and sings the the lyrics with a mixture of joy and defiance. From America, Bonnie crossed the Atlantic for three songs on Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow are Britain. 

Britain has a rich musical heritage. Especially when t comes to folk music. The Prickle Holly Bush is English folk song. It’s derived from The Maid Freed From The Gallow. Paisley poet Robert Tannahill is responsible for Will Ye Go Laddie Go. He penned The Braes O Balquhither. It evolved into Will Ye Go Laddie Go. Here, Bonnie changes Laddie to Lassie and breathes beauty and emotion into what is, my favourite song on Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow. Another of my favourites is The Silkie Of Sule Skerry. Its roots can be traced to the Hebrides and Shetland Islands, where the silkies, or “seal people” are said to originate. Just like Will Ye Go Laddie Go, The Silkie Of Sule Skerry proves the perfect showcase for Bonnie Dobson’s voice.

That is the case throughout Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow. Bonnie breathes life, meaning, emotion and sometimes, beauty into the fourteen traditional folk songs. Her voice veers between heartfelt to heartbroken, right through melancholy and wistful. She shares the hurt, hope, sadness and suffering she’s singing about. It’s as if Bonnie takes the lyrics personally. This results in what can only be described as a series of soul-baring songs. They became Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow, and introduced Bonnie Dobson to music lovers worldwide.

While Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow was well received, it wasn’t a huge commercial success. It was enough to set tongues wagging. Discerning folk fans knew that a new name was about to stake announce its arrival. That proved to be the case.

In 1962, a year after the release of Bonnie Dobson-She’s Like A Swallow, Bonnie released Bonnie Dobson At Folk City. This was Bonnie Dobson’s breakthrough album. It featured one of Bonnie’s best known songs, Morning Dew, which was recorded by some of the biggest names in music. By then, Bonnie would have retired.

Bonnie’s career continued right up until 1969. She released Bonnie Dobson Sings A Merry-Go-Round Of Children’s Songs in 1962, Bonnie left Prestige Records. She released albums on Mercury, RCA and Victor. However, by 1969, aged just twenty-nine, Bonnie Dobson announced she was retiring from music.  

As the sixties drew to a close, Bonnie retired from music. She moved to England in 1969, and retired from music. Bonnie, who had dropped out of an a course at the University of Toronto, decided to return to university. She studied politics, philosophy and history. Academic life seemed to suit Bonnie. 

After she finished her degree, Bonnie ended up working at the Philosophy Department of the University of London’s Birbeck College. That was home to Bonnie for the rest of her working life. By the time she retired, Bonnie was head of administration. 

Now aged seventy-three, and happily retired, Bonnie is busier than ever. She has just released her first new album for forty-five years. So, what better time for Ace Records to release Bonnie Dobson Sings Like A Swallow and Other Folk Songs. It was recently released by Big Beat, an imprint of Ace Records. Bonnie Dobson Sings Like A Swallow and Other Folk Songs is a reissue of Bonnie’s Prestige Records’ debut album, where a musical trailblazer announced her arrival on the folk scene.

BONNIE DOBSON SINGS SHE’S LIKE A SWALLOW AND OTHER FOLK SONGS.

bonnie-swallow

CDWIKD-324a

CDWIKD-324b

 

2 Comments

  1. Maurice Moriarity

    with your permission, I might borrow your brief discography of Swallow in attempting to upload Bonnie’s recording to youtube. Of course, your site blog will be included, your two paragraphs enquotated (a word borrowed from Arlo Guthrie).
    This album recording of Ms. Bonnie is a top-fiver for me. Brought for me by my mother from a garage sale, in the spring of 1981. The album is long lost, but a tape recording survived, not the best, but it’s all there is; all attempts to find a copy have been unsuccessful. Best to upload it before that’s lost too. — Thanks.

    • Hi Maurice.

      Glad that you enjoyed my review of Bonnie Dobson Sings Like A Swallow. It’s a welcome reissue. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, As you’ll realise, it’s recently been reissued by Big Beat, a subsidiary of Ace Records, a British record label. There’s a link to their website on my blog. They’ve a fantastic catalogue, that’s produced annually and every month, send out newsletters. This might interest you.

      Please feel free to quote my, review. Just credit my blog and that’s fine.

      Keep checking back my blog, I’m sure you’ll find other reviews you’ll enjoy. There’s one coming next week, you’ll enjoy. Until then, happy reading.

      Regards,
      Derek.

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