BONNIE DOBSON-DEAR COMPANION.

BONNIE DOBSON-DEAR COMPANION.

There aren’t many songwriters whose first attempt to write a song, results in a classic. That’s what happened to Bonnie Dobson. The first song she wrote was Morning Dew. It was covered by Fred Neil in 1964. After that, Morning Dew has been covered by Einstürzende Neubauten and The Grateful Dead, to Nazareth, The Jeff Beck Group and Robert Plant. Morning Dew should’ve been providing Bonnie Dobson with a healthy income. However, in 1967, lost title to Morning Dew.

Despite Fred Neil covering Morning Dew in 1964, three years later, in 1967, Tim Rose claimed to have to have penned the song. This was the start of a prolonged dispute that lasted several decades. 

That’s how long it took for Bonnie Dobson to reclaim ownership of the song she wrote, and the royalties she was entitled to. By then, Bonnie Dobson had turned her back on music.

This happened in 1969, when Bonnie Dobson 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. It was only after she retired, that Bonnie Dobson thought about making a comeback.

Forty-four years after turning her back on music, Bonnie Dobson returned with a new album in 2013. Take Me For A Walk In The Morning Dew marked the comeback of Bonnie Dobson, fifty-three years after she released her debut album. 

Bonnie Dobson’s recording career began in 1960, when she released her debut album She’s Like A Swallow. By then, Bonnie Dobson was only twenty. However, she had been immersed in music since she first saw Pete Seeger at a summer camp. That was a life changing experience for Bonnie Dobson not just musically, but politically. 

On her return home, Bonnie Dobson, who was just thirteen, formed a folk group with her friends. This was the first chapter in the Bonnie Dobson story. Seven years later, and Bonnie Dobson found herself recording her debut album at Rudy Van Gelder’s Engelwood Cliffs’ studio. The resultant album, She’s Like A Swallow, was released on Prestige Records in 1960 to critical acclaim. Sadly, She’s Like A Swallow wasn’t a commercial success. Despite this, Prestige still believed in Bonnie, so sent her into the studio again.

 Not long after the release of She’s Like A Swallow, Bonnie Dobson began work on her sophomore album Dear Companion, which was recently reissued by Big Beat Records, an imprint of Ace Records. This is a welcome and overdue reissue of an album by a musical pioneer, who was one of the first female folk singers of the sixties folk boom. She had been immersed in music since she was thirteen. 

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.

She’s Like A Swallow.

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 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. These songs became She’s Like A Swallow. It was released in 1960.

Before the release of She’s Like A Swallow in 1960, the album was well received by critics. They were won over by Bonnie Dobson’s impassioned vocals and the understated arrangement. Critics were also impressed by Bonnie’s choice of songs. She had chosen well, and brought the lyrics to life beautifully. The critics forecast a bright future for Bonnie Dobson.

With critical acclaim ringing in her ears, Bonnie Dobson must have felt positive about the release of She’s Like A Swallow in 1960. It was released on Prestige Records, but didn’t sell in vast quantities. Despite this disappointment, executives at Prestige Records kept faith in Bonnie Dobson. They sent her into the studio to record her sophomore album Dear Companion.

Dear Companion.

Just like She’s Like A Swallow, Bonnie was allowed to chose the twelve tracks that became Dear Companion. They were an eclectic selection of songs; songs that showcased Bonnie’s versatility as a singer. There was everything from blues and folk ballads to French-Canadian and Yugoslavian songs. These songs were recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio.

Bonnie Dobson made the now familiar journey to Rudy Van Gelder’s Engelwood Cliffs’ studio. As studios went, Rudy Van Gelder’s Engelwood Cliffs’ studio was state-of-the art. He was constantly upgrading the studio. No expense was spared, so he could capture the sound as accurately as possible. As Rudy engineered the Dear Companion sessions, Kenny Goldstein took charge of production. Before long, the twelve songs were laid down, and  Bonnie Dobson’s sophomore album was ready for release.

Prior to the release of Dear Companion in 1961, critics had their say on Bonnie Dobson’s sophomore album. They were impressed by Dear Companion, and its disparate selection of songs. Each were brought to life by Bonnie Dobson. She was a combination of singer and storyteller. Bonnie who was a rising star of the folk scene, was quickly coming to the attention of the press and media.

In 1961, Time magazine wrote an article on the blossoming folk scene. The article spoke of how a folk boom was underway, and Bonnie, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Carolyn Hester were trailblazers. They were making inroads into the previously male dominated folk scene. A great future was forecast for these musical pioneers. One of them, Bonnie Dobson, was about to release her sophomore album, Dear Companion, which I’ll tell you about.

Dear Companion opens with the title-track. It’s a traditional lament, from British Columbia. As Bonnie delivers Cecil Sharp’s lyrics, she accompanies herself on guitar. Her vocal is full hurt and despair, as she plucks at her guitar. She brings to life the hurt and betrayal in the lyrics.

My Mother Chose My Husband is a song that was translated from French to English. Two guitars feature in the arrangement. One is panned right, while the other is panned left. It’s much quieter, to allow space for Bonnie’s vocal. It soars above the arrangement, as Bonnie delivers a realistic portrayal of the lyrics. In an instant, the listener is transported back to an era, when marriages were arranged, much to the chagrin of the participants. This becomes very real in My Mother Chose My Husband.

Girl Of Constant Sorrow is a song that’s evolved over the years. When Bonnie decided to cover the song, she wrote a new verse, the second one. Again, the arrangement features just Bonnie and her guitar. She plays it with  a degree of urgency, as she delivers the lyrics. There’s a sense of sadness and melancholia in her voice as she sings of returning home. She’s not making the triumphant return she hoped. Instead, it’s a case of what might have been. There’s no “ruby for my finger”…nor a “a lovely ribbon for my hair.”

Vranyanka is a Yugoslavian folk song, where the a young man pleads with his lover to open the door, as “he burns with love for her.” Accompanied by guitar and whistle, Bonnie delivers the lyrics to this folk dance in Yugoslavian. This delivers a beautiful, heartfelt and ethereal vocal. It’s one of her best, and shows her versatility as a singer.

Ben’s Lullaby is the only song on Dear Companion penned by Bonnie Dobson. She was already a talented songwriter by the time Dear Companion was released. The inspiration for the song came from the son of a friend who was just fourteen month’s old. As she delivers the lyrics to Ben’s Lullaby, Bonnie sings unaccompanied. Her vocal is tender, soothing and reassuring, which is perfect for a lullaby.

Bob Coltman wrote The Bonnie Lass Of Kenmore Town He’s written many songs. However, this traditional folk ballad is one of his finest. Its cinematic lyrics are brought to life by Bonnie. She plays guitar and delivers what can only be described as a heartfelt, emotive vocal. Her vocal changes depending upon the lyrics. She brings to life the hope, sadness, betrayal and the ultimate twist in the tale. It’s like a mini soap opera put to music.

A wistful flute and guitar combine on  When I Was In My Prime. They provide the backdrop for Bonnie’s vocal. It’s tinged with sadness and regret, as Bonnie reflects on what might have been, and how different her life could’ve been?

Ah! Si Mon Moine is a song from Novia Scotia. Bonnie delivers the lyrics in French. She’s accompanied by her trusty guitar. It’s responsible for a jaunty arrangement. This is perfect as Bonnie sings about the young girl who tries to get a monk to dance with her. Despite offering him gifts, he stays true his vows and his faith. 

Blues Jumped A Rabbit was a song that Bonnie was taught to play by Brownie McGhee. She’s accompanied by two guitars. They provide a backdrop that’s a fusion of blues and folk. That describes Bonnie’s impassioned, ethereal vocal. She combines power and passion on what’s without doubt, her finest vocal.

Dink’s Song is another song where Bonnie sings unaccompanied. That’s not an easy to do. However, Bonnie makes it seem ridiculously easy as she delivers a captivating vocal. There’s a longing and loneliness in her voice. All she wants to do, is sprout wings, and fly off in search of true love.

Vertsa Dievcha is Czech folk song. Bonnie was taught the song by Hennie Kubik and her mother. Hennie duets with Bonnie, and also featured on The Bonnie Lass Of Kenmore. Here, Bonnie and Hennie deliver joyous vocals, against a backdrop of guitars. That’s despite the song being about a man breaking up with his partner.

Closing Dear Companion is The Cruel Mother. It’s another folk ballad. It tells the story of an unmarried mother who kills her two children. They come back to haunt her, and she’s doomed to burn in hell. Accompanied by just her guitar, Bonnie dawns the role of storyteller, and brings to life the lyrics to this gruesome tale. It brings to a close Bonnie Dobson’s critically acclaimed sophomore album.

Critical acclaimed accompanied the release of Dear Companion in 1961. Despite the quality of music, Dear Companion wasn’t a commercial success. Prestige kept faith with Bonnie Dobson. They knew that success wasn’t far away.

That proved to be the case. In 1962 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 covered by Fred Neil in 1964. He was just the first of many artists to cover Morning Dew.

It was recorded by some of the biggest names in music. This included Einstürzende Neubauten, The Grateful Dead, Nazareth, The Jeff Beck Group and Robert Plant. Morning Dew should’ve been providing Bonnie Dobson with healthy income. However, in 1967, lost title to Morning Dew.

In 1967, Tim Rose claimed to have to have penned the song. This was the start of a prolonged dispute that lasted several decades. 

Bonnie Dobson wasn’t going to give up without a fight. After several decades, Bonnie Dobson reclaim ownership of Morning Dew. Belatedly, she received the royalties she was entitled to. Sadly, then, Bonnie Dobson had turned her back on music.

Two years after the dispute about Morning Dew began, Bonnie Dobson announced she was retiring from music. Whether the dispute with Tim Rose was the cause of Bonnie withdrawing from music isn’t know. However, in 1969, she returned to university. 

Bonnie Dobson decided to move to England, and finish what she started nearly a decade earlier. Back then, Bonnie was studying at the University of Toronto. Then Bonnie decided to embark upon a musical career. Ten years later, and her career was over. S it was the perfect time to return to university. 

When she enrolled at university, Bonnie Dobson decided to study politics, philosophy and history. She was only twenty-nine. Quickly, she discovered that academic life suited her.

Once Bonnie finished her degree, she  began work 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-five, and happily retired, Bonnie is busier than ever. In 2013, Bonnie Dobson released her first new album for forty-five years, Take Me For A Walk In The Morning Dew. It saw Bonnie pickup where she left off in 1969. However, eight years earlier, in 1961, Bonnie released one of her finest albums Dear Companion.

Dear Companion was Bonnie Dobson’s sophomore album, which was recently released by Big Beat Records, an imprint of Ace Records. It finds Bonnie Dobson at her most versatile. There was everything from blues and folk ballads to French-Canadian, Czechoslovakian and Yugoslavian songs. Each and every one of these songs are brought to life by Bonnie Dobson. She’s a combination of singer and storyteller on Dear Companion, where she veers between folk, blues and country. As she does, the songs come to life. Not every singer can do that. However, Bonnie Dobson was a pioneer of the sixties folk scene.

Along with Joan Baez, Judy Collins and Carolyn Hester, Bonnie Dobson was one of the stars of the sixties folk scene. Sadly, she retired from music in 1969, having released just five albums. However, it was at Prestige where Bonnie Dobson released the best music of her career. This includes Bonnie Dobson’s two studio albums, She’s Like A Swallow and Dear Companion, and then her live album Bonnie Dobson At Folk City. These albums show just what Bonnie Dobson was capable of? 

One wonders if legal problems hadn’t disrupted Bonnie Dobson’s career in 1967, if she would still have retired two years later, aged just twenty-nine? We’ll never know. Nor will we know what heights Bonnie Dobson may have reached? Instead, Bonnie Dobson’s career is a case of what might have been. At least Bonnie Dobson recorded albums of the quality of She’s Like A Swallow and Dear Companion before she retired. They’re a reminder, if any were needed, of what Bonnie Dobson was capable of.

BONNIE DOBSON-DEAR COMPANION.

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