Morning Dew (Bonnie Dobson)

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There are probably not too many songs that have been covered hundreds of times yet not one version ever made the UK chart. But a lot of the artists who’ve covered it probably won’t actually know who wrote it. How come? Read on.

Morning Dew is an anti-war song, that was inspired by Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film On The Beach which starred Anthony Perkins, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire, and told the chilling story about survivors of a nuclear holocaust and then tried to make their way to Australia. The songs writer Bonnie Dobson was so deeply moved after seeing it that she decided to write this song as a response. She recalled, “I wrote Morning Dew during my second or third engagement at the Ash Grove (the famous LA folk club) in 1961. When I’d go to Los Angeles, I’d usually stay with a friend, and it was in her apartment that I wrote the song. I can’t give you the specific dates, but I do remember the circumstances. There had been a gathering of friends and towards the end of the evening a discussion had ensued about the possibilities and the outcome of a nuclear war. It was all very depressing and upsetting. The following day I sat down and started putting together the song. I had never written or even attempted to write a song before. It took the form of a conversation between the last man and woman – post-apocalypse – one trying to comfort the other while knowing there’s absolutely nothing left.”

Bonnie, who has a haunting voice that is a cross between Joni Mitchell and Julianna Regan from All About Eve, first released her version on a live album recorded in Gerde’s Folk City, New York, and called Hootenanny With Bonnie Dobson. The song was originally published as Take Me For A Walk and before long cover versions started to appear. The song had the same sentiments as another song from the mid 60s called Come Away Melinda and originally recorded by Harry Belafonte although Barry St. John’s minor charting version from 1965 is quite chilling to listen to.

Dobson was born in Toronto, Canada in 1940 and moved to England in 1969 where she still lives. The first cover version of the song came in 1964. Bonnie, in a 1993 interview explained how it happened, “In 1964 I was contacted by Jac Holzman of Elektra Records, who told me that Fred Neil wanted to record Morning Dew and that as I’d not published it, would I like to do so with his company, Nina music. I signed a contract and Neil recorded the song. His is the original cover, on Tear Down the Walls by Vince Martin and Fred Neil. His singing of it differed from mine in that he altered the lyric slightly, changing ‘take me for a walk in the morning dew’ to ‘Walk me out in the morning dew.’ He was also the first person to rock it.”

More covers followed in 1967 by Human Beans (with Dave Edmunds), Episode Six, Grateful Dead and Tim Rose. From Tim’s version onwards you will notice he has credited himself as co-writer. Bonnie continued, “In 1967 while I was living in Toronto, I had a call from Manny Greenhill, my agent, saying that Tim Rose wanted to record Morning Dew, but he wanted to change the lyric. I duly signed a new contract and Rose was written in as co-lyricist on the basis of his new lyric. Unfortunately, it wasn’t till after the signing that I heard his ‘changed’ version. You can imagine that I was somewhat dismayed to discover that his new lyric was precisely the one that Fred Neil had recorded in 1964. So if anyone is entitled to be co-lyricist, it is Neil and not Rose. You may be wondering why I signed the contract in the first place – some mistakes are only made once, and I guess I was pretty naïve.”

In 1968 another version was released that made the US singles chart, but Bonnie again remembered the disappointment and eventual bitterness that accompanied it, “When Lulu released her version a full-page ad was placed in Billboard referring to it as ‘Tim Rose’s Great Hit’ – no mention of me at all. From that time till now -particularly here in England – people still don’t believe that I had anything to do with the writing of Morning Dew.” Because of a loophole in US copyright law, Rose was able to claim royalties. “Even Nazareth’s single from 1981 had only him listed as the composer. It has caused me a lot of aggravation and unhappiness. The worst part was when I came to England in 1969 and I gave my debut concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall everybody had thought that Tim Rose had written that song because he had never ever given me any credit at any time for anything to do with that song. I’ve written songs with other people and I have never claimed them for my own. I just think it was really a dreadfully dishonest thing to do. Even though I have and still do receive substantial royalties (75 percent as opposed to his 25 percent), it doesn’t make up for the man’s behaviour.”

In the 1980 Bonnie stopped performing live for a while but in 1989 gave a concert for the Canadian Club of Chicago in the ballroom of the Drake Hotel. She recalled, “It was really a very nice evening, just me and my guitar. At that point I just thought ‘No, I think this is it’. There were a lot of things that happened, my marriage broke up and I just didn’t feel much like singing for a couple of years after that and then I sort of got back into it yet again.”

Rose died in 2002 from bowel cancer and after that Dobson was advised to contact ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) to have the royalty situation corrected but she decided it was too much hassle as she would now have to fight his estate.

Many versions continue to be recorded which will obviously keep the money coming in. In the 80s Long John Baldry  and Blackfoot did it, in the 90s Devo and the Screaming Trees tackled it and in the 21st century Mungo Jerry and Theaudience gave it a good shot. Robert Plant did a moving rendition at the 2002 Isle Of Wight Festival and in 2011, ex-Smokie singer Chris Norman placed a version on his cover version album Time Traveller which also included Chasing Cars, Back For Good and Wake Me Up When September Ends.

Ten years after Rose’s death Dobson is not bitter. She is happily married to an architect and has two children. She still performs occasionally for the BBC and undertakes the occasional concert in Europe. When asked if she has any regrets in her life, she thought of just one, “I always liked the Grateful Dead’s version of Morning Dew and my one regret is that when they first appeared in Toronto at the O’Keefe Centre in 1968 they didn’t sing Morning Dew in the concert that I attended. I also regret that I was too shy to go backstage and meet them. I make that two regrets then!

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