RONNIE DOVE has spent a lifetime in song, but now he's written an anthem. The first crowds to listen have given him rousing ovations, when their real instinct might be to stand and salute. The song is called "Save the Bay," and it's a warning cry from the edge of the Chesapeake's watery grave.
"When I read those first stories last summer about the dead fish and the Pfiesteria," Dove was saying yesterday in Pasadena, "it just killed me. It's horrible. I couldn't imagine our bay not producing beautiful fish and crabs and rockfish. I couldn't imagine the contamination. I figured, we gotta do something about this."
So he sat down with his friend Billy Earl, writing the song at Dove's Anne Arundel County home and recording it in Nashville, and three weeks ago released "Save the Bay" -- which, if not aired repeatedly on radio stations across this state, will only be proof of station managers and disc jockeys asleep at the switch.
Save the bay, save the bay
Before it's too late.
God knows she's been a good friend to us all.
Through the years we have taken
So much more than we gave
Now she's fighting with her back against the wall.
The song's not only a musical rouser, it's a reminder: Generations of abuse and neglect have endangered the bay and its tributaries, and while the scientists and the environmentalists search for answers, those like Dove and Earl offer a jolt to the heart that schoolchildren should be taught to sing in classrooms.
Earl and Dove have solid musical pedigrees. Earl's a songwriter, "an absolute genius," Dove says, who's worked with the immortal Otis Blackwell, the fellow who wrote blockbusters such as "Don't Be Cruel," "All Shook Up" and "Fever."
Dove's career doesn't need much explanation around here. For 40 years, he's been introduced as "Baltimore's own," a slight misnomer since he's from Virginia. But his music career started here and blossomed to where, five years ago, he finished 251st in a national magazine survey of the top rock 'n' roll artists of all time.
The singing started when Dove was serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in the mid-1950s, spending four years on a buoy tender on the Chesapeake. He remembers marveling at the bay's natural riches. Also, not to be diminished, at the possibilities ashore.
He started finding a little singing work for $5 a night at the old Elmer's Bar, Pratt and Light streets, back when the seamen would wander in, and the winos and the motorcycle gangs, and everybody would "get drunk and fight," Dove remembers. "That's what we did. Just sing and fight."
But two things were happening simultaneously: the beginning of a music career that would take him to national tours with Chuck Berry, with the Shirelles, to TV appearances with Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark and Merv Griffin, to 23 consecutive Top Ten records, including "Right or Wrong," "Say You" and "One Kiss for Old Time's Sake."
Also, a deep love for the Chesapeake.
"I love the bay and want to see it survive," he says. "That's what this is all about." He's offered proceeds from the song and his new album, "Ronnie Dove: Now and Then," to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The album has another song with local roots: "My Maryland Memories," a wistful tribute to days on the beach, nights at Oriole games with Cal Ripken, crabs and the smell of honeysuckle and the eternal question, "How did I let it all slip away?"
The early response to both songs "has been wonderful," Dove was saying yesterday. "We finished recording in Nashville, flew in and changed our clothes, and ran over to Anne Arundel Community College. There were 200 people there, and we did 'Save the Bay' and got a wonderful standing ovation. [Anne Arundel County Executive] John Gary stood up and talked about how great it was. Then we did it at the Severna Park Elks Club, and they all stood up and cheered. So it's been real gratifying."
Dove, 62, has spent the last several years focusing on local performances. He's been a regular at the Dove's Nest, a Brooklyn Park club that uses his name. He's played fire halls and Elks Clubs and various charities. On the evening of June 8, he'll perform outside Luigi Petti Restaurant in Little Italy, at an outdoor street party to raise money for a local child with a brain tumor. The party's open to the public.
As for "Save the Bay," it's a natural -- for those who treasure the bay and those who simply love a rousing song. If you can't find a copy, call 410-360-1098. It's a little slow getting into music
stores, but it's an effort that should sail.
Pub Date: 5/28/98