Ronnie Dove sings a few classic songs for old times' sake

January 24, 1995|By MICHAEL OLESKER

"Right or wrong I'll be with you

I'll do what you want me to.

I believe that I belong.

By your side, right or wrong. . . ."

He's still doing it.

Ronnie Dove, three decades after "Right or Wrong" and "Say You" and "One Kiss for Old Times' Sake," three decades after the jocks on WCAO and WITH and WWIN radio always introduced him as "Baltimore's own Ronnie Dove," three decades after Ed Sullivan brought him out by saying he was "gonna be a big star," three decades after American Bandstand appearances and Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin and Shindig TV appearances and gigs at New York's Latin Quarter where he'd come out right after the topless dancers, he's still doing it, still singing his heart out while the middle-aged ladies come out of the audience to snap his picture, still beaming when he's singing "One Kiss" and they walk right up to him and plant their lips right on top of his.

He's a wonder.

There he was Friday night, at Michael's 8th Avenue, in Glen Burnie, singing for 2 1/2 hours straight, singing so long they finally sent out for a pizza and had it delivered to him right on stage; and Saturday afternoon at Joey's Restaurant and Bar, on Riverside Avenue in Essex, where he's a regular; and then Saturday night at the Gardenville Moose; and now, 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon, here he is again, at a packed Arbutus Volunteer Fire Hall to help raise money for the St. Agnes Hospital Oncology Center.

"I just love to sing," he says.

"You'll probably rise out of the coffin to sing," says his wife, Marty.

They're standing in a back room at the fire hall, minutes before show time. There's a little group that includes the veteran disc jockey Johnny Dark and former Oriole Rick Dempsey, who's flown in from California for this fund-raiser to honor Sandy Conlon, a health care worker who died a few months back.

Three decades after he first hit it big, Ronnie Dove is still working. Says he's recorded 500 songs. Had 23 songs hit the Top 100. Finished No. 251 in a 1993 magazine survey of the top rock 'n' roll artists of all time.

Not bad for a guy who started out singing at the old Elmer's Bar, at Pratt and Light streets, back in 1955, back when the merchant seamen would wander in, and the winos and the motorcycle gangs, and everybody would "get drunk and fight. That's what we did," Dove remembers, laughing out loud. "Just sing and fight."

He survived it well enough to move uptown, all the way to The Spa, at 1300 N. Charles, where he worked for years even when he started hitting it big, touring with Chuck Berry, with the Shirelles, getting calls from the likes of Ed Sullivan.

"Yeah, Sullivan," Dove says now, sipping a little bourbon from a plastic cup. "That was a highlight of my life."

He'd been up for three straight days doing a telethon, then flew into New York during a snowstorm in 1966. Plane couldn't land for two hours. Finally got to his hotel room at 3 in the morning. Had billing with Flip Wilson, Connie Francis, and "some Russian ballet act."

"I've got the show on tape," Dove says. "Got all of 'em."

"He performs better today than he did 40 years ago," says Johnny Dark, who spent about 30 years at WCAO-radio and still works weekends at 100.3-FM out of Washington.

"The secret?" Dove says. "I gargle with bourbon every day."

Everybody laughs. Rick Dempsey holds up a CD, "Ronnie Dove's Golden Classics." The guy on the cover looks about 28. Dove turns 60 this fall.

"You gotta get this picture updated," Dempsey says. "You just want those pretty girls calling you up."

They do love him. They've packed the fire hall, the ladies and their guys, and they roar when he hits the final, soaring notes of "Say You."

"I know what you're thinking," he tells them. " 'That old bleep can't hit that note.' But, hey, I used to hit it without tight shorts on."

The crowd roars again, and he launches into "One Kiss for Old Times' Sake." A lady gets up from her chair to kiss him, and then another and another and then, bolting through the crowd, here comes Rick Dempsey to kiss him and throw his arms about him.

"You're beautiful," Ronnie Dove tells the big, screaming crowd. He's beaming. It ain't the Sullivan show, just the Arbutus fire hall. But the people love him still, and if that isn't living well, then what is?

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