After more than 55 years as Arizona’s Official State Balladeer, Dolan Ellis continues to proudly hang his cowboy hat on that handle. It was Governor Sam Goddard who created the title and made the appointment official in 1966. It was right after Dolan left “The New Christy Minstrels” at the height of their fame, and returned home to his beloved state to devote his full talents to capturing Arizona, its culture, and its history, in song and photograph. Arizona was the first state in the United States of America to have an “Official State Balladeer”. Interestingly, many other states now have one, as well. Dolan has received many awards of achievement over the years. Among them was a “Grammy” and a “Gold Record” in 1962. Then, Senator John McCain placed Dolan’s music into the “United States Congressional Record”, and Governor Jane Hull inducted Dolan into the “Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame”. Dolan has also been inducted into the “Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame”, and was named the first “Arizona Culture Keeper” by the Arizona Historical Society. Dolan’s famous 12 string guitar with the hole worn in it is also now on display at the “Musical Instrument Museum”, in Phoenix. All of these prestigious awards are greatly appreciated and mean the world to Dolan, but none are more precious to him than his title of, “Arizona’s Official State Balladeer”. He even wrote a song about it, that includes the following lyric…
I write the songs but not for fame
My songs belong to the sun and rain
Forget my face, forget my name
Just call me The Balladeer
Those lyrics ring loud and true. Dolan Ellis is a talented poet and tunesmith who could have easily directed his talents’\ toward the commercial market, but instead, he chose to write and sing about the uniqueness of Arizona, and inspire us all to love and appreciate the land we live in.
He’d stroll the quiet sandwash
Follow trails the quail had made
His desert friend, a cactus wren
Would chatter where he played
In the ironwood trees the honey bees
Buzzed like a violin band
For the son of the desert and brother to the land
This child of the dry earth
Has grown into a man
Today he makes his livin’
With a guitar in his hand
His songs are his love song
Of the wildnerness he ran
As the son of the desert and brother to the land
COMING TO ARIZONA…
Dolan is not a native Arizonan. He was born and raised in Kansas, but he somehow always knew that he would one day make Arizona his home. Even as a small child, he was attracted to the deserts of Arizona. When that day finally came in 1959, it seemed like a homecoming to the young man who had fantasized living here for so long. Dolan was born on his parent’s family farm and as a small child he spent endless hours alone in nature, exploring along the creekbanks of a small creek that ran through the farm, and allowing his imagination to run free while playing alone in the dense woods along the creek. Living several miles from the closest town, the domestic farm animals were his friends and playmates. Dolan believes that it was during those formative years that he bonded with all things of the earth, and there was something about the Sonoran Desert that seemed to hold the answers to, “the origin of the earth”. It was as if he was driven to be on some sort of quest. With that thought in mind, it is rather interesting to note that Dolan wrote a song very early in his career, called “Son of the Desert”. As one listens to its words, they seem to be a bit autobiographical, with a bit of a twist. The young boy in this song clearly discovers himself, as he becomes an adult in the desert. There is definitely a mysterious connection there.…
After arriving in Phoenix, Dolan went to work as a cameraman at a local television station, KOOL-TV. At the same time, he began playing and singing in a charming little coffee house in Scottsdale called” Portofino ’s”. The gig became very successful, and Dolan drew full houses each weekend. As a result, he soon quit his job at the TV station and became a fulltime entertainer/folk singer/songwriter. Portofino’s began booking national folk acts into the venue, with different nationally famous entertainers appearing there every week. Dolan became the opening act for these groups, and as a result, he learned his performance skills from some of the most talented folk artists in the nation. Dolan’s talents were soon to be noticed by their booking agents, which gave him the opportunity to start traveling and singing nationally. Then, when Randy Sparks was recruiting folk musicians for “The New Christy Minstrels”, he invited Dolan to come on board. Dolan was a natural fit, with his rich baritone voice, his12-string guitar, and his clean-cut midwestern good looks. The Christies literally exploded onto the national folk music scene and within a year and a half, they were at the top of the show business mountain, earning a Grammy for “Best Folk Group”, a gold record album, 39 consecutive weeks on the Andy Williams show, and were featured in Time Magazine, and in the centerfold of Life Magazine. By then, they were also appearing at the most prestigious venues in the nation, including Carnegie Hall, New York’s Latin Quarter, and the famous “Coconut Grove”. It was at that time that Dolan decided that he needed to leave the group and move back home to Arizona and begin once again exploring its back roads and secret canyons and writing songs about it. Once again, Dolan’s music was reflecting his personal life, as he wrote another autobiographical song, “Goin’ Home to Springerville.” Springerville is a small town in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona, and Dolan used it as a metaphor for his home in Phoenix, which still had a small town feel at that time. He wrote the song on the airplane coming back home to Phoenix. Dolan had just made a huge career decision, and the song lyrics and its bluesy sound seem to echo his feelings.
Goin’ home to Springerville
Goin’ back to bein’ me
Done spent my cash on that city trash
And I miss that hash and succotash back home
I got my pack strapped on my back
and I’m walkin’ down that lonely track, ohh ohh
It’s a long, It’s a long lonesome road
Goin’ home to Springerville
Well it’s been so long since I’ve been gone
and it feels so good to head back home, oh my
Well, I’m standin’ here in this dreary rain
and I’m waitin’ for that home-bound plane to fly
And it’s a long, and it’s a long, lonesome road
THE ARIZONA FOLKLORE PRESERVE:
In 1996, Dolan founded the, “Arizona Folklore Preserve”, in beautiful Ramsey Canyon, in the Huachuca Mountains, just south of Sierra Vista. The AFP is a 501c2 non-profit center for presenting, housing, and preserving the myths, legends, songs, and stories of the state of Arizona. (www.arizonafolklore.com.) The AFP is now under the ownership of the “University of Arizona South” and is administered by its Board of Directors. The Balladeer remains Artist-in-Residence and appears there one weekend each month, presenting different shows based on the seasons of the year, the different holidays, and such. Open only on the weekends, the AFP presents the finest of cultural entertainment and acoustic folk music in the Southwest, on its one-of-a-kind “cowboy line shack” stage, that Dolan designed himself, specifically for the presentation of Arizona songs and stories. This facility, with its cozy state of the art and airconditioned theater, has earned a reputation as being the “best listening room in the state of Arizona”.
Dolan’s appearances with “The New Christy Minstrels” had been quite rare, since leaving them in 1963. However, that all changed after a major NCM reunion in Queen Creek, Arizona, in 2005. Amazingly, many of the original members were still performing, and once again they reunited and became a touring act. They did a couple of national tours each year, for over ten years. Then, at 80 years of age, Dolan decided that it was time to stop his part time touring with the group, and to devote 100% of his professional efforts to his own Arizona music career, and his work as “Arizona’s Balladeer”.
Today, Dolan spends most of his time archiving his life’s creations and writing new Arizona ballads. The internet has become a major vehicle for presenting his music, however he still occasionally takes his one-man multimedia Arizona show on the road throughout the state of Arizona, and occasionally appears with old friends in the L.A area. His shows consist mostly of his original songs and photography of Arizona. Dolan’s fans agree that his baritone voice is better than ever, with an almost unbelievable resonance, and his 12-string guitar playing reflects the polish of six decades of stage performance. Today, his music has become synonymous with the State of Arizona and Dolan connects with his audiences like few performers can do.