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State Balladeer Dolan Ellis to perform Dec. 8 at Sibley's West

Posted by John Wolfe on 4th Dec 2018

Visit Sibley's West on Saturday, Dec. 8, for an afternoon of holiday performances by Arizona State Balladeer Dolan Ellis.

Dolan, who is making his first stop at Sibley's West, will perform short shows at 2 pm, 3 pm and 4 pm.

Among his songs is  "Scrubby," the tale of the "Mystery Tree" that is decorated each December for the holidays in the median of Interstate 17 on the way to Flagstaff.

His numerous CDs and a concert DVD will be available.

Also, Dolan and his wife, Merilee, have a fundraising DVD of the Salt River wild horses, with funds going to the Salt River Wild Horse Management Group, which they are a part of.

Dolan was appointed Arizona’s Official State Balladeer in February 1966 by Gov. Sam Goddard, an appointment that has been endorsed by his 13 successors.

Over the years Dolan Ellis has been recognized with a Grammy, gold records, and selection to the Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame. He was the first to be inducted as an Arizona Culture Keeper.

As wonderful as these awards and titles are, nothing means as much to this great musician and folklorist as being The Balladeer. He is
 a very talented poet and tunesmith who chose to write about, sing about, and teach us, Arizonans and visitors alike, about the state he loves.

But Dolan is not a native Arizonan. He was born and raised in Kansas , and never even visited Arizona until he moved to Phoenix in 1959. And yet, that move seemed like a homecoming to the young man who had loved the Western movies, especially those featuring the “singin’ cowboys.” Dolan knew that Arizona, with its wide-open spaces, was the place he ought to be.

In Phoenix , Dolan spent some time in the television industry while he worked at a great little coffee house in Scottsdale called Portofino ’s.

Young Dolan in the studio

He soon quit the television job and became the house act, opening for and learning from the best of the era’s folk artists. Gigs at Portofino ’s and other “happening” coffee houses throughout the West provided an opportunity for his music to be noticed at the national level.

When Randy Sparks was recruiting solo artists and small groups to become part of the New Christy Minstrels, Dolan was a natural fit, with his great baritone voice and 12-string guitar, his enthusiasm, and his clean-cut good looks.

By 1963, the Christies were at the top, with a Grammy for best group, five albums including some that were gold, 39 consecutive weeks on the nationally televised Andy Williams show, and appearances at the best concert venues in the nation.

That was when the future Arizona Balladeer left the group to move back to his beloved, adopted state and once again explore its back roads, canyons, and mountains—and meet its unique people.

Upon leaving the Christies, Dolan wrote another autobiographical song, “Goin’ Home to Springerville." Springerville, a real but very small town in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona, was a metaphor for Scottsdale and Phoenix, which at that time still had the smalltown feeling.

He wrote it on the airplane back to Phoenix, after they finished an engagement in Lake Tahoe. Dolan had just made a huge decision, and the song lyrics and bluesy sound seemed to echo his feelings.

"Goin' back to bein' me
Done spent my cash on that silly 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"