Although born and raised in Connecticut, Terry split for California in 1965. As he sang in the lyric from his song “Inlaws and Outlaws”: “’When I came in I came out from the East Coast. When I came, I came along for the ride, yeah, we were coming into ‘Frisco, I believe so good to be alive…”
Terry got his start as a folkie, strumming in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury and in North Beach coffee houses. He never thought of himself as a true musician, claiming that “I don’t read music and I don’t know half of the names of the chords I use, but I know the sound.” That didn’t matter to the many musicians who came to play with Terry. They loved the free-form rock that he was putting down.
In 1970, Terry, joined by Nicky Hopkins (Rolling Stones) on piano and as Producer, guitarist John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service) and with Country Weather as the back-up band, recorded a demo album titled Inlaws and Outlaws and also planted the seed that would later become Terry & The Pirates. The demo received considerable airplay on underground free-form rock stations KSAN and KMPX, who played it every day. Although the album was never released in vinyl, it got so much response that in 1971, S.F. Examiner music critic Tom Campbell wrote a column called “The Hit That Isn’t.” “Terry Dolan may be in the process of doing the impossible,” he wrote, ” having a hit without making a record.”
With the help of iconic DJ “Big Daddy” Tom Donahue, Terry signed with Warners in 1972 and cut an album (WB catalog number BS 2669) that featured John Cipollina, Greg Douglass, David Weber, along with Spencer Dryden, Lonnie Turner, Neal Schon, Prairie Prince, Kathi McDonald, Mic Gillette, and the Pointer Sisters. But for reasons unknown, the album was never released.
Although most fans consider him much overlooked in the rock scale of recognition, Terry often laughed about his somewhat reflected radiance of fame, saying that everyone who played with the band was more famous and successful than he was. He commented, “While people were going wild at Woodstock, I played at the mellow Sky River Folk Festival up in Oregon. People used to say I was too hard for a folkie, and too soft for hard rock.”
Organized as an official band in 1973, the primal Terry & The Pirates line-up consisted of Terry Dolan (guitar and vocals), John Cipollina (lead guitar), Greg Douglass (guitar and piano), David Weber (drums), and James “Hutch” Hutchinson (bass guitar). Over the years, musical chairs was played by new members, including Michael White on bass, ‘Bones’ Jones as replacement drummer, and Lonnie Turner weighing in as temporary bass-man.
His high-voltage rockography featured playing with a Who’s Who of star rockers, including Nicky Hopkins on keyboards (who later played for the Rolling Stones), Quicksliver Messenger Service guitarist John Cippolina, veteran guitarist Greg Douglass, and drummer Jeff Myer of the Jesse Colin Young Band. Over the years, other heavyweights played, picked or sang with Terry, including Van Morrison Band bassist David Hayes, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, the Pointer Sisters, bluegrass multi-instumentalist Peter Rowan, Andy Kirby, Greg Anton, Greg Elmore, Mario Cipollina Dan Hicks & the Hot Licks violinist Sid Page, singer Kathi McDonald, and many more.
Although Terry & The Pirates was primarily known as a Bay Area band, Terry realized high praise and sustained sales in Europe when he toured. Terry & The Pirates’ first album, Too Close for Comfort, was released in Italy in 1979. The group’s 1982 tour in Germany was met with overwhelming response. In fact, one night they finally had to stop playing after six encores. This concert event was filmed and recorded for Rockpalast, a German television program, which aired it for years in Europe. The band’s albums still sell there to this day.
Terry & The Pirates dissolved after Cipollina’s death in 1989, but the group’s rock posterity includes several recordings from the late ’70s through the early ’80s, including such titles as Too Close for Comfort (1979), The Doubtful Handshake (1980), Wind Dancer (1981), and Rising of the Moon (1982). In 1994, Terry resurrected Terry & The Pirates with a whole new lineup, resulting in the 1998 release, Still a Pirate. In 2001, Comanche Boots (a self-described “vaults compilation”) was released, as well as a reissue of Too Close for Comfort with an expanded track listing. In 2007, a reissue of Return to Silverado was released; it included a bonus disc of rare, live, and previously unreleased material.
According to Mike Somavilla, Terry’s long-time manager and friend, “In my opinion, Doubtful Handshake is, without a doubt, the best of the Pirates’ albums musically. Everyone in the band was at the peak of their musical powers, Terry was writing his ass off, and we were working fairly regularly around the Bay Area.” Since Terry nicknamed Mike “Fan Man,” he surely knows what he’s talking about.
Mike is still “working” Terry’s music. “A chance comment by Terry motivated me to track down and find 25 forgotten reel-to-reel tapes that Terry Dolan recorded between 1968 and 1971,” he revealed. “Some featured some real special guests, but mostly they were Terry on solo acoustic, mostly in the studio, but some are live. At the time of his passing, Terry and I were going through them to prepare them for several releases.” According to Mike, a label has already expressed interest in the 50 plus lost recordings in addition to 28 other unreleased songs from Terry’s vault of music.
Friends and cohorts said their goodbyes at a family service in Novato, and at a rocking farewell at Studio D in Sausalito, where Terry had recorded. Terry is survived by a son, James; a daughter, Jesse Bleu; and three grandchildren. Perhaps Greg Douglass expressed how many of Terry’s friends felt about him: “My love for the obnoxious, frenetic little Irish bastard remains unchanged after all these years. Terry was the spark plug, a tsunami of pure personality that held the band together (as much as the Pirates could ever be described as “together”…). Terry was, of course, an unceasing source of creativity, but he was also someone who drew talent to him and used it beautifully. That, in itself, is a gift.”
Too Close For Comfort 1979 (Wild Bunch) Italy The Doubtful Handshake 1980 (Line Records) Germany Wind Dancer 1981 (same as above) Rising Of The Moon 1982 (same as above) Acoustic Rangers 1987 (same as above) ”Silverado Trail 1990 (Big Beat) UK Too Close For Comfort 1994 Re-Issue w/ 6 Bonus Tracks (Legend Records) (France) Still A Pirate 1998 (Private pressing) Comanche Boots 2001 (Evangeline Records) (UK) Too Close For Comfort 2001 Re-Issue of the reissue (above) w/ 1 Bonus Track (Evangeline Records) (UK) ”Return To Silverado 2007 Re-Issue w/ Bonus tracks and bonus disc (Evangeline Records) (UK) Doubtful Handshake 2010 Reissue w/ 2 Bonus tracks (Made In Germany Music) Live at Rockpalast (West Coast Legends Vol. 5) DVD and CD 2010 (Made In Germany Music)