Last year, the music media lauded the decades-delayed release of a lost classic—Terry Dolan’s self-titled 1972 “debut” album that never debuted. The San Francisco guitarist/songwriter looked to have a sure thing at the time, with songs produced by Nicky Hopkins and Pete Sears, and a studio band that included the Pointer Sisters as background vocalists, drummer Prairie Prince, percussionist Spencer Dryden, bassist Lonnie Turner, and guitarists John Cipollina, Greg Douglass, and Neal Schon. Why the album was shelved remains a mystery, but the reason you can finally hear it is due to the unwavering efforts of Dolan’s former fan-club team member and long-time manager, Mike Somavilla. Here, Somavilla recounts his story of saving a lost treasure.
Mike Somavilla peers between Terry Dolan (left) and John Cipollina in 1988.
So there’s no idea what happened back in 1972?
Not really. Warner Brothers cancelled his recording contract in 1972, and the record was shelved in ’73. Terry had gone on a vacation to the East Coast to visit family, and he came back and was wondering, “What’s going on with my record?” He called Warner Brothers, and they were like, “Oh, don’t you know? We dropped you.”
When did you first hear it?
I heard side one when I was still living in Virginia, because we did some fan club releases on cassette. I loved it. In fact, I loved Terry’s music so much that I decided I needed to be in San Francisco permanently, so I moved out here in 1987—ten days before my 30th birthday. Terry called me, and said, “Hey Mike, I’ve got a birthday present for you. Come by and pick it up.” And he gave me one of the test pressings of the album.
Did he know that you wanted to get the album released somehow?
In 1989, I told him I was contacting Warner Brothers to try to get his record back, and he said, “Well, good luck. Have fun. Have at it.”
How did Warner Brothers react?
They ignored me. I tried again in 1991, and they said, “You misread the contract. It belongs to us in perpetuity.” I thought, “Okay, let me regroup.” In 2002, I tried again, and I almost had it out, but my backer lost money in the stock market and had to pull his support. Then, in 2011, I met George Wallace from High Moon Records, and I played him Terry’s album. He said, “I’ve got to put this out.” George was able to license the record from Warners, and they actually sent us the original master tape. They also gave me access to all of the original artwork and photos. When they shelved the record, they just put all the promo materials in a box and filed it away. It was quite a find.
Of course, the sad part of the story is that Terry passed away in January 2011, and he never saw his album released.
He was definitely aware that High Moon Records were going to put it out, but he didn’t live to see it get released.
Man, I have to commend your dogged determination to get Terry’s album out to the public. What drove you through all the years and all of the disappointments?
I’m a “never say die” guy. Terry was a good friend of mine, and he gave me my start in the business. I also felt that it was a great album, and it should have been out in 1973. I mean, it would have totally changed Terry’s life if it had come out then. But for whatever reason, it didn’t, and I couldn’t just let such really great music—and the work all of those great players—stay hidden. Also, it’s nice to think that Terry is probably up in heaven dancing and smiling that his record finally saw the light of day.