TERRY and the Pirates is perhaps San Francisco's best kept secret. For close to 14 years they have been playing to small, but enthusiastic, audiences in clubs on the West Coast. Their music is a nice mixture of country rock, folk and pure shit-kicking, high energy rock and roll, all of which is performed in that "loose" San Francisco tradition.
The band is fronted by Terry Dolan, who is lead singer and songwriter. He possesses a unique voice that has a kind of earthy quality. He sings in an unusual, slurred, almost out-of-breath fashion. The Pirates are basically a loose conglomeration of musicians that over the years have had a constantly revolving line-up. Generally the nucleus has been Terry, John Cipollina and Greg Douglass, with all manner of other top West Coast musicians sitting in from time to time.
The most recent line-up of Terry and the Pirates was Cipollina, and Douglass on guitars, David Hayes on bass, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Gregg Elmore on drums, all people that should be more than familiar to Relix readers, and quite a formidable group by anyone's standards. It may come as no surprise to hear that at times the band comes remarkably close in spirit to Quicksilver. The lead guitar interplay between Douglass and Cippolina is often breathtaking. However. it is Dolan who is the star of the show with his great vocals and excellent songs. Why the band has never been snapped up by a major label is a mystery, and it is nothing short of a travesty that they aren't more well known.
To date they have released four albums, all of which are only available as imports. Their first appearance on vinyl was the 1979 Too Close For Comfort album released on Wild Bunch Records in Italy, The sound quality was not exactly hi-fi quality, as the album had been recorded cheaply. However, what it may have lacked in technical qualities it made up for in terms of sheer dynamics and energy. It was made up of live tracks with the exception of the opener, which was the original 1970 demo of "Inlaws and Outlaws" and the closing song, a wistful acoustic ballad "Fare Thee Well". In between was some really raunchy rock and roll. Particularly outstanding is the eight minute "Baby Don't Do It".
Their second album was a studio recording. This time it was released in Germany on the Line Record label. Again it was recorded relatively cheaply, but this time the sound was fine. Terry explains, "We recorded the whole album for about $3,000. We cut the basics in one day on 16 track and then overdubbed at Jim Stern's house. I gave them the whole package, complete with the sleeve. It is the best seller of my albums, and has sold about 15.000 copies."
Two more albums followed on Country Joe's Rag Baby label, but neither have been officially released in the U.S.A. Wind Dancer, the first of these releases, focuses on the more country rock material of Terry 's and is a really nice album. The highlights are the poignant "Poe Train" and the rocking "Something To Lose".
The second Rag Baby album, Rising Of The Moon, was released late last year and is their best album to date. It is also their most straight ahead rock album. Terry has resurrected the delightful "Rainbow" from the unreleased Warner's album and given it a new treatment. John and Greg get plenty of room to turn in some exemplary licks, most notably on "Purple and Blonde". Terry also shows that he can still write some great catchy tunes. "Razor Blade would make a great single with its infectious hook "Hey, hey who rocks the night away sharper than a razor blade."
Unfortunately, things haven't worked out too well with Rag Baby and the band are currently looking for another deal. I asked Terry what the current situation was, as the band are presently in a state of limbo. John, as usual is playing with a number of different bands. David Hayes is producing videos, and Greg Douglass is playing with the Greg Kihn band. "Greg and I are still playing together, but only in the studio. We cut a new demo with David Hayes, Greg and Jeff Myer on drums. One of the songs, "Yankee Son," is one of the best songs I have written (I have heard a rough version of it and it's a killer.)
I did some solo acoustic snows last year opening for J.J. Cale. It is important for me to get it across that the Pirates will play again. I am not that motivated at the moment, because it is too damn difficult to even get a rehearsal. I have to make 25 phone calls. I was losing money at the gigs, and I can't afford it, plus we miss Greg. We went to Germany and did the Rockpalast, and seven dates when we got back, but something was missing. Besides playing outstanding lead. Greg plays the grooviest rhythm guitar. Nicky can fill in the rhythms. but it is not the same as a straight guitar. The Pirates will play again. I just want time to rehearse."
Early on in his career Terry actually got signed to Warner Brothers as he explains. "Basically,I got signed to Warners as a solo artist and The Pirates came after that. I got dropped at the same time as Stoneground. I did an album for them that was never released. One side was produced by Nicky Hopkins, and it is still a great side. The other side was produced by Pete Sears. I had the Pointer Sisters, Greg and John, Prairie Prince from the Tubes, and Lonnie Turner, all playing on the album. It was like an all-star happy-hippie San Francisco album. I had a song called "Angie's Song" on it, and later The Stones came out with "Angie," which I think was influenced by it, but Nicky says it was a coincidence!" The album also contained "Inlaws and Outlaws," which is a great song, and their most well-known number, as it got played a lot on FM radio. "My wife used to work for KMPX so I used to know the DJ's. They would play the tape and they were always getting fired, and they would take the tape with them. Bill Graham said he heard it played on the radio in New York, which is pretty far out for a tape!"
At present Terry is anxious to get an album out in the States. And he says, "it is important for me to get a record out in the U.S. I have a lot of commercial tunes. We are going to try and put Rising of the Moon out in this country. I have the rights for the U.S. We are going to press it ourselves and maybe even do a video. I might subtract a few tunes from it, and add some more powerful material to make it a really strong album. I think we will re-do "Inlaws and Outlaws," and maybe "Something To Lose" and "Montana Eyes". The first priority is getting Rising of the Moon out, but by that time I will have a video and a tape of a show we did at Winterland in 1975. I am going to cut that loose some day, just certain songs. It went from terribly bad to exceedingly good from one song to the next - which is one of our qualities!"
I have heard some rough mixes of some of the show and they are truly amazing. "Something To Lose", "Inlaws and Outlaws" and "All Worth The Price You Pay" are among some of the finest rock I have heard in years. Cipollina and Douglass are truly superb on their lead guitar trade-offs. The tape really does deserve to see the light of day.
Terry is rather philosophical about his situation and says he knows he is never going to be a big star, but that he just wants to put out his songs and play for people that are interested. He is open to all offers, and would dearly love to do a more comprehensive tour, but says, "It has to be financially feasible."
Hopefully, someone will take him up on the idea. Terry and the Pirates are a good unpretentious band, as anyone who has seen them will testify. They deserve some success, especially Terry, as he is one hell of a nice guy as well as being an extremely gifted songwriter.
For further information, write: Terry and the Pirates Fan Club, P.O. Box 4355, Arlington Va 22204.
Relix, October 1984, Vol. 11 No. 5