More than a few Rim country residents are familiar with the name Dolan Ellis, Arizona's Official Balladeer. Knowing the name, they know the talent and that talent is coming to town to help rebuild the Zane Grey Cabin.
Ellis will perform in concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 5 at the Payson High School auditorium. The program is brought to the Rim country by the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation and the Tonto Community Concert Association.
"The Tonto Community Concert Association hosted him in a concert a few years ago and he drew a huge crowd," said Dick Wolfe, president of the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation, which is building a replica of the novelist's cabin in Green Valley Park.
"When we were thinking about a fund-raiser for the cabin, he seemed a natural," Wolfe said. "He believes strongly in what we're doing."
Wolfe has been a fan of Ellis for about 25 years.
"I first heard him in a nightclub in Phoenix. Later he had his own club in Scottsdale, the Tuba City Truck Stop -- he has a song called that too. I love his music and style of performing," Wolfe said.
Ellis was dubbed Arizona's Official State Balladeer by Gov. Sam Goddard in February 1966. That appointment has been renewed by each of the state's nine succeeding governors.
He has been awarded a Grammy, earned gold records and a spot in the Arizona Tourism Hall of Fame. Sen. John McCain has even made Ellis and his music part of the Congressional Record.
Ellis was the first to be inducted as an Arizona Culture Keeper.
While he acknowledges all these things have been wonderful, he said nothing means as much as being The Balladeer, he even wrote a song about it:
"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"
A native of Kansas, he first visited Arizona when he moved to Phoenix in 1959. He said the move seemed like a homecoming to someone who had loved the Westerns, especially those featuring the "singin' cowboys," and fantasized that all of them depicted life in Arizona. He knew the state, with its wide-open spaces, was the place for him to be.
The early 1960s found Ellis involved in both the fledgling Phoenix television industry and the folk music scene at clubs throughout the Valley. He was most frequently a performer at Portofino's coffee house and eventually became its house act, opening for and learning from the best of the era's folk artists.
That work won him a spot with the New Christy Minstrels and life in the world of popular recording artists, national television (The Andy Williams Show), and top concert venues throughout the country.
But Arizona was home, and that is where Ellis wanted to be. He left the group and returned to the Grand Canyon State.
More than 40 years and 300 songs later, Dolan Ellis is still going strong. In 1996, he began performing at the nonprofit, 501c3, Arizona Folklore Preserve, which he founded in Ramsey Canyon, south of Sierra Vista.
The preserve is now owned by the University of Arizona South and Ellis is its Artist-in-Residence, making a 500-mile round trip from his home in Phoenix about twice a month to do weekend shows there, presenting about 20 different themes throughout the year. On other weekends, he books the best of Arizona cultural and folk artists to appear at the rustic stage in the Preserve's theater, which Ellis designed specifically for presentation of acoustic music.
The Payson program is part of The Balladeer's one-man road show. He takes it throughout the state, performing in formal concerts, at conventions, cowboy poetry and music gatherings, folk and storytelling festivals, private parties and the occasional benefit.
The Feb. 5 program is a benefit for the Zane Grey Cabin Foundation. The original cabin was lost in the 1990 Dude Fire. Grey wrote many of his famous novels there and based several of them on stories he heard from Rim country residents who helped with his hunting parties.
Tickets for the Dolan Ellis concert are $20, children under 12 will be admitted free. Tickets will be available at the door and are also at the Payson Public Library, the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Rim Country Museum, Arizona State Savings and Credit Union, and the Payson Roundup office.