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Joe Dolan (1939-2007) An Appreciation

Bands: Drifters Solo

By Gerry Gallagher

On December 26th, 2007 the Irish entertainment world was rocked by news of the sudden death of Joe Dolan, one of the showband era's most charismatic and successful singers. Although Joe had been forced to cancel several tours earlier in the year due to illness, nobody was prepared for the news that he had died of a brain hemorrhage at the relatively young age of 68. For over forty-five years, Joe had packed in the crowds across Ireland and the rest of the world.

Joe's death was reported in newspapers across the world from the New York Times to the London Observer and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, such was his worldwide fame. Over his career, Joe had more records in the Irish Charts than any other Irish artist - thirty three (33) chart hits in all (information from www.irishcharts.ie). Although his death was shrouded in mystery with rumours about AIDS, cancer and other ailments, Joe was sick for several years before finally dying of a brain hemorrhage. He was kept alive for a few hours on life support, but died peacefully within 20 minutes of it being turned off.

His impact of the Irish and International scene is undeniable. 

Joe was one of seven children of the late Patrick and Ellen Dolan. The second youngest boy in the family, Joe's siblings were Dymphna, Patrick, Ben, Imelda, Vincent and the late James. The family lived in Grange South on the Ballymahon Road and after finishing school, in 1958 he joined the staff of the Westmeath Examiner where he served his apprenticeship as a compositor at their offices in Dominick Street on the advice of his brother, Ben, "It would always be good to have something to fall back on, should music not work out."

As he was completing his studies at his chosen trade, Joe was already making an impression in the music world. The band he formed with brother Ben had started in the usual way, playing maybe once a week for local dances and functions. Soon, the band was playing more and more and decided to take the plunge to turn professional at Easter, 1962. Indeed, it was no surprise when Joe, on qualifying as a compositor, parked that career and went in to music full time. O
n stage with his group, The Drifters, Joe was the guitarist and lead singer. Although successful locally, and playing regularly, the band was not well known outside of the Midlands.

Their big break came when Quinn Supermarkets booked the Drifters to play at heats of their national beauty contest. The gig exposed the band and their lead singer to audiences throughout the country and the stage was set for their success. It was 1964 when Joe and the band cut their first record, The Answer To Everything, which shot to the top ten of the Irish Charts, topping out at number 4. The B side was When You Say I Love You, written by the band's 18 year old trumpeter, Tommy Swarbrigg. The success of the record had a major impact on the band and on bookings. Suddenly, they were playing to crowds in ballrooms scattered from Dublin to Mayo and Donegal to Cork.

With a hit single under their belts, the boys took the dancehalls and ballrooms by storm. In the following years, Joe released a string of hits, including "I Love You More And More Everyday", "My Own Peculiar Way", "Aching Breaking Heart", "Pretty Brown Eyes", "Tar And Cement", "The House With The Whitewashed Gable", "Love Of The Common People", and "The Westmeath Bachelor".

Joe was soon one of the elite of the showband era. Along with peers Butch Moore (Capitol), Dickie Rock (Miami) and Brendan Bowyer (Royal) they enjoyed superstar status in the ballrooms. His unique singing style and song selection garnered him a string of top ten hits, which culminated with two number ones, Pretty Brown Eyes and House with The White Washed Gable. Following these successes, Joe and the Drifters were firmly in place as one of the "super" showbands of the era.

Success had not prepared Joe for the bombshell which dropped in July, 1968. A crisis hit the band when Tommy Swarbrigg and the younger members of the band announced they were leaving to form their own band, The Times. Tommy contacted his brother, Jimmy, who was living in London, and he returned to front the new pop band. The breakup of the band had several causes including, by Joe's own admission, the fact that he had been involved with more solo projects and could be away on the continent for weeks at a time, the band being off the road. Manager Seamus Casey (with Joe from Day One) put the split down to musical differences between Joe and Ben and the rest of the band. One way or another, the band played their last gig in Castlerea.

The move left Joe and Ben alone, and they went about rebuilding a new band, that would eventually go on to even greater success at home and abroad. They recruited: Frankie McDonald (trumpet), Gordon Coleman (guitar), Maurice Walsh (drums), Kieran Mc Donnell (keyboards), Seamus Shannon (trombone), and Patrick Hoye (bass). After adding a guitarist, Joe set down his six string and focused all his energy on singing.   

1969 would be the year that Joe enjoyed massive success on the international scene. His single, Make Me an Island, stormed to the top of the British Charts, hitting number 3 and putting Joe on BBC's Top of the Pops. The single marked the first time Joe had recorded without the Drifters and although he was being marketed as a solo act outside of Ireland, in an article in Spotlight, he was quoted as saying. "I'm part of the Drifters and always will be." The song went to the top spot in fourteen European countries, launching Joe into his extraordinary international career. Following the success of Island, Joe enjoyed a short run of success in the UK Charts with three singles in a row reaching the UK Top Twenty, a feat not equaled by any of his showband peers as far as we know. 

Throughout the 1970's, Joe went from strength to strength. His records were snapped up across Europe and he made appearances on a wide variety of television shows. After a brief lull in the early seventies, in 1974 Joe released Sweet Little Rock n Roller, a number which although it failed to make a huge impact on the charts (stalling at Number 14 in Ireland), it became a major hit in Britain for Showaddywaddy five years later. More importantly, it remained one of Joe's best loved songs and one he continued to feature in closing his act throughout his career.

A clue to Joe's generous nature came in a 1974 interview with Paschal Mooney in Spotlight. When asked whether he felt snubbed by the home record buyers because his records had not done so well recently in Ireland, he said, "it's great that the home fans had the sense to put The Times at No. 1 and I hope they make it in England too. They deserve it."  A nice sentiment for the band that had left him just a few years earlier.     

As the seventies progressed, Joe spent less and less time in Ireland and focused his efforts on "the continent" which was where the real money was. This culminated in 1978, when Joe and the Drifters became the first Western entertainers to perform in Russia, long before the end of the cold war.        

As the era of the showbands and the ballrooms ended, Joe, like peers Dickie Rock and Brendan Bowyer, just kept going. He continued to tour the continent as well as appear in cabaret and concerts around Ireland. Joe's staying power was demonstrated by the fact that even though Dickie and Brendan had their last Irish chart hits in 1989 and 1990 respectively, Joe had chart singles in 1993, 1997 and finally in 1998 with The Universal. A spoof remake of his hit Good Looking Woman with Dustin the Turkey even hit the number 1 spot in the Irish Charts in 1997. Joe became the only Irish artist to have charts hits in four consecutive decades. 

Joe also continued to produce CD's and DVD's and in fact, his latest CD, Let There Be Love was riding high in Irish Charts at the time of his death.

Overall, it is difficult to measure the impact of showband artists like Joe on the Irish entertainment industry. Unfortunately, many of today's young stars pass off the showband era (and its stars) as poor imitations of their American and British counterparts. While that can be said of many of the era's singers, Joe Dolan was always an original. Although his early singles may have followed the popular trend of the "showband sound" in the late sixties and into the seventies, Joe found his own sound and stuck with it for the next 35 years.

It is appropriate that the final words for this tribute should come from Joe himself. In the Vincent Powers book, Send 'Em Home Sweatin', when asked how he would like to be remembered Joe said, "I'd just like to be remembered as I am, as a person, and for what I've done in show business. I'd just like to be remembered for what I've done on stage and what I've done on record. Nothing else matters."

In 2008, Ben Dolan came back on the road with Joe's Band playing live to a video of Joe singing. His website is still going strong and further tours, along with more recordings have been announced as Joe's legend continues to live on. One of Ireland's truly unique entertainers, Joe's energy, talent, drive and enthusiasm will be missed by his family, friends and fans.      

Photo Gallery

Drifters Showband 1964 (JD) Drifters Showband - 1964 (BS) The Drifters - 1965 (DD) Joe Dolan - 1965 Drifters Showband - 1966
Joe Dolan and The Drifters - 1966 The Drifters - 1967 Joe Dolan & the "New" Drifters - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1975 Drifters - 1975 (DL)
Joe Dolan in Moscow - 1978 The Times (DD) The Drifters (KS)

Joe Dolan (KS)

Drifters - 1966 (LR)
Joe Dolan Live - 1966 (LR) Joe Dolan (LR) Joe Dolan (LR) Joe Dolan & The Drifters - 1974 (LR) Joe Dolan - 1975 (LR)
The New Drifters - 1968 (JB) Joe Dolan - 1972 (LR) Drifters - 1966 (LR) Drifters (PB) Drifters
Drifters Joe Dolan (PH) Drifters Drifters - 1971 Drifters - 1966
Drifters - 1966 (MY) Drifters  (LR) Joe Dolan - 1967 Live in 1967 Drifters - 1967
Joe Dolan - 1967 Drifters - 1967 Drifters - 1967 Joe Dolan - 1969 Drifters - 1969
Joe Dolan - 1969

Drifters

Drifters - 1968 Drifters - 1970 Drifters - 1968
Drifters - 1969 Drifters - 1970 Drifters - 1968 Drifters - 1969 Drifters - 1968
Drifters - 1969 Drifters - 1967 Drifters - 1969 Drifters - 1968 Drifters - 1969
Drifters - 1970 Drifters - 1969 Drifters - 1969 Drifters - 1968 Drifters - 1970
Drifters - 1969 Drifters - 1967 Drifters - 1968 Drifters - Early 60's Drifters - 1976 (EW)
Drifters - 1971 Joe Dolan - 1971 Drifters - 1971 Drifters - 1972 Drifters - 1972
Drifters - 1971 Drifters - 1972 Drifters Drifters - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1968
Joe Dolan - 1969 Drifters - 1971 Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1973 Joe Dolan - 1970
Joe Dolan - 1971 Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1971 Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1971
Drifters - 1970 Drifters - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1970 Drifters - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1974
Joe Dolan - 1968 Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1971 Joe Dolan - 1970
Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1967
Joe Dolan - 1971 Joe Dolan - 1967 Joe Dolan - 1968 Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1969
Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1972 Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1968 Joe Dolan - 1969
Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1968 Joe Dolan - 1970 Joe Dolan - 1971
Joe Dolan - 1969 Joe Dolan - 1968 Joe Dolan - 1972 Joe Dolan - 1971 Joe Dolan - 1969
Joe Dolan - 1973 Joe Dolan - 1968 Joe Dolan - 1968 Joe Dolan - 1968 Drifters - 1976 (EW)
Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF)
Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF)
Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF)
Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Ben Dolan (RF)
Joey Gilheaney (RF) Jimmy Horan (RF) Des Doherty (RF) Tommy Swarbrigg (RF) Syd Aughey (RF)
Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF)
Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF)
Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF)
Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF)
Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF)
Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF)
Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF)
Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF)
Joe Dolan (RF) Drifters (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF) Joe Dolan (RF)
       
Joe Dolan (RF) Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
Tar & Cement - 1967 Common People- 1968 Make Me An Island - 69 Turn Out The Lights (TP) Golden Hour (TP)

Discography (partial list)

The Answer To Everything / When You Say I Love You - #4 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.15681 - August, 1964
 
I Love You More And More Everyday
- #3 Irish Charts   
Pye Records - 7N.????? - February, 1965  

My Own Peculiar Way
- #2 Irish Charts   
Pye Records - 7N.????? - July, 1965  
Aching Breaking Heart
- #2 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.17003 - November, 1965  
Two of a Kind - #10 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.17??? - May, 1966  
Pretty Brown Eyes
- #1 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.17152 - July, 1966     
I'll Sit On Your Doorstep / The Jolly Tinker

Pye Records - 7N.????? - August, 1966    
The House With The Whitewashed Gable / Work Day Blues
- #1 Irish Charts  
Pye Records - 7N.????? - January, 1967    
Tar And Cement
- #3 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.????? - July, 1967    
Love Of The Common People
/ The World Is Going Mad
- #8 Irish Charts  
Pye Records - 7N.17484 - February 24, 1968    
The Westmeath Bachelor
 
Pye Records - 7N.????? - October, 1968    
Make Me An Island / If You Care A Little About Me
- #2 Irish Charts [#3 UK Charts]
Pye Records - 7N.17738 - April, 1969  
Teresa / My First Love
- #1 Irish Charts [#20 UK Charts]
Pye Records - 7N.17833 - September, 1969  
You're Such A Good Looking Woman / Something Happens
- #4 Irish Charts [#17 UK Charts]
Pye Records - 7N.17891 - January, 1970  
It Makes No Difference
- #11 Irish Charts  
Pye Records - 7N.17978 - August, 1970
The Boola Boola / Make Me Smile
Pye Records - 7N.????? - December, 1970
Sometimes A Man Just Has To Cry / Friend In A Bottle
Pye Records - 7N.45060 - 1971
Take The Money and Run
- #19 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.45145 - June, 1972
Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller - #14 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.45330 - December, 1973
16 Brothers
Pye Records - 7N.45412 - 1974   
The Most Wanted Man In The U.S.A.
- #12 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.45451 - November, 1974      
Lady In Blue / My Darling Michelle

Pye Records - 7N.45??? - June, 1975   
Crazy Woman

Pye Records - 7N.45??? - September, 1975  
Sister Mary
- #2 Irish Charts
Release Records - May, 1976     
You Belong To Me Baby
Pye Records - 7N.45??? - November, 1976  
I Need You / Caterina Ballerina
- #1 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.45702 - May, 1977  
Don't Ever Change Your Mind / Bonjour Madamoiselle
Pye Records - 7N.46111 - June, 1978     
My Love
- #27 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.46??? - May, 1979  
More And More
- #1 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - RITZ 19 - 1979  
Silent Night
- #2 Irish Charts
Release Records - December, 1979  
It's You, It's You, It's You - #3 Irish Charts
Release Records - August, 1981  
It's Only Make Believe
- #13 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - March, 1982  
Deeper and Deeper
- #10 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - October, 1983  
Sometimes When We Touch
- #22 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - February, 1984      
Come Back Home
- #19 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - October, 1984    
Take Me I'm Yours
- #9 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - June, 1986    
Don't Set Me Free
- #17 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - March, 1987       
Take Me I'm Yours
 
Ritz Records - 1988    
Wait 'til The Clouds Roll By (Jenny)
- #20 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - September, 1989    
She Doesn't Live Here Anymore
- #11 Irish Charts
Ritz Records - March, 1990    
Ciara
- #28 Irish Charts
AINM Records - July, 1993    
Somebody to Call My Girl
Unknown Records - 1994    
I'll Give All My Love To You
Unknown Records - 1996    
Endless Magic
Unknown Records - 1997    
Good Looking Woman (Duet with Dustin)
- #1 Irish Charts
LIME Records - November, 1997    
The Universal
- #19 Irish Charts
EMI Records - October, 1998    
Everybody Hurts
Unknown Records - 1999    
Better Man
Unknown Records - 2001    
Dreaming of You
Unknown Records - 2002    
Yours Faithfully
Unknown Records - 2003    
Little Green Bag / Have You Ever Been In Love
Unknown Records - 2004    

Albums:
Joe Dolan's Greatest Hits
Marble Arch Records - MAL.1143 - June, 1969
Good Looking Woman
Pye Records - NPL.18340 - June, 1970
Midnight Lover
Release Records - Unknown - May, 1978
Turn Out The Light
Release Records - RL.8009 - February, 1980

Audio Clips

   

You're Such a Good Looking Woman

The Answer To Everything It's You, It's You, It's You Coming Soon Coming Soon

 


 


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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006