Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show was a band that combined country with pop and rock, and was perhaps best known for the catchy and witty hit song "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." They were among the bands that became popular during the 1970s thanks to AM radio play. In later years, the band changed its material to disco-tinged ballads and had marginal success before breaking up.
The band was formed in 1968 in Union City, New Jersey, by singer-songwriter Dennis Locorriere and Ray Sawyer, a singer with a bold stage presence, including an eye patch needed after suffering injuries in a car accident. The remainder of the band was recruited from a group in which Sawyer played, called the Chocolate Papers. This included George Cummings, lead and steel guitars; Billy Francis, keyboards; and Popeye Phillips, drums. Phillips quit soon after the band was formed and was replaced by John "Jay" David.
The band "began playing some of the roughest bars in the Union City area, concentrating mostly on country music out of sheer necessity," according to Steve Huey, writing in All Music Guide. After a demo recording came to the attention of Ron Haffkine, musical director for the film "Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?," the band was hired to perform on the soundtrack. Haffkine also became their manager and producer. This also led to a contract for the band with CBS. The soundtrack was written by Shel Silverstein, a well-known children's author and the writer of "A Boy Named Sue," which Johnny Cash parlayed into a hit. Silverstein and Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show became a great combination. Silverstein wrote all the songs for their self-titled debut album, released in 1971. The album included "Sylvia's Mother," which became a hit in mid-1972. "Although the band had a reputation as a mouthpiece for humorist Shel Silverstein, who supplied several of their biggest hits," wrote Huey, "they didn't rely exclusively on his material by any means. And, during their peak years, they were just as famed for their crazed stage antics, which ranged from surreal banter to impersonating their own opening acts."
The next year, two more musicians were added to the Medicine Show—Jance Garfat on bass and Rik Elswit on guitar. This was in time for the recording of Sloppy Seconds. The song "The Cover of Rolling Stone," penned by Silverstein, appeared on the album and became the group's biggest hit. Rolling Stone magazine subsequently featured the band on its cover as a result of the novelty hit.
But all was not well for Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show even after they got their picture on the cover of the bible of popular music in March of 1973. David left the band in 1973 and was replaced by John Wolters. The group had a difficult time meeting the high expectations created by Sloppy Seconds, and the result was Belly Up, which Huey noted "was unfortunately prophetic." The group was forced to file bankruptcy in 1974, although they continued to tour incessantly.
The band shortened its name to Dr. Hook in 1975. They signed with Capitol in 1975 with the aptly titled album Bankrupt. Unlike previous projects, this album included original material written by the group. The hit from the project was a reworked version of Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen" that charted in the top ten in 1976. Cummings left the band in 1976. Dr. Hook was able to string together several more hits, including "When You're in Love With a Woman" and "Sexy Eyes." In this period, it was Locorriere who was frequently featured on lead vocals.
Pleasure & Pain, released in 1979, was the group's first gold album. According to Huey, it solidified their reputation as "disco-tinged balladeers." Bob "Willard" Henke joined the band while Elswit took a year off to recover from cancer. But Sawyer was increasingly upset at the commercial direction the group's sound was taking, and left the band in 1980. Henke left soon after to be replaced with Rod Smarr. The band changed labels again, but could not replicate earlier successes, and officially disbanded in 1985.
For the Record . . .
Members include: George Cummings (born on July 28, 1938, in Meridian, MS; group member 1968-76), guitar; John "Jay" David (born in Bayonne, NJ; group member 1968-73), drums; Rik Elswit (born on July 6, 1945, in New York, NY; joined group, 1972), guitar; Billy Francis (born on January 16, 1942, in Los Angeles, CA), keyboards; Jance Garfat (born on March 3, 1944, in CA; joined group, 1972), bass guitar; Bob "Willard" Henke (group member 1979-80), guitar; Dennis Locorriere (born on June 13, 1949 in Union City, NJ), guitar, vocals; Popeye Phillips (left group, c. 1968), drums; Ray Sawyer (born on February 1, 1937, in Chicksaw, AL; left group, 1980) vocals; Rod Smarr , guitar; John Christian Wolters (born on April 28, 1945, in Pompton Lakes, NJ; died in July of 1997), drums.
Group formed in Union City, NJ, in 1968, by Dennis Locorriere and Ray Sawyer; performed on soundtrack to "Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?"; signed with CBS, c. 1970; released debut album, 1971; "Sylvia's Mother" became hit, mid-1972; released Sloppy Seconds, 1972; Belly Up released, 1973; filed for bankruptcy, 1974; shortened name to Dr. Hook, 1975; signed to Capitol, released Bankrupt, 1975; Pleasure & Pain released, 1979; disbanded, 1985; Sawyer and Locorriere toured in subsequent years using the Dr. Hook name, which is owned by Locorriere.
Locorriere became a session and touring vocalist, providing backup vocals for artists including country superstar Randy Travis. Sawyer decided to tour as "Dr. Hook." In 1989-90, Locorriere starred in a short play by Silverstein called "The Devil and Billy Markham," staged at Lincoln Center in New York City. William A. Henry III, a reviewer writing in Time, described the production as "a talking blues about a failed songwriter who decides the devil could not possibly be any worse than the music publishers and producers who have thwarted his career.... Markham tosses away eternity in exchange for a single, futile roll of the dice, then squanders what reprieves are offered in unrepentant revelry." Henry noted that Locorriere was perfect in the role. "His energy is boundless, his timing flawless, his depravity seemingly bottomless in this bewitching romp."
In 1999 Dr. Hook toured, with Locorriere singing vocals and Smarr playing guitar. Locorriere had been uncertain of the tour's reception by fans, but the shows were well-attended and were filled with baby boomers and their children. Pauline Black, writing for CWN, described Locorierre's talent: "Few singers can take a song and make it live for the few minutes that it lasts, but Dennis Locorierre must surely be ranked among those few. The sweetness of his high notes laced with the whisky rasp of his lower register allowed him to inhabit even the most banal of lyrics. This coupled with the fact that he knows how to talk to an audience made for a great evening, even if it was largely nostalgia."
Locorriere released his first solo recording, Out of the Dark, in 2000. The next year, he followed with a double live CD/DVD called Dennis Locorriere—Live in Liverpool. His career and life seemed to be going smoothly. Then, in 2001, "Everything unravelled—my marriage broke up, my record label went bust, resulting in the cancellation of my new album release, which also knocked out a forty-date tour with a new band I had been rehearsing with for months!," he recalled in an interview with Peter Ashton on the Playing Out Loud UK website in October of 2002. He moved to Sussex, England, away from the spectre of Dr. Hook, and was scheduled to release a second solo project in 2005, tentatively titled One Of The Lucky Ones.
Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, Columbia, 1971.
Sloppy Seconds, Columbia, 1972.
Belly Up!, CBS, 1973.
Fried Face, CBS, 1974.
Ballad of Lucy Jordan, CBS, 1975.
Bankrupt, Capitol, 1975.
A Little Bit More, Capitol, 1976.
Pleasure & Pain, Capitol, 1978.
Rising, Casablanca, 1980.
Dr. Hook Live, Capitol, 1981.
Time, December 18, 1989.
Dennis Locorriere Official Website, http://www.dennislocorriere.com/ (December 7, 2004).
"Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (December 7, 2004).
"Dr. Hook Biography," Oldies.com, http://www.oldies.com/artist/biography.cfm/id_2391.html (December 7, 2004).
"Dr. Hook: The Blackroom," CWN, March 9, 1999, http://www.cwn.org.uk/blackroom/990309-dr-hook.htm (December 7, 2004).
"Hooked on Dennis," Playing Out Loud UK, October 2002, http://www.playingoutloud.co.uk/archive/october/playing_out_loud_articles.html (December 7, 2004).
—Linda Dailey Paulson
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