Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show was a pop-country rock band formed around Union City, New Jersey in 1969.
The founding core of the band consisted of four friends—George Cummings, Dennis Locorriere, Ray Sawyer, Billy Francis—who had played up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, ending up in New Jersey one by one, with invitations from founding band member George Cummings. Told by a club owner that they needed a name to put on a poster in the window of his establishment, Cummings made a sign: "Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic for the Soul." The name was inspired by the traveling medicine shows of the old West. To this day, frontman Ray Sawyer is mistakenly considered Dr. Hook because of the eyepatch he wears as the result of a near-fatal 1967 car accident in Oregon.
The band played for about two years in New Jersey, first with drummer Popeye Phillips, a session drummer on The Flying Burrito Brothers first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Citing musical differences, Popeye returned home to Alabama and was replaced by local drummer Joey Oliveri. When the band began recording their first album it became obvious that they would need a more solid back beat, and Olivieri was replaced by session player John "Jay" David, who was asked to join the band, full time.
In 1970, their demo tapes were heard by Ron Haffkine, musical director on the planned Herb Gardner movie, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, starring Dustin Hoffman as a successful songwriter having a nervous breakdown. The songs for the film were written by cartoonist, poet and songwriter Shel Silverstein, who determined that Dr. Hook was the ideal group for the soundtrack. Among the several songs the group did for the film, Dennis Locorriere sang the lead on "Last Morning," the movie's theme song, later re-recorded for their second album, Sloppy Seconds. The film was released in 1971 by National General Pictures to mixed reviews.
Meanwhile, CBS Records head Clive Davis had a memorable meeting with the group, described in Davis' autobiography. Drummer David used a wastepaper basket to keep the beat, and while Sawyer, Locorriere and Cummings played and sang a few songs, Francis hopped up and danced on the mogul's desk. This meeting secured the band their first record deal. Subsequently the band went on to international success over the next 12 years with Haffkine as the group's manager as well as producer of all the Dr.Hook recordings.
Their self-titled 1971 debut album featured guitarist Cummings, singer Sawyer, drummer David, singer/guitarist, bass player Locorriere, and keyboard player Billy Francis. The album included their first hit, "Sylvia's Mother."
Shel Silverstein wrote the lyrics for many of Dr. Hook’s early songs (in fact, he wrote their entire second album), such as "Sylvia's Mother", "Everybody's Makin' It Big But Me", "Penicillin Penny", "The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan", "Carry Me Carrie", "The Wonderful Soup Stone", and at least 24 more, some co-written with Ray Sawyer and/or Dennis Locorriere.
The Medicine Show's lineup changed a few more times over the years. In 1972, the band added a full-time bassist, Jance Garfat, and another guitarist, Rik Elswit. When David left the group in 1973, he was replaced by John Wolters. The next to depart was founding band member Cummings, who left in 1975 due to personal and musical differences. The band also had an able guitar player in Elswit, so they did not initially replace Cummings. When Elswit was diagnosed with cancer a couple of years later, the band added Bob "Willard" Henke (formerly of Goose Creek Symphony).
In 1978, the band covered the 1973 Doyle Holly song Queen Of The Silver Dollar on their "Pleasure and pain" album.
Elswit recovered and returned to the lineup, but they kept Henke on as well for a while. When Henke left in 1980, they added Rod Smarr.
The band's second single, "The Cover of the Rolling Stone" from Sloppy Seconds attracted the attention of those who would appreciate their irreverent attitude and stage show. It also actually did get the band on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine — albeit in caricature rather than photograph. The song poked fun at the idea that a musician had "made it" if they had gotten on the cover of Rolling Stone.
In the United Kingdom, the BBC Radio network refused to play "The Cover of the Rolling Stone," as it was considered advertising a trademark name, which was against the BBC's policy. The song was rereleased with a host of BBC DJs shouting 'On the cover of the Radio Times!' over the band's vocals in the choruses. The song was released as "Cover of the Radio Times" for the UK market. The BBC found no problem in playing the record, since they published the Radio Times, weekly. The single found real cult status after that.
Another hit was the classic "A Little Bit More" from the album with the same name in 1976. Other hit singles from Dr. Hook include "Only Sixteen" (originally by Sam Cooke) (U.S. #6), "Sharing the Night Together" (#6), "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" (#6) and "Sexy Eyes" (#5). Save for "A Little Bit More" (#11), all the singles mentioned above were certified million-sellers. "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman" reached number 1 for several weeks in 1979 in the UK. They had another hit single with "Better Love Next Time" (#12). The band toured constantly but never managed to turn their success with singles into album sales.
Sawyer left in 1983 to pursue a solo career, while the band continued to tour successfully for another couple of years, ending with the Dr. Hook's One and Only Farewell Tour, with Locorriere as the sole frontman. In 1988 Sawyer went back on the road as "Ray Sawyer of Dr. Hook", this billing eventually being altered to "Dr. Hook featuring Ray Sawyer". In the early 2000s, Billy Francis began joining Ray to play some shows.
Locorriere relocated to Nashville and wrote songs for many other artists. In 1989, Locorriere performed a well received one-man show at Lincoln Center, The Devil and Billy Markham, written by Silverstein. Locorriere has since released two solo studio albums (Out of the Dark in 2000 and One of the Lucky Ones in 2005), a live CD set in 2004 (Live in Liverpool), a concert DVD (Alone with Dennis Locorriere) and has toured to packed houses in recent years as the Voice of Dr. Hook.
On January 21, 2007, Locorriere appeared onstage along with other such rock and roll luminaries as Pete Townshend, Bill Wyman, Steve Winwood, Joe Walsh, Paul Weller and Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), at the Dear Mr. Fantasy charity concert in remembrance of Traffic's Jim Capaldi, who died in 2005.
In March 2007, Locorriere (and band) embarked on the Dennis Locorriere Celebrates Dr. Hook Hits and History Tour, to promote the release of the Dr. Hook Hits and History CD/DVD set. This tour was "greatest hits and more" tour, that is, as Locorriere puts it, "for the fans." A live DVD of the tour was released in July 2007, and went straight into the official UK music DVD chart at number 10. A new studio album of original material is expected from Locorriere in late 2007, early 2008. A U.S. single will be released in 2007.
John Christian Wolters, who played drums with the band from 1974 to 1984, died on June 16, 1997, of liver cancer. Robert Jance Garfat, who played bass with the band from 1971 to 1984, died on November 6, 2006, in a motorcycle accident.
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