Prior to their fame in Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show, George Cummings, Ray Sawyer and Billy Francis were members of an earlier group called "The Chocolate Papers". Other members of this band were Bobby Dimingus (drums), Popeye Phillips (drums) and Jimmy "Wolf Cub" Allen (bass). This group performed in Meridian, MS, Mobile, AL, Biloxi, MS and Charleston, SC. After playing a gig at the A & N club Charleston, SC, George, Ray, Billy, Popeye, Jimmy and Bobby went to Biloxi and opened up their own club called " Chez Joey". The band played a few months at their club as the house band, then went to Chicago. After a brief stint in Chicago, George went back to the New York & New Jersey area and was guitarist and front man for a new band.
In NJ, George got together a bass player and drummer and started playing in Jersey bars. George then brought Ray Sawyer up from Mobile, Alabama. This new group was performing using no name at all but was the foundation of the group soon to be known as Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show. At the Bandbox in Union City, New Jersey, the club owner asked George what name to use for the band. It was on the spot, that George came up with the name, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.
George gave the band its name for two reasons. Firstly Ray had lost his eye in an earlier automobile accident and wore an eye-patch. Captain Hook, from the J. M. Barrie book "Peter Pan", also wore an eye-patch. This was the inspiration for the name Hook. The second reason stemmed from a sign of the times; drugs were a major topic. Hence the medical reference. With a change of Captain to Doctor - Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show was at last named.
After George's band had been performing for about a month or two, Dennis Locorriere came in one night and sat in. George then hired Dennis. As a short time passed George brought two other former Chocolate Papers members in, Popeye Phillips on drums and then Bill Francis to play keyboards. Popeye didn't stay long, and moved back to Mobile.
From these beginnings the band worked many clubs in the NY & NJ area until they were discovered and signed by CBS Records. This was the beginning of the journey that would take them on to worldwide acclaim and recognition. Even now, after the band has been broken up for more than 15 years, there are many thousands of fans worldwide who still listen to Dr. Hook's music and who search for collectables in fairs and auctions. I Know, I am one of the fans who can never get enough.
More than a decade after breaking up, Dr. Hook - the U.S. pop-country rock band fronted by those two inimitable musical characters Dennis Locorriere and Ray Sawyer - are still remembered with great affection by thousands of popular music fans around the world. With six million-selling singles to their credit, including such memorable classics as Sylvia's Mother, The Cover Of The 'Rolling Stone', Only Sixteen, A Little Bit More and When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman, Dr. Hook's recording legacy has earned a very secure niche in pop music history, thanks to a musical mixture of fun, irony and wryness, which still sounds as fresh today as when the band were at the height of their success.
Dr. Hook was conceived in 1968 in Union City, New Jersey when a local 19 year old aspiring singer-songwriter named Dennis Locorriere teamed up with 32 year old rythm and blues performer Ray Sawyer from Chickasaw, Alabama. Also included in the original line-up were George Cummings from Meridian, Mississippi, who played lead guitar and lap steel, keyboardist Billy Francis from Ocean Springs, Mississippi and drummer Jay David, who hailed from Bayonne, New Jersey. The fledgling band gigged around local bars and clubs, often using no name at all.
They became Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show (a name thought up on the spot by Cummings) after a club owner demanded a group name to put on his club posters. The name fitted the band's rather wacky, laid back music and stage presentation which included co-front man Sawyer wearing a distinctive eye-patch (a legacy of a serious car accident).
Dr. Hook and The Medicine show's first big professional break came when record producer Ron Haffkine heard a tape of the band's music and asked them to perform the Shel Silverstein song Last Morning in the Dustin Hoffman film, Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? Silverstein, a Playboy magazine cartoonist, had composed the film's musical score and he was subsequently to play an important role in Dr. Hook's story, writing many of their earliest successes. Ron Haffkine meanwhile went on to produce all of Dr. Hook's recordings.
The band signed their first record deal with CBS/Columbia (now Sony) and began the recording of their debut album in New York City, completing all but the track that was to become their first hit single.
After being invited to play at the CBS Records convention in Los Angeles, the band moved to California, settling in San Francisco. It was there that Shel Silverstein played the newly written Sylvia's Mother for them and they decided to include it on their eponymously titled album, released later that year. Initial reaction was encouraging and CBS released the track Sylvia's Mother as a single.
The quirky, offbeat but plaintive love song got off to a slow start however. When first released it managed to make only the bottom of the U.S. pop charts before sinking without a trace. Undeterred, then boss of CBS Records, Clive Davis (who signed such artists as Janis Joplin, Santana and Bruce Springsteen), was determined to salvage Sylvia's Mother.
Davis, who believed the record could be a huge hit, put CBS' full promotion efforts behind the single. Second time around, in July 1972, Sylvia's Mother climbed to number one, selling over a million copies. Shortly thereafter, the record repeated its American success in Britain where it narrowly missed the number one spot, spending 13 weeks in the British Top 50 - a considerable achievement for an act that had been unheard of only 12 months before.
Later that year, again with Haffkine producing and with two new members, bassist Jance Garfat and guitarist Rik Elswit, the band recorded their second album, irreverently titled Sloppy Seconds. This album spawned their next single, Carry Me, Carrie, which made the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 100, while the album just missed the Top 40. The band's chart fortunes were dramatically restored, however with the release of The Cover Of 'The Rolling Stone'. Another wry Shel Silverstein composition again taken from Sloppy Seconds. The single was a huge success in the U.S., climbing to number two and securing the band their very own cover of Rolling Stone magazine in March 1973.
The Cover Of 'The Rolling Stone' provided Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show with their second million-selling single. Ironically however the record ran into problems in the U.K. when it was released - the BBC steadfastly refused to play it on either TV or radio because the song's title was deemed an advertisement for the famous American rock music magazine! CBS Records in London attempted to sidestep the airplay problem by setting up special phone lines whereby fans could call up and hear the record (then quite an innovative marketing ploy).
There was even an 'alternative' version in which a group of BBC radio disc jockeys were heard to chant 'Radio Times' over the offending words, 'Rolling Stone'! Sadly the single failed to make any impact on the British charts, although The Cover Of The 'Rolling Stone' remained a firm favourite in Dr. Hook's live repertoire throughout their career.
Ironically, soon after the U.S. success of the single, Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show's record sales took a dramatic downturn. Despite recording such other classic Shel Silverstein songs as Ballad Of Lucy Jordan, (later successfully revived by Marianne Faithful), their subsequent U.S. single releases, Roland The Roadie And Gertrude The Groupie, and Life Ain't Easy, failed to make any significant impact. Both singles struggled to make the lower half of the Billboard Hot 100 while the sales of Belly Up, their third album, were equally disappointing (the album peaked at number 141 in the Billboard chart).
It was at this point that the band's long-time co-manager, Bobby Heller, entered the picture. Heller, had been a life-long friend and confidant of Haffkine's and had followed the band's career with interest. He received an emergency phone call from Haffkine asking him to help sort out major band and label problems together with other complicated business and legal issues. This resulted in Heller flying out to San Francisco.
The group had become disillusioned with CBS Records following the sudden departure of Clive Davis, the man who had been their main champion there and they were anxious to obtain a contract release.
After Davis left, three executives attempted to run CBS by committee. They shuffled Heller from one office to another and ignored his plea to support the band financially or to let them off the label. The band's foreign sales success was one of the main reasons for CBS' reluctance to grant them a release. Eventually Heller with the right legal support, got the band out of the deal by commencing a successful bankruptcy proceeding. Dr. Hook was now free to deal with another label.
Soon afterwards the band decided to shorten their name to Dr. Hook, and further salvation arrived when Capitol Records showed interest in signing the band. Dr. Hook were subsequently offered an initial one-year deal with the major company and thus began the most successful and musically creative period of their career.
However Dr. Hook's recording comeback was slow in taking off. Their first album for Capitol Records, appropriately title Bankrupt, reached only number 141 in the Billboard chart, while The Millionaire, their debut single for the label, peaked at number 55. Undaunted, and with a new drummer, John Wolters, the band finished 1975 with a U.K. tour which helped to lay the foundations for their future British success.
In early 1976 Capitol Records released a second single from the album, a revival of the Sam Cooke classic Only Sixteen. The band knew it was possibly their last shot at success and that the record had to work. There had been some resistance within the record company over the release of Only Sixteen as a single, but Bobby Heller, together with Bruce Wendell, the head of promotion at Capitol at the time, were the persuasive factors. Eventually it came out and entered the American charts in early February, just as their contract was about to run out.
Capitol increased its promotional efforts on Only Sixteen and the single eventually enjoyed a 14 week chart run in the American Top 40 and reached number 6, giving the group their third million selling single. Capitol's investment in the band was further rewarded when Dr. Hook secured another major hit with the title song from the A Little Bit More album, recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, which was now the group's new home base. George Cummings left the Hook line-up mid-way through the recording of the album.
A Little Bit More reached number 11 in the U.S., and spent 14 weeks in the Top 40, and also perched for four weeks at number 2 in the U.K. charts, only being prevented from reaching number one by the Elton John and Kiki Dee duet, Don't Go Breaking My Heart. Meanwhile their album was also a huge hit this side of the Atlantic, climbing to number 5 and spending a total of 42 weeks in the charts (in the U.S. the album reached number 62 in the Billboard chart).
Underlining their country music influences, Dr. Hook appeared at a benefit performance at the world-famous Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and followed it with more recording sessions in the country music capital. 1976 ended on a triumphant note when another single If Not You, penned by Dennis Locorriere and also taken from the album A Little Bit More, reached number 5 in the U.K. (spending ten weeks in the Top 50), and number 55 in the Billboard Hot 100.
The first half of 1977 saw Dr. Hook back in the studios, recording their next album Makin' Love And Music, (while Ray Sawyer simultaneously made his own solo album of country songs in the next-door studio). In late summer they released a new single taken from the album, a revamp of Walk Right In, originally a number one for The Rooftop Singers in 1963. The band secured another British chart success when the Makin' Love And Music album went top 40, and also scored a U.K. Top 20 single in April 1978 with Shel Silverstein's More Like The Movies, from the A Little Bit More album. In October 1978 their latest U.S. single Sharing The Night Together, taken from their forthcoming Capitol album Pleasure And Pain, started climbing the Billboard Hot 100.
Sharing The Night Together glided to number 6 in the American charts, spent a total of four months in the Top 40, and sold over a million copies. The release of the Pleasure And Pain album in early 1979 also augered well for the band.... it became their first gold album, selling over 500,000 copies in the U.S. alone. Tragically guitarist Rik Elswit became seriously ill with cancer around this time and he had to leave the line-up for a year. Rik's place in the band was taken over by Bob 'Willard' Henke, who remained within the ranks for some time after Elswit's return.
Dr Hook's next U.S. single, All The Time In The World, also from the Pleasure And Pain album, reached number 54 in February 1979 and was followed by what was to ultimately become Dr. Hook's biggest-selling single, When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman, composed by Even Stevens, was not a success first-time around in the U.K. The single was initially released to little response but, following its international success elsewhere, was re-issued by Capitol/EMI and Dennis Locorriere and Ray Sawyer flew to London to help promote it.
Locorriere and Sawyer's efforts paid dividends. When You're In Love With A Beautiful Woman broke into the British Top 50 in September 1979 and within two months had sailed gracefully to the pole chart position, where it remained firmly ensconced for three weeks. It clocked up a 17 week chart residency in the Top 50 and back in the U.S. the song was also a huge hit for the band, climbing to number 6 in the Billboard chart and spending 16 weeks in the Top 40.
The new decade began with yet another transatlantic smash hit for Dr. Hook. Better Love Next Time reached number 12 in the U.S. (with 14 weeks in the Top 40), and made number 8 in the U.K. Three months later, in March 1980, the band released the infectious Sexy Eyes and it notched up yet another Top 10 hit for them, reaching number 5 in the U.S. charts (with a total of 15 weeks in the Billboard Top 40) and providing Dr. Hook with their sixth million selling single. In the U.K. Sexy Eyes fared equally as well, soaring to number 4 and spending nine weeks in the Top 50. The single featured on their latest album, Sometimes You Win, which reached number 14 in the U.K., and spent 44 weeks in the Top 50, earning the band a gold disc.
Ironically, Sexy Eyes proved to be the last major hit single for Dr. Hook. There were two more minor hit singles during 1980 - Years From Now, which peaked at number 47 in the charts (and made number 51 in the Billboard Hot 100), followed by Sharing The Night Together which stalled at number 43 in Britain, two years after its original American chart success. By now the band's contract with Capitol Records was about to expire and they decided to part company with the label.
Now with new guitarist Rod Smarr replacing Henke, Dr. Hook signed a new recording deal which saw their music released on Casablanca in the U.S., and on the Mercury label in the U.K. Their first album under the new arrangement, Rising, tickled the bottom of the Billboard albums chart and did marginally better in the U.K. where it reached number 44. Their single, Girls Can Get It, made the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic.
There were several other minor American hits including Loveline and Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk (which reached number 25 in the U.S.) taken from their final studio album, Players In The Dark, but increased tensions and musical differences were taking their toll. Ray Sawyer left the line-up in 1982 to pursue a solo career and Dennis Locorriere carried on with the band, doing two more sell out tours of the U.K and Australia - including " Dr. Hook's One and Only Farewell Tour" before disbanding the group in 1985.
Since then, Sawyer has returned to live performance with a new band. Locorriere's company owns all the rights to the Dr. Hook name and licenses it to Sawyer under certain terms and conditions.
In 1995, Sawyer released an album containing re-recordings of many of the classic Dr. Hook hits under the name Dr. Hook featuring Ray Sawyer, a group which consists of no original members other than Sawyer himself. Dennis Locorriere has visited the U.K. several times in recent years, performing his own successful solo gigs, as well as helping to promote the best-selling anthology album, Completely Hooked. During 1996, he completed work on his solo album, "Running With Scissors," which he produced with former Dr. Hook member Rod Smarr, to be released in Autumn '96. The Dr. Hook magic lives on in the nineties....
Dr. Hook were one of the great fun pop-country rock bands of the Seventies and early Eighties, and their musical demise was mourned by thousands of fans around the world. Their recording legacy has however continued to be in huge demand.