Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show

  • Rock band formed in 1968 from Union City New Jersey. The founding members were Dennis Locorriere (lead vocals, guitar, bass guitar), Ray Sawyer (vocals, guitar, percussion), Billy Francis (keyboards), George Cummings (lead guitar, vocals) and Joseph Oliver (drums). There were several drummers – Jay Davis was the early drummer, and John Wolters took over the drums in 1973. Rik Elswit joined on lead guitar in 1972, and Jance Garfat became the full time bass guitarist in 1972. The band members were occasional songwriters, but during their early years, much of their music was written by poet and children’s author Shel Silverstein (remember The Giving Tree when you were growing up?).
  • Cummings, Sawyer and Francis were southerners who played in a band in the 60s called The Chocolate Papers, performing throughout the south and east coast. After the band broke up, Cummings moved to New Jersey, and in 1968 he planned to form another band. He convinced Sawyer and Francis to join him in New Jersey, and they recruited Locorriere to join to play bass guitar and to sing. As they started to get gigs, they needed to name the band. Cummings made a sign that he put in the window of the clubs where they performed. It said “Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic for the Soul.” The “Hook” name was inspired by the eye patch that Cummings wore – he lost an eye in a car accident in 1967 – in reference to the pirate Captain Hook from Peter Pan (though Captain Hook didn’t wear an eye patch, and he wasn’t a doctor).
  • The group performed in New Jersey for a few years, and did some demo recording. A music director for a film called Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? heard their demo. He thought that the group would be good for the soundtrack to the film – the songs for the film were written by Shel Silverstein. The music director had them record 2 songs that were used in the film – they perform the song Bunky and Lucille in one of the scenes of the movie. It was released in 1971, and while the movie didn’t do well, the performance of the band helped secure their recording contract, with the music director as the band’s manager.
  • They released their debut album, the self titled Doctor Hook, in 1972. All but 1 song was written by Silverstein. It included the single Sylvia’s Mother, which peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 (and at #1 in Australia and #2 in the UK). They quickly recorded a second album that was released that same year – Sloppy Seconds. Silverstein wrote all of the songs on this album. It included the cult hit that made the early band famous – The Cover of the Rolling Stone peaked at #6. The song satirizes the wish of rock stars to get their picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. It worked (sorta) – the March 29, 1973 cover features the band, but only as a caricature, and only 3 of its members. The caption reads “What’s-Their-Names Make the Cover.”
  • They had less success over the next 2 years. Their third album flopped, and their lack of business skills led to bankruptcy, though they continued with a heavy tour schedule. By 1975, they shortened the name of the band to Dr. Hook, and they released an album titled Bankrupt. While the album did not sell well (none of their albums did – the highest they charted on the album chart was #45), they did have a hit single with a cover of Sam Cooke’s 1959 song Only Sixteen – Dr. Hook’s version peaked at #6.
  • By now, the band felt they could be more successful with easy listening ballads with less of a country rock sound. In 1976, they released their next album, A Little Bit More. The soft rock song reached #11 on the Hot 100, and the band stuck to this sound for the rest of its career. They released 6 more studio albums between 1977 and 1983, scoring 3 more top 10 hits – Sharing the Night Together in 1978, When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman in 1979, and Sexy Eyes in 1980 – the latter 2 with a hint of disco mixed in with the yacht rock.
  • By 1983, things were falling apart. Sawyer left for a solo career. The remaining band members continued to tour, but by 1985, the band split up. Locorriere retained ownership of the name of the group, and he toured using the name. In 2019, Locorriere began the Dr. Hook 50th Anniversary World Tour, but it subsequently was postponed due to health issues for Locorriere.
  • I enjoyed Dr. Hook in their early days – The Cover of the Rolling Stone is such a fun song, great sing-along. And while I’m a fan of yacht rock, the later Dr. Hook was just a little too romantic for me. Here’s my fave – The Cover of the Rolling Stone.

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