Dr. Hook





Prior to forming Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show, George Cummings, Ray Sawyer and Billy Francis were members of an earlier group called "The Chocolate Papers", along with Bobby Dimingus, Popeye Phillips and Jimmy "Wolf Cub" Allen. After touring clubs in Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina, the six settled in Biloxi to open up their own club called "Chez Joey". The group played as the house band for a while, then went to Chicago, where after a brief stint, Cummings left to form a new band in the New York area.

The year was 1968 when Cummings called his old friend Ray Sawyer to come to New Jersey and join him. This new group began performing using no name at all, until one night, a club owner asked George what name to use when advertising the band. Right on the spot, George came up with the name, "Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show", in reference to Ray's eye patch making him look like Captain Hook from 'Peter Pan' (Ray had lost his eye in an auto accident) and since drugs were all the rage at the time, he tacked on "The Medicine Show".

They had been performing together for about a month or two, when Dennis Locorriere came in one night and sat in on guitar. By the end of the evening, he was asked to join the group. As 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. He was replaced by Jay David.

Their first big professional break came in 1970 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 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 self titled album, released later that year. Initial reaction was encouraging and CBS issued the track, 'Sylvia's Mother' as a single.

The quirky, offbeat love song got off to a slow start when it was first released, managing only to make the lower end of the U.S. pop charts before leaving without a trace. Undeterred, Clive Davis, then boss of CBS Records, was determined to salvage 'Sylvia's Mother'.

Davis believed the record could be a hit and put CBS' full promotion efforts behind the single. It was re-released in July 1972, and this time, 'Sylvia's Mother' climbed all the way to number one, selling over a million copies. Shortly after, the record repeated its American success in Britain where it topped out at number two, 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'. From this album, their second single, 'Carry Me, Carrie', was chosen. Although the single was a moderate success, reaching the higher end of the Billboard Top 100, the album just missed the Top 40. The band's chart fortunes were 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' gave Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show their second million-selling single. Ironically however, the record ran into problems in Great Britain 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. 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. Despite these efforts, the single failed to make any impact on the British charts.

The follow ups to 'Rolling Stone' failed to match the group's earlier success. 'Ballad Of Lucy Jordan', (later successfully revived by Marianne Faithful), 'Roland The Roadie And Gertrude The Groupie', and 'Life Ain't Easy', failed to make any significant impact. The singles struggled to make 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 a 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 out of their contract. 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. The group was now free to deal with another label.

It was decided to shorten their name to just 'Dr. Hook', and a change of fortune arrived when Capitol Records showed interest in the band. Dr. Hook were subsequently offered a one-year deal with the company and thus began the most successful and musically creative period of their career.

Their recording comeback was slow in taking off however. 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'. There had been some resistance within the record company over the release of a cover version as a new single, but Bobby Heller, together with Bruce Wendell, the head of promotion at Capitol at the time, were the persuasive factors. Eventually, the song was released 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 however, decided to leave 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 stayed 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, the band 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), but stalled at 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 from the album, a revamp of 'Walk Right In', originally a number one for The Rooftop Singers in 1963, which failed miserably. The album however, went top 40, and a follow up single scored a U.K. Top 20 single in April 1978 with Shel Silverstein's 'More Like The Movies'. 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' climbed to number 6 on the American chart, 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 became a milestone for the band as 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 and 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, could only reach number 54 in February 1979 but 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. The single received little response in England, but following its international success, 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 top chart position, where it remained firmly planted for three weeks. It racked 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 on 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 was 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 another 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', barely made the Billboard albums chart and did only marginally better in the U.K. where it reached number 44. Their single however, '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 band 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, however, Locorriere's company owns all the rights to the Dr. Hook name and licenses it to Sawyer.

Dennis Locorriere has toured 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, and released in Autumn '96.

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 consisted of no original members other than Sawyer himself.

On January 21st, 2007, Locorriere appeared onstage with Pete Townshend, Bill Wyman, Steve Winwood, Joe Walsh, Paul Weller and Yusuf Islam, at the Dear Mr. Fantasy charity concert in remembrance of Traffic's Jim Capaldi, who had died in 2005. In March of 2007, Locorriere and his 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. A live DVD of the tour was released in July 2007, and appeared in the UK music DVD chart at number 10.

In early 2008, Locorriere toured as a member of Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, followed by a few solo tours, which Locorriere called his Alone With.. shows. On March 15, 2010, his third solo album, "Post Cool", was released on Proper Records

For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview with Dennis Locorriere.