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Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show

Who Are They?

Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show got their start around 1968 playing the bar circuit in and around Union City, New Jersey. Originally, they were comprised of five people, most notably Ray Sawyer on vocals and guitar and Dennis Locorriere on lead and vocals. Sawyer's trademarks were the cowboy hat and the eyepatch, the result of an automobile accident in 1967. Locorriere was bearded. Both guys were the center of the group because of their crazy antics onstage. Their energy, strange sense of humor (they once appeared as their own opening act!) alternating with the ability to pull off an emotional ballad made Dr. Hook one of the most successful bands in the 1970s, scoring 35 gold or platinum hits.

What Does This Have to Do With Shel Silverstein?

The story of how Silverstein and Dr. Hook started a very successful collaboration can be found in more detail in the November 9, 1972 article of Rolling Stone magazine (see link below). In brief, Ron Haffkine was overseeing the musical production on the 1971 movie Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying All Those Terrible Things About Me?, for which Silverstein was writing the songs. Haffkine was searching for the right group to interpret Silverstein's songs, but had proved unlucky in his search until the manager of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show contacted Haffkine about taking on the group. Haffkine listened to Dr. Hook's demo, loved it, and promptly pitched it to a prominent official at Columbia Records, who also liked what he heard. Silverstein also heard the demo and decided to fly to New Jersey to hear the group in action. Obviously convinced, Dr. Hook recorded all the songs for Kellerman and began work on their first album, which was written entirely by Silverstein. A single from the album, "Sylvia's Mother," was so popular that it shot to #1 on the pop charts all over the world and was played endlessly on AM radio. Silverstein contributed all the songs to Dr. Hook's followup album, Sloppy Seconds, and in the years that passed the group would continue to sing and record more Silverstein songs.

What's the Group Doing These Days?

Sadly, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, after weathering instant stardom, bankruptcy, several comebacks, much touring, a lawsuit by their former drummer Jay David, and a fall into meaningless gigs to pay the bills, finally broke apart in 1985. Sawyer currently resides in Nashville with his wife and children, as does Locorriere. Sawyer formed an R&B-themed group that toured for a while in the 1980's. According to Dr. Hook fan Andy May, Sawyer now tours under the name "Dr. Hook"--though he has to license the name from Dennis Locorriere.

Locorriere was a backup singer for Randy Travis over a decade ago, and in 1989 he was the lone actor in the production of Silverstein's epic poem The Devil and Billy Markham. Since then, he's done some touring in Europe and has released some solo albums, the most recent being "Running with Scissors". As for the other members of the group, the drummer, John Wolters, died of cancer in 1997. Rik Elswit does a lot of guitar related reviews for a guitar store in San Raphael, CA & plays in a new band with David Gans & The Broken Angels. Jance Garfat evidently has email, but that is as yet unconfirmed. And it is not really known what George Cummings, Billy Francis are up to. It is doubtful that the group will be getting back together soon.

On a personal note, I am very glad to have discovered the music of Dr. Hook. I haven't listened to many of their songs, but the ones I have are almost all winners. Admittedly, I haven't decided if it is due to Dr. Hook's interpretational skills or to Silverstein's songwriting skills, but then again, I'm happy I don't have to make that distinction.

Articles and Reviews

Dr. Hook's VD and Medicine Shows from Rolling Stone, November 9, 1972.
Dr. Hook, This Is Your Life and Your Cover from Rolling Stone, March 22, 1973.
A Review of Sloppy Seconds from Rolling Stone, March 29, 1973.
Goodbye Bunny, Hello Dr. Hook from Rolling Stone, July 31, 1975.
Down and Out With Dr. Hook from Rolling Stone, December 2, 1979.
Where Are They Now? from Rolling Stone, September 10, 1987.

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