Big Rock Singers
by Dave Seal
I suppose it's quite possible that you've only come into contact with Dr. Hook
and the Medicine Show a couple of times. In 72 you heard 'Sylvia's Mother' so
many times that whenever it came on you wanted to hurl the radio out the window.
Then maybe last November you were watching our national network Tuesday night
rock show when these six hairy Americans came on dressed like the Bay City
Rollers miming to a 78 version of their latest single and you switched off.
Fortunately, my aversion to Sylvia's Mother was combatted by exposure to their
later material and to the band in the flesh. If you're still out in the cold as far
as Dr. Hook is concerned then I hope to point out a few reasons why you might
look them over a second time . Two of their four albums rank with the best music
produced in the Seventies and the other two are not far behind. Live, they're in
a class of their own. They are accomplished musicians,dedicated (honest) to their
music and brilliant humourists. Yet they come on like the stonedest most untogether
bunch of be-denimed hicksyou ever saw. Even when they plug in you feel that they're
holding back total anarchy by the skin of their teeth. When they've finished and
you can't call for any more any longer you realize that they could knock spots off
most 'tight' bands and that they made you 'enjoy' a gig quite like you never did before.
Life Ain't Easy
The original line-up of Dr. Hook had come together via bar bands in the south, Chicago and New Jersey and comprised as it says on their first album, Ray Sawyer (lead vocal and guitar), Bill Francis (keyboard and vocal), George Cummings (steel and lead guitar), Dennis Locorriere (lead vocal, rhythm and bass guitar) - 'They said to me 'Can you play bass?' And I said 'Sure'. I couldn't, but I lied just so that I could have a gig, and I started with them the next night." - and Jay David (vocal and drums).Now these five guys made their demo and it brought them into contact with a couple of other guys who are indispensible to the story of Dr. Hook. First off the tape was picked up by Ron Haffkine at CBS whose long time friend, Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein (also somewhat known for his songwriting) was working on a film score. The outcome was that Dr.Hook played the music for the film. However, 'Who is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me' never got off the ground.
But the seeds of a partnership that is still blooming were planted, germinating and about to break the surface. The first flower on the vine was an album simply titled Doctor Hook and the Medecine Show (CBS 64754) and while it has its moments it's not their best effort. However, as a debut album it provided a number one hit single, which can't be bad and one or two other memorable cuts. These are the heavier songs, 'Marie Laveaux', the only group composition 'Four Years Older Than Me' and 'Kiss It Away', specially written for Dennis by Shel, which is still a featured spot for Locorriere in concert,highlighting his anguished delivery over solo guitar. The follow up to 'Sylvia's Mother' was 'Carry Me Carrie' in September 1972, but it didn't mean anything here. However, the band keep on playing it, Dennis sings his heart out on it and it's one of the most moving songs I have ever heard live. Never mind hitpickers. That was also included on the second album 'Sloppy Seconds' (CBS 65132) which is notable in the history of Dr.Hook for several reasons. Firstly, the band had now become a seven piece with the addition of Jance Garfat on bass and Rik Elswit on guitar. This gave Dennis more freedom and created a much fuller sound for the band which came over loud and clear on the album, which is excellent from start to finish and was released in February 1973. Secondly it is important for the reason that it gave Dr. Hook their second hit with 'The Cover of Rolling Stone' (Jan 73). As Ron Haffkine said,"Dennis came to me and said that if he's got to sing 'Sylvia's Mother' for ever then they might as well quit now." So they had a big hit with a completely different style of song which Ron is sure vindicated the decision not to simply mimic the one proven method of hitting the charts. In England it was of course banned as advertising by the Beeb and so never reached the same heights here. The cheek paid off though and on the cover of Issue 131 there was a large cartoon of Billy, Ray and Denmis, a three page spread inside and a review of the album. All this came at the end of 18 months continuous touring and it looked as if they had really hit the top. The album had eleven Silverstein songs, which apart from the two singles, included the classic 'Freakin' at the Freakers Ball' which is Shel at his humourist best, but also great 'leaving songs' like 'If I'd Only Come and Gone' and 'Things I flidn't Say' . As fans will already know 'Queen of the Silver Dollar' is a Hook mainstay and that's here too - the tender story of a country girl who becomes a bar-room queen, given a rousing treatment by the band. So far so good .
|Stoned and They missed it?
With everything working for the band, success could have looked permanent but in commercial terms things in fact had reached their highpoint. On record though, the third album produced the goods once more. 'Belly Up' (CBS 65566) was released in November 1973. Six cuts by Silverstein and five by various permutations in the band are included and they all come up to scratch. The humourous 'Roland the Roadie and Gertrude the Groupie' bombed is a single, but it's a good song nevertheless. Personal favourites for me are 'Penicillin Penny' - Zigzag's clap song of 1974 - (though Shel's 'Don't Give A Dose The One You Love Most' has yet to be covered on disc)- the happy/sad 'Life Aint Easy' and 'Ballad of...' a song which perfectly describes the possibilities for tragedy in the life of an upandcoming singer and the girls he abuses. 'You tint Got The Right' is a group composition that Sums up finally all the songs they've done about the woman walking out.
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