|Kevin Allen tries out a reindeer-steak and cream with Dr. Hook .
Pics by Paul Canty
|WITH DR HOOK it's always hard to tell when
they're being serious and when they're putting you
on , like when Dennis Locorriere suggested I try
the reindeer-steak club sandwich with cream when
we order lunch.
The group's sense of humour permeates not only everything they write but their everyday speech too, filling any interview with a string of anecdotes - some credible others seemingly far fetched excepting that, knowing them you begin to wonder if even the most bizarre legends surrounding them might not be true!
The very origin of their name was explained to me this way: "If
you put six donkey's on stage with a monkey then it's the
monkey who'll be the star. Since Ray Sawyer has to wear an eye
patch he obviously stood out so it was natural that the group
became known as Dr Hook. Put the rest of us out on the street
with a bunch of hippies and nobody could pick us out but
eveyone recognises Ray."
Their propensity for sending up everything in sight brings its own share of problems: "People just can't see when we're being serious. "One night Ray had to go off-stage to change the surgical eye patch he has to wear under the leather one so he told me to sing something, so that's what I did, Isang 'Only Sixteen' because I knew all the words.
"Ray heard it from off-stage,said it sounded great, so we decided to record it. I always thought it was an exact copy of the way Sam Cooke had done it because I sang it the way I remembered it but when I dug out his version and played I again I found the two were quite different.
"It's always been our policy to try different things. We had a follow-up to 'Sylvia's Mother' called 'Things I Didn't Say' which continued the story. Now we could have put that out , got stuck in a mould and had maybe two or three years of success then been forgetten but we didn't want that so it wasn't issued.
"Of course, a lot of our things are tongue-in-cheek Ronnie our manager , was at a disco one night and came back saying everyone was putting out disco records so why didn't we. It seemed like a fun idea so we came up with 'Levitate' and invented a dance nobody could do because you have to have both feet off the ground!"
Interjected Ray Sawyer with a grin: "The trouble is, people are trying it and the hospitals are filling up with people who've broken their legs!"
|Dennis and Ray were in London for a swift promotional visit
to build up interest for their November tour: "We thought we'd come
in sober for a change! We've been all over Europe this time.
There's a big cult thing for us in Scandinavia right now, our
'Bankrupt' album is at number one in Sweden, and we've got
Shel Silverstein to thank for that.
"He's been popular there for a long time. They sent a TV crew over to the States to record a special on his houseboat. We turned up and went wild. We all stripped off and ran amok. We played 'Sylvia's Mother' and they used it in the show."
That song. like much of their material was written by cartoonist / poet / songwriter/humourist Shel Silverstein whose own 'Freakin' At The Freakers' Ball' album , on which Dr Hook played, should have been a monster but was lost here and in the States.
"What can I say about the man?" enthused Dennis. "His talent covers so many fields
and he's such a great guy. Sure, he's a cartoonist, everything he does is a Cartoon -
'Cover Of The Rolling Stone' for instance was so animated. He's such a tremendous
story teller and he comes up with such a variety of ideas - just look at the difference
in theme between 'Sylvia's Mother' and 'Masochistic Baby'. He's just written a book
of children's poems called 'Where The 'Sidewal Ends and its amazing .
Shel's gone straight from writing that book to animating a series of porno strip cartoons!
"When we first became involved with him we recorded songs he had already written. Now when someone writes a song and someone else records it then you're bound to lose a little of the song's essence but Shel says we lose less than anyone else, that we sing his songs the way he visualised them being sung.Now he writes specifically for us and he comes up with so much good material. Someone once said Shel's the only guy who could sell songs by the pound, he's so prolific. Yet he's such a generous guy that he encourages us to write,both with him and on our own.
Silverstein , Dennis Locorriere and Ray Sawyer have been writing songs not just for the group but for other artists too. Ray and Shel wrote 'Help Me Mama' for Brenda Lee and Dennis and She wrote 'The Wheel' for Bobby Bare: "The title came from a quote. Jerry Lee Lewis had once described Shel as 'The wheel everything revolves around' so we thought it would make a good song title. We wrote it on my birthday. Bobby Bare heard it and the very next day went into the studio to record it . I had headphones on and was playing rhythm guitar and there were all these Nashville guys playing my song and it all seemd like I was listening to the whole thing on the radio or something."
Now firmly based in California: 'Though, with all the tourmg, I guess we spend less time there than anywhere !" the group's members were drawn from all over the States but New Jersey was where it all came together. 'Ray and Bill were in little bands down in Alabama , then they broke up and went their own ways. Our drummer's from Florida and the other two guys are Californians. As for me, well I was playing these scruffy little bars around the transfer station in Union City,New Jersey. The town's about 10 minutes outside New York and the transfer station is where all the express buses come in. I'd go round the bars and get what work I could. If they needed a singer I'd sing. if they needed a drummer I'd play drums, sometimes I'd play guitar. I met Ray there and he asked if I could play bass, I lied and said I could."
"He's still lieing!" interjected Ray
"Well anyway , Ray and I got this group together. We had no name at first. we just played .Then the bartender found the same drunks, coming in each night and figured it must be some kind of cult so he kept us on. Then we met Shel Silverstein. He was scoring the movie 'Who's Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Doing These Terrible Things To Me?' and our manager and producer Ron Haffkine knew him so we got to sing the theme. They did the movie in New York and it was amazing. We recorded that there, then it took like a year for the movie to come out. By day we'd be hanging out round the movie sets with Dustin Hoffman and all the stars then by night we'd be back playing in those greasy little bars playing for the drunks. For a year we'd play that song and say it was the theme from a movie we were in and all those drunks would shout: 'You bums ain't in no movie.'" Eventually CBS bought the movie and Clive Davis, then boss of Columbia Records, auditioned the group: "We went up to his office with two acoustic guitars and the drummer played on an up turned waste bin. We played Davis all the songs we knew - both of them."
They Ianded a contract and next thing they knew were being shipped out to the West Coast to plav at the CBS Convention there. "We went up to San Francisco to visit Shel. It was just intended to be a brief visit but we ended up settling on the Coast.We just sent for our things and never went back to New Jersey. "CBS told us to get out on the road. I just stood out on the street for three hours. I didn't know what they meant. Yeah, you could say it was sort of overnight success but it came after years of bumming round. We went straight from bars to major concerts: We did a three month tour with Emerson , Lake & Palmer . It was like opening for the Third World War."
Then came 'Sylvia's Mother', a run of fine albums and an international reputation but the band are intent on staying close to their roots. "We did some publicity pictures outside the hotel with a wino. He'll get more publicity out of it than us . people will think we've finally got a good looking guy in the band. It was like last time we were over. We went into the park to do an interview and started talking to these tramps. They tried tapping everyone else up for money but they were sharing their bottle of wine with me. They reckoned I was one of their kind.Back in the New Jersey days I used to spend a lot of time talking to the down-and-outs, I found them more interesting than my friends. Once another guy and I changed up all the cash we had into dime pieces and went round the Bowery. Every bum we found asleep we left a dime on his chest so he'd find he had some money for coffee when he woke up.
"People are important to us. It's like within the band it's the personalities of the guys that count for more than their musical technique. You can find a million guitar players, a million singers and they can all play better than us so why try to compete on that level. We make out by giving people songs they can relate to,things to amuse them. Maybe make them a little sad but things they'il understand."
Reproduced from Sounds ~ November 8th 1975