Monday, July 25, 2011

Hooked by the Doctor

No, this isn’t about Doctoring the Tardis or anything to do with Dr Who. This is about Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show or A.K.A Dr. Hook. Dr. Hook was a band that had a pretty good run starting in 1972 and ending in 1983. They came from a strong country background out of necessity since they played a lot of gigs in the south. So they are rock with a strong country accent. Dr. Hook, like Steely Dan, is not a person, although Ray “Eyepatch” Sawyer is often mistaken for Dr. Hook. The name comes from the Captain Hook character from Peter Pan and this only adds to the confusion with Sawyer. (Yes, I know that he had a Hook. That was the Disney version. In the original English version he also had an eyepatch.)
Hello Everybody! I don't look like a Crazy Person at All.
The eyepatch is the result of car crash in 1967 in Oregon. How and why are debated. Ray says that he was tired of playing dives in the deep south, saw a John Wayne movie and decided to become a lumberjack. His lumbering career was cut short by an icy patch that flipped his car. The more prosaic version is that he was on a fishing trip, the car crashed and he ended up in a wheel chair for a year and lost his eye. Rolling Stone reported in 1973 that he was in Oregon to became a lumberjack and get off uppers and wine. A friend was driving his car and Ray fell asleep  in the seat and when he came to he was pinned in the car and couldn’t see because his eyes were filled with blood. The lumberjack story is so ridiculous that it must be true.

Their first and second albums, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show and Sloppy Seconds, were not written by the band. They were all written by Shel Silverstein. Apparently he had no problem from switching from children’s poet to filthy humorist.  The third album, Belly Up was written by the band.When Silverstein heard that they had written their own song he was amused. When he heard that had written an entire album he was alarmed.

Their first hit was a song called Sylvia’s Mother. It was supposed to be a satirical take on sappy lovesongs. Unfortunately, Shel Silverstein overestimated the ability of the stoned 70’s radio listeners to make that distinction. So,  like Every Breath You Take,  people just didn’t get it. It brought a lump to their throats instead of a smile and so Shel decided to play to the band’s strength with the second album, which was raunchy  irreverent humor with a strong dose of drug culture. It is entirely possible the Dr. Hook never drew a straight breath until the late 70‘s.

Their best known song is The Cover of the Rolling Stone. It’s about a Rock band that has everything except for one thing, their picture on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
“We keep getting richer, but we can’t get our picture on the cover of Rolling Stone”  

It was a big enough hit that it actually got them on the cover of the magazine after a fashion. (It was a drawing of the three band founders and had a caption that ran “What’s Their Name Made The Cover”).That is one of the more tame songs from Sloppy Seconds, Consider a few of the titles, I Should’ve Come and Gone, Get my Rocks Off and my personal favorite title  Lookin’ for Pussy. (It’s about a lost cat or maybe it’s the Bond girl from Goldfinger, Pussy Galore. No really.)
In the original drawing the money was a bag of pot.

But my  favorite from them is Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball. There is no good way to convey the irreverence of this song. It’s like the Player’s ball from Dr. Detroit on steroids, meth and cocaine all at the same time. Here’s a sample of some of the choice bits:
There's gonna be a freaker's ball, tonight at the freaker's hall...

Pass that roach please, and pour the wine
I'll kiss yours if you'll kiss mine
I'm gonna boogie 'til I go blind
Freakin' at the freaker's ball

White ones, black ones, yellow ones, red ones
Necrophiliacs looking for dead ones
The greatest of the sadists and the masochists too
Screaming please hit me and I'll hit you

Everybody ballin' in batches
Pyromaniacs strikin' matches
I'm gonna itch me where it scratches
Freakin' at the freaker's ball, y'all
We're freakin' at the freaker's ball
(There’s also a line about brother with sister, son with mother and bodies covered in butter.)

By the third album they were in fine form with with songs like Penicillin Penny, Rolland The Roadie & Gertude The Groupie but things were changing. Nothing charted from Belly Up and so Dennis Locorriere & George Cummings decided to take the band in a more mainstream direction. Making Love and Music was a transition album which was primarily written around more of disco beat. That was enough for Ray Sawyer. He left the band. In most people’s mind’s he was Dr. Hook. So you are left with just The Medicine Show.

By the time you get to their last big hit, When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman, all the quirkiness and raunchiness was gone. Financially, they were much more successful after they changed their style, but at a cost. They now sounded like so many other bands that many fans of the later material never actually made connection that this was the same band that had sung their way on to the cover of the rolling stone and went to the Freaker’s ball. Their last album was in 1982.  Members of the band changed and finally the only one touring was Ray "Eyepatch" Sawyer. But he's changed a lot.
PawPaw is only a little scary now,
So if you've never heard of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, take a listen. You may be suprised by how good these guys are and how much fun they must have had on tour. A bar band writ large by Shel Silverstein and thier own indefatiguable joy of living and performing.

Until Next time, keep listening!

Want to get started with some Dr. Hook? Here's some links:


Let me eat cake! Click a link and buy, buy, buy!


  1. Your letters have been extremely instructional and entertaining, especially to someone who is familiar with the music you are writing about. Please keep it coming. Trust all is well.

  2. Sorry I have been absent lately, but I had to have foot surgery and I was told to stay in bed and do almost nothing. I am just about healed now and you can expect more posts soon. (like tommorrow)