Sporting denims and buckskin, Dr. Hook And The Medicine Show epitomized much of the countrified and ‘laid-back’ style that was in vogue during the early 70s, but though their material was sung in a Dixie drawl and three members were genuine southerners, they began in 1968 as a New Jersey bar band with one-eyed Dr. Hook (b. Ray Sawyer, 1 February 1937, Chickasaw, Alabama, USA; vocals), Denis Locorriere (b. 13 June 1949, New Jersey, USA; guitar/vocals), George Cummings (b. Meridian, Mississippi, USA; lead/slide guitar), Billy Francis (b. William Francis, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, USA; keyboards) and Jay David (b. Bayonne, New Jersey, USA; drums). One evening they impressed a talent scout looking for an outfit to record Playboy cartoonist Shel Silverstein’s film score to Who’s Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying These Terrible Things About Me? (1970), and later backed Silverstein’s singing on record. As a result, the band was signed to CBS Records. Almost immediate international success (US number 5/UK number 2) followed with ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ from their debut album. With the line-up augmented by Rik Elswit (guitar) and Jance Garfat (bass), the follow-up, Sloppy Seconds, was also penned entirely by Silverstein, and was attended by a US Top 10 hit that cited portrayal on ‘The Cover Of ‘The Rolling Stone’’ (which was dogged by a BBC ban in the UK) as the zenith of the band’s ambition - which they later achieved in March 1973.
The band embarked on a punishing touring schedule with a diverting act, riven with indelicate humour that came to embrace an increasing number of their own compositions. Some were included on Belly Up! - and the US-only Fried Face, their last album before transferring to Capitol Records - and the first with new drummer John Wolters (b. John Christian Wolters 28 April 1945, Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, New York, USA, d. July 1997). By then, the popularity of the band - as plain Dr. Hook - on the boards gave false impressions of their standing in market terms. This was better expressed in the title Bankrupt, the fifth album. However, a revival of Sam Cooke’s ‘Only Sixteen’, redressed the balance financially, by rocketing up the US Hot 100. A year later this feat was repeated on a global scale with the title track of A Little Bit More, which reached the UK number 2 slot. By this point, Cummings had left the line-up. Next came a UK number 1 in early 1979 with ‘When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman’ from the million-selling Pleasure & Pain. With Locorriere taking the lion’s share of lead vocals by then, the same year’s Sometimes You Win was the wellspring of two more international smashes, ‘Better Love Next Time’ and ‘Sexy Eyes’.
Throughout the 80s, Dr. Hook’s chart strikes were confined mainly to North America (even if a 1981 concert album was taped in London), becoming more sporadic as the decade wore on. New guitarists Bob Henke and Rod Smarr passed through the line-up, and in 1982 Sawyer left to pursue a solo career. Locorriere’s efforts as a Nashville-based songwriter had all but put the tin lid on Dr. Hook by the mid-80s. In the ensuing decade, Sawyer licensed the name from Locorriere for touring purposes.