Thursday, 23 February 2012

Dr Hook and The Medicine Show

Well we're big rock singers, we've got golden fingers
and we're loved everywhere we go
We sing about beauty and we sing about truth
at 10,000 dollars a show
We take all kinda pills that give us all kinda thrills but the thrill we never know
Is the thrill that'll getcha when you get your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone......

You will rarely hear a more joyful, playful and entertaining band than this one.
There are often seen as being two musical sides to Dr Hook, mostly seen as the earlier, rougher country rock and the later slicker, safer, more romantic output. In my view, the division is not that clear as the band has been fairly multi-faceted throughout their career but either way, there is something for anyone who enjoys well crafted songs and the art of the gloriously chaotic rock and roll performance.

I have to admit, the early stuff is right up my cup of tea, so that is the area I will concentrate on. The band formed in New Jersey in 1968, and legendary songwriter (and children's author!) Shel Silverstein recruited them to sing alongside him in the Dustin Hoffman film 'Who Is Harry Kellerman And Why Is He Saying All Those Terrible Things About Me?' which, despite the film's lack of success, brought them some notoriety.
Shel is renown for his witty, bizarre and very very clever songs and much of the Dr Hook output were Shel covers, and tracks co-written with him. The band were named for singer Ray Sawyer's distinctive pirate- style look (he wore an eye patch having lost an eye in a car accident).

My favourite line- up is Ray Sawyer and Dennis Loccorriere on vocals, with Billy Francis on keyboards, George Cummings on electric guitar, Rik Elswit on acoustic guitar, Jay David on drums and Jance Garfat on bass. The band had a very fluid set up though, and almost all the band members came up front to sing at some point or another. Rays voice is a country twang, and full of humour whilst Dennis switches from a gritty howl ('Cops 'n Robbers') to a sensitive vibrato ('Only Sixteen'). Both George and Billy have deep, sensual voices, put to best use on songs like 'Get My Rocks Off' and 'Penecillin Penny'. Rik has more than a passing resemblance to Garth from Wayne's World (watch him sing the live vocal in 'Everybody's making it Big But Me' and you'll get it).

Part of what makes them so refreshing, and no doubt especially did at the time, is that they didn't take themselves too seriously. Many of their tracks reference and poke fun at the famed decadent rock star lifestyle with all it's trappings- one such song was 'Cover of Rolling Stone'..... announcing that the way to know you had 'made it' was to make the cover of Rolling Stone.

Most of the videos I have linked below are live performances. This is not to say that they aren't a great studio band, because they are, but Dr Hook and the Medicine Show live are a sheer celebration of performance and friendship and fun. What you may notice is that in most of these videos there seems to be an astonishing level of intoxication......... this is very entertaining, but never makes for a sloppy performance. There is footage where you worry that Dennis wont be able to stay upright, yet his voice never falters. Except to break out in a fit of giggles. Which he does, often.

'Carry Me, Carrie' on Shel's Houseboat. Beautiful performance.

'Freakin At The Freaker's Ball'

'Everybody's Making It Big But Me' on the Old Grey Whistle Test

'The Cover of Rolling Stone'- it worked!

'Only Sixteen' Dennis shows his beautiful voice on this Sam Cooke cover

'Get My Rocks Off', quite a performance from Billy, throwing shapes. All splayed long legs. Like a sexy denim clad Praying Mantis.

QI: Shel Silverstein wrote Johnny Cash's hit 'A Boy Named Sue'