On December 31, we lost Ray Sawyer, who gave the group Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show its iconic image. We look back on his decade with the group, the early ‘70s through early ‘80s, including six Top 10 singles.
By Warren Kurtz
In 1967, vocalist and songwriter Ray Sawyer was in a severe automobile accident, resulting in the loss of his right eye. Ultimately he began wearing an eye patch, along with a cowboy hat, an image that he had seen actor John Wayne embrace as the character Rooster Cockburn in the 1969 film True Grit, which also starred Glen Campbell. Some felt Ray looked like a pirate, a bit like Captain Hook from Peter Pan, and this image became a key part of his stage presence and the name of the country-rock group which he co-founded, Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show. Poet and author Shel Silverstein heard the band’s demo for Columbia and chose to work with the group as a songwriter of some of their songs.
In 1972, Dr. Hook and The Medicine show debuted on Columbia with their gold single “Sylvia’s Mother,” from their first album, Doctor Hook. This Shel Silverstein composition was the emotional true story of his payphone call to a former girlfriend, only to reach her mother, and learn from “Sylvia’s Mother” that Sylvia was leaving on a train to be with another guy. Dennis Locorriere sang lead with Ray providing harmony vocals, which was the case with most of their hit singles. The exception was their second gold single, “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’,” also written by Shel, with Ray providing the humorous vocal delivery. While the song spent an eleven week run in the spring of 1973, Rolling Stone put a caricature of Ray and Dennis, along with keyboardist Bill Francis, on the magazine’s March 29th cover, to go with a story written by young rock journalist Cameron Crowe. Ray’s comical delivery on stage of this song was a hit with audiences. In the fall of 1973, Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show reached the Top 100 for a final time on Columbia with a song Ray and Shel wrote together called “Life Ain’t Easy,” which, along with “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’,” was included on their album Sloppy Seconds.
In the mid-‘70s, the group toned down the humor on their recordings, shortened their name to Dr. Hook and moved from Columbia to Capitol, bringing them back to the Top 10 in early 1976 with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Only Sixteen,” which allowed them to achieve their third gold single. Later that year, the label also released a self-titled solo album from Ray, which included the Top 100 single “(One More Year Of) Daddy’s Little Girl.”
In late 1978, Dr. Hook achieved their fourth Top 10 single with “Sharing the Night Together.” The following year, their album Sometimes You Win… included their fifth Top 10 gold single “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman” and their highest charting gold single, “Sexy Eyes,” which brought them into the next decade. Its flip side, “Help Me Mama,” written by Ray and Shel, was the album’s closing number, and was on par with tender country songs including Kris Kristofferson’s “Why Me” and Elvis Presley’s latter recordings.
Flip side: Help Me Mama
A side: Sexy Eyes
Top 100 debut: February 16, 1980
Peak position: 5
The group changed labels one more time in the early ‘80s to Casablanca for a final pair of Top 40 hits, of which 1982’s “Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk” was the most successful from that era.
The original group disbanded in 1983. Ray continued to perform, first relocating to Europe and then to Daytona Beach, Florida, in 2000, where he passed away on New Year’s Eve 2018. He is survived by his wife Linda and their family.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.