Dr. Hook’s Ray Sawyer Passes

Ray Sawyer

Former Nashville pop star Ray Sawyer died in Florida on New Year’s Eve.

Sawyer was the co-founder of Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show. The group scored 10 top-40 pop hits and six Gold-selling singles in 1972-82. With his black eye patch and rumpled cowboy hat, Sawyer gave the act its name and its iconic visual image.

Born in rural Alabama, he played in bands in New Orleans and Mobile in the 1950s and 1960s. Sawyer was in a car accident in 1967, which cost him his right eye. He formed Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show in 1968 with guitarist George Cummings and keyboard player Billy Francis. Cummings recruited fellow New Jersey native Dennis Locorriere to be the band’s lead vocalist.

Nashville’s Ron Haffkine became the act’s producer and manager. Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show first achieved notoriety by appearing on screen and on the soundtrack of the 1971 Dustin Hoffman movie Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?

Songwriter Shel Silverstein took a shine to the band and wrote its breakthrough hit, 1972’s “Sylvia’s Mother.” Dennis Locorriere sang lead on it and almost all of its subsequent hits. Sawyer usually sang harmony, handled percussion instruments and provided showmanship.

Silverstein also wrote the group’s second single, “Carry Me, Carrie.” The third single and second big hit was Silverstein’s “The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone.’” Ray Sawyer sang lead on this humorous ditty. After it became a pop smash in 1973, the group did, indeed, appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Later that year, Sawyer and Silverstein co-wrote the band’s single “Life Ain’t Easy.”

In 1975, the group declared bankruptcy, relocated to Nashville, switched from Columbia to Capitol Records and shortened its name to Dr. Hook. With Locorriere again singing lead, the band had a third Gold-selling single with a remake of Sam Cooke’s “Only Sixteen” in 1976.

Ray Sawyer issued his debut solo LP that year. He briefly made the pop charts with its single, “(One More Year of) Daddy’s Little Girl.” It was penned by Haffkine’s office manager, the late Hazel Smith (1937-2018). Meanwhile, Locorriere’s soulful vocal rasp propelled Dr. Hook’s “Sharing the Night Together” (1978), “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” (1979) and “Sexy Eyes” (1980) to Gold Record status. Even so, the public continued to identify Ray Sawyer as “Dr. Hook.” He and Silverstein co-wrote the “Sexy Eyes” flip side, “Help Me Mama.”

The group switched labels again, this time from Capitol to Casablanca. This resulted in its last flurry of pop-chart activity with “Girls Can Get It” (1980), “That Didn’t Hurt Too Bad” (1981), “Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk” (1982) and Eddie Rabbitt’s co-written “Loveline” (1982). Other notable singles included “A Little Bit More” (1976), “If Not You” (1976, the band’s only top-40 country success), “A Couple More Years” (1976), “Walk Right In” (1977), “Better Love Next Time” (1979) and “Years From Now” (1980).

The original group broke up in 1983 when Ray Sawyer quit to pursue a solo career. Locorriere and most of the other band members remained in Music City. Drummer John Wolter died of cancer at age 52 in 1997.

Sawyer performed in Europe and on the nostalgia circuit in the U.S. He settled in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2000. He was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and retired due to ill health in 2015.

According to Goldmine magazine, Ray Sawyer died in Daytona Beach on Dec. 31, 2018 at age 81. He is survived by his wife Linda and son Cayse.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Obituary

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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