Hi Always, Ray Sawyer

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(Pictured: Ray Sawyer, in profile, and Dennis Locorriere of Dr. Hook.)

The thing I found most surprising about the death of Ray Sawyer, the guy who wore the eye-patch in Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, is not so much that he died, but that he was 81 years old. He was no baby-boomer; while “Cover of the Rolling Stone” was riding the charts in 1973, he turned 37 years old. Chronologically, he was more a member of my parents’ generation than of mine.

As it happens, I met Ray Sawyer once.

Dr. Hook formed in the late 60s and for several years specialized in amiable stoner rock. They performed some Shel Silverstein songs in the 1971 Dustin Hoffman movie Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me, and scored a Top-10 hit with Silverstein’s “Sylvia’s Mother” in 1972. The 1973 album Sloppy Seconds consisted entirely of Silverstein songs, not just “Cover of the Rolling Stone” but such PG-rated fare as “Freakin’ at the Freakers’ Ball,” “Get My Rocks Off,” and “Lookin’ for Pussy.” In 1975, however, they dropped the Medicine Show from their name. As Dr. Hook, they became a reliable pop act. Between 1976 and 1979, “Only Sixteen,” “Sharing the Night Together,” and “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” all hit the Top 10, and “A Little Bit More” reached #11. Released late in 1979, the album Sometimes You Win produced two more Top-10 hits, “Better Love Next Time” and “Sexy Eyes.”

(In terms of chart performance, “Sexy Eyes” ended up their biggest Hot 100 hit, equaling “Sylvia’s Mother” at #5 but charting for 21 weeks compared to 15 for “Sylvia.” Nevertheless, I bet you don’t remember it at all.)

And so it came to pass that in the summer of 1980, Dr. Hook’s itinerary bought them to the Stephenson County Fair in Freeport, Illinois, and I got to interview Sawyer and lead singer Dennis Locorriere.

I was the night jock at WXXQ in Freeport. One afternoon, I went with a guy from our AM sister station to a hotel room in Freeport (which may in fact have been a motel room in Freeport), and there they were: Sawyer with his eye-patch and cowboy hat, and Locorriere looking no different than other thirtyish dudes one might pass on the street. They were, as best I can remember, very gracious, greeting us with big smiles and handshakes, and quite gregarious.

At the age of 20, I hadn’t met anyone remotely famous. I didn’t want anybody to know that, of course, and furthermore, I wanted to come off as the hip rock jock I saw when I looked in the mirror. But these guys were real rock stars, and I was scared shitless.

I remember only two things about the interview. First was a line that Sawyer probably repeated in every interview: “I lost my eye in a car accident. I went back to look for it but I couldn’t find it.” The other thing is asking them how they would describe a typical Dr. Hook song. What they said, I don’t remember—but I do remember that in my flustered-ness, I asked the question twice.

I don’t remember how we used the interview. My station was an album-rocker, although we may have added “Cover of the Rolling Stone” for the duration, and we probably played at least some of the interview to help plug the concert. The AM station played soft rock, mostly, and the interview probably got more prominent play over there.

I didn’t go to the Dr. Hook show at the county fair, because I was on the air that night. But when I hear a Dr. Hook song today, I sometimes think of that interview. Were I to go digging through my boxes of tapes, I could probably find a copy of it—but I’d be afraid to listen to it.

Before we left that day, we asked Sawyer and Locorriere to autograph copies of Sometimes You Win for giveaways. We were embarrassed to have only ballpoint pens for them to sign with, which don’t write well on covers. One of the better-looking copies ended up in my collection; it’s pictured here. Although you can’t see it, Sawyer signed, in a nice throwback to his stoner-rock days, “Hi Always, Ray Sawyer.”

Coming tomorrow: another tribute post.

5 thoughts on “Hi Always, Ray Sawyer

  1. HERC

    I’ve always really enjoyed Dr. Hook’s music and Locorriere’s croon. So I for one remember “Sexy Eyes” and their country-tinged disco pop as well as the early stuff that my friend Dennis called “Biker Bar Bubblegum”.

    Dad had the Sloppy Seconds 8-track when I was younger (1973 is dawn of my favorite decade of music) so it all started there though my first Dr. Hook 45 was their cover of Sam Cooke’s “Only Sixteen” where Locorriere’s voice shines. It’s off just a little, unpolished; raw and emotional, true blue-eyed soul.

    For me, Sawyer will always be that four maraca shaking, cowboy hat wearing happy guy that danced alongside Locorriere when they appeared on The Midnight Special.

  2. Roland A. Long

    As a kid it sounded to me like the person singing the songs was just a homeless guy looking for a hot meal. Think about that the next time you hear Sharing The Night Together or Sylvia’s Mother. When I saw a picture of Ray and thought he was the singer, that further backed up my theory.

    After I read this article about a live German TV appearance, I have no doubts. – https://gawker.com/5981614/dennis-weve-been-crying-too-much-dr-hook-and-the-untold-story-of-the-best-rock-movie-ever-made

  3. John Gallagher

    It wasn’t a hit by any stretch, but the local AM Top 40 at the time, WJET, played “Roland The Roadie…” in the summer of 1973 and I bought the 45. Funny I never bought “Sylvia’s Mother” or “Cover Of The Rolling Stone.”

    In checking at ARSA, it had been at #10, dropping to #43 the week of the survey that’s posted. Interesting.

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