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Ray Sawyer of Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show Dies

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show singer Ray Sawyer, who sang lead on their hit “The Cover of Rolling Stone,” has passed away. He was 81.

The news was broken on the Facebook page of the current incarnation of the band. “Ray Sawyer, an original member of Dr. Hook from 1969-1981, passed away this morning. We send our condolences to his family at this difficult time.”

The cause of death was not disclosed, but Page Six says that he had a “brief illness” and that he died in Daytona Beach, Fla. He had been retired for three years as a result of his declining health.

Born Feb. 1, 1937 in Chickasaw, Ala., Sawyer formed a band called the Chocolate Papers with George Cummings and Billy Francis. But they broke up after playing clubs all over the country to little success, and by 1967, Sawyer had decided to move to Portland to become a logger. However, while there he was involved in a car crash that resulted in the loss of his right eye.

He reconnected with Cummings, who had relocated to New Jersey, and Francis to form a new band with singer Dennis Locorriere. Thinking that Sawyer’s eyepatch was evocative of Captain Hook from Peter Pan, they called themselves Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show.

The band got its first its break when they recorded two Shel Silverstein-penned songs for the movie Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? It led to a deal with CBS Records, with their self-titled debut, which featured Sawyer and Locorriere sharing lead vocals, arriving in 1972.

Silverstein, who also wrote Johnny Cash‘s “A Boy Named Sue,” wrote most of the songs for their first few albums, including their signature hit. As Sawyer later recalled, he got a late-night phone call from Silverstein while on the road, and Silverstein dictated the lyrics. The next day, Saywer showed “The Cover of Rolling Stone” for the rest of his band.

“Everybody loved it so we played it that night at the show,” he said. “People loved it so we just kept playing it and then it started to build it. We actually played it for at least a month before we recorded it.”

Watch Dr. Hook Perform ‘Cover of Rolling Stone’

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It was one of the true moments of wishful thinking in rock history, with them appearing, in caricature, on the March 29, 1973 issue of the magazine. “Here was this little band from Alabama standing on the corner saying, ‘Hey, put us on the cover,’ he added. “And it worked. It was a dream come true…. As a matter of fact they put us on the cover again, I still don’t understand it.”

Sawyer remained with the group for another eight years, scoring another six Top 20 hits before leaving for a solo career. He was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2005.


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