Former Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show vocalist Ray Sawyer (far left in the above photo) has died at the age of 81. Page Six first reported last Friday that Sawyer had died in Daytona Beach, Florida following a brief illness. A representative for the band later confirmed the singer’s death to Rolling Stone.
Born in Chickasaw, Alabama, Sawyer founded Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show with Dennis Locorriere, Billy Francis and George Cummings and was with the band from 1969 to 1981. A few years before the band’s formation, Sawyer lost his right eye in a car accident and he wore an eyepatch which made him resemble the Peter Pan villain Captain Hook, which served as the inspiration for the Dr. Hook moniker.
In 1970, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show’s demo tapes wound up in the hands of author and songwriter Shel Silverstein. The band would later enjoy mainstream success with Silverstein-written tracks including ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ and ‘The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ and release two albums of Silverstein-penned songs, 1971’s Dr. Hook and 1972’s Sloppy Seconds.
The latter single, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the magazine and rock stardom with Sawyer on vocals, became a Top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and resulted in Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, in caricature form, receiving a Rolling Stone cover in March 1973 as well as a profile of the New Jersey-via-Alabama act.
“Here was this little band from Alabama standing on the corner saying, ‘Hey, put us on the cover’, and it worked,” Sawyer later said, according to Ultimate Classic Rock.” “It was a dream come true.”
Following their Silverstein partnership, the band shortened their name to Dr. Hook and enjoyed a string of hit singles in the mid- to late-Seventies, including ‘Only Sixteen,’ ‘A Little Bit More,’ ‘Sexy Eyes’, ‘Better Love Next Time’ and ‘When You’re in Love With A Beautiful Woman,’ which shot to No.1 in the UK. Bruce Springsteen also notably served as Dr. Hook’s opening act in 1973.
After nine albums with Dr. Hook, Ray Sawyer left in 1983 to pursue a solo career. He had previously released a self-titled solo LP in 1977. While Dennis Locorriere maintained ownership of the official Dr. Hook moniker, Sawyer toured as Dr. Hook featuring Ray Sawyer over the past few decades. However, health issues forced Sawyer to stop performing live in 2015.
Locorriere said in a statement to Rolling Stone, “Although I hadn’t been in contact with Ray for many, many years it does not erase the fact that we were once close friends and shared an important time in both our lives. Deep condolences go out to his family at what must be a difficult time.”