by Charles Shaar Murray
NEVER go drinking with Rosko. Not if you
have anything particularly important to do within
the next six days, that is. He'll start drinking the
health of Cardinal Poof,and after you've been
through that, your brain will have gotten out of the
way to avoid permanent injury. Still the ol' Emperor really
has it together. How else should you react to a little hop across
the ocean to see Dr. Hook in Amsterdam?
Ah. yes, Amsterdam.The last great hippie strong hold. Home of 'Suck" magazine and the Paradiso Club. Split-beaver and zoological sex on sale at the airport bookstall right alongside the Marvel Comics and overpriced paperbacks. Canals all over the bloody place. Fabulous beer.
The trouble is that it's a Sunday night and, even in Amsterdam, the ligging prospects are slightly dampened by the advent of the Sabbath. Still. there's always Dr.Hook to enliven the proceedings. The most degenerate band in the world, remember? None of this fashionable mock-elegant decadence for the Medicine Show,"What they're into is terminal rotting degeneracy but with a smile, always with a smile, occasionally expanding into a seraphically zoned grin.
Cummings , Garfat , Francis , Sawyer , Alan Black (Radio 1) , Colin Forsey (CBS) , Rosko (Radio 1) ,Wolters , Locorriere , Elswit.
|See Dr. Hook on stage. and you'll either sob with laughter
and love them for ever, or else you'll be disgusted and you'll sit
there tight-lipped and disapproving, not because of some of
Silverstein's more rancid lyrics,but because of the way Dennis
Locorriere stumbles all over the stage knocking over micro-
phones, breaking out in hoarse cackles of laughter, and gener-
ally carrying on like a stone solid guaranteed loony.
But does it matter? Sheeeeet no!
In the interests of common politeness, a few introductions
are in order. First of all, there's Dennis. He is an amiable kid
from New Jersey who's possessed of a beard half a mile
long and that pain-wracked quivering tenor that wrung the
hearts of the entire Western Hemisphere on "Sylvia's Mother."
He also owns the grungy sewer-rat rasp used on "Freakin' At
The Freakers' Ball" , even though that voice sounds like it
ought to belong to Ray. That's Ray on "Cover Of Rolling
Stone," even though it soundslike it ought to be Dennis. Got it?
Ray is Ray Sawyer. Ray is the face that launched a thousand gasps, the most instantly recognisable mug in the whole of the rock business. He's the cat with the appallingly mal-treated straw hat, the eye patch and the moustache-and-side-boards combination job. Compared to Ray, the faces of Bowie, Jagger and Alice Cooper fade into total anonymity.
Then there are Jance Garfat and Rik Elswit, who perform on bass and guitar respectively. They are small blond owlish creatures with round glasses, easily distinguished by the fact that Rik has a moustache and Jance has a beard. Then there's Bill Francis, a tall, lanky fellow with drooping moustache and equally drooping eyelids. He plays piano, organ and related objects and occasionally saunters out from behind his instruments to wave a tambourine and beef up the harmonies. George Cummings has a beard and talks real slow when he talks at all which ain't often,and he stands behind a Hawaiian steel guitar on a little table with his red Gretsch strapped around him swooping and wailing.
Once upon a time Dr. Hook had a drummer called Jay David, whose clean-cut, immaculately shaven features provided an odd contrast to the matted beards and moustaches of the rest of the buncli. Jay left so now they've replaced him with a bearded drummer named John Wolters,so obviously everything is as it should be. Right?
So we have Dr. Hook disembarking from their coach (if such a downward shamble can be described so clinically) and finding a couple of posters for their gig outside along with several hundred advertising later gigs by Elephant Gerald and Tanned Feet. They then pop into the hall (which is laughingly known as the "Concertgebouw" and resembles Reading Town Hall seen through a fish-eye lens) to do their soundcheck.
Their chief roadie, a lean, sharp young man known only as Nine Year, rounds up the band and endeavours to put them through their sound check. They don't run through any of their numbers but instead jam this weird latin bluegrass-funk thing while Ray prowls the hall, making cryptic communiques to the sound man.
A bar is located near the hall where they have Monkees and Roy Orbison singles on the juke-box and then the assembled company (which includes Rosko and Alan Black from Radio I, for those of you that can remember Radio I) wends its weary whatever back to the concert-hall and piles into the band's dressing room.
Dr. Hook descend on the beer. Bill Francis is overjoyed - because there's a piano in therr "and I ain't never found my axe in a dressing room before." They clown their way through a photo session, all collapsing on top of each other like a bunch of hick farmers who've O.D.'ed on white lightnin', softly carol a little acapella ditty charmingly entided "I Wanna Eat a Cop's - Daughter," tune up and fall onto the stage. After a brief, deathdefying yodelling demonstration from Ray, the band get into their set. Now, the way a Dr. Hook set is constructed is, that the band play very solidly - and sound very together, but Ray struts around the stage pulling faces and Dennis knocks his mike stand over so often that you'd be forgiven for thinking that they were so out of it that it would take them till 2001 to get back.
However. it's all an illusion, folks. Garfat and Wolters are a funky, pushing, devastatingly precise rhythm section and Cummings, Elswit and Francis drop all the right pieces over the top in all the right places. Sawyer's harmonies are always spot on and even Locorriere's extravagant clowning and brain damaged rambles don't detract from the music. It's just a little free bonus.
After all, if they stood around and just - uh, played, you'd think of them as a super-tight band playing country material with a strong r&b feel (as we journalists say in our quaint and colourful dialect). When I first heard of Dr. Hook, I was initially drawn to their scuzz material, like "Freakin' At The Freakers' Ball." However, this aspect of their work is becoming increasingly tiresome, and it's the more serious songs, like "Carry Me Carrie." which work best on stage.
Dennis stands there, head on one side, scratching on his amplified Ovation acoustic, he and Ray combining for that weird harmony sound, much tougher and infinitely more moving than the silky-soft warblings of the second-string CSNYers, while the musicians produce a building roaring climax . They even play the blues, friends. "The eagle flies on Friday, and he's gonna shit right on your head," complete with hideous '6O's mouth-harp.
"Sylvia's Mother" gets pride of place in the set, even though it later emerges that Sylvia's pregnant and that the estranged lover is calling with the charges reversed.
On "Roland The Roadie And Gertrude The Groupie," Dennis is laughing so hard he can hardly recite the intro, which doesn't really matter since the audience know the song at least as well as he does. In fact, they probably know it better. Of course, the high spot of the entire evening is George Cummings' impersonation of a killed rock and roll guitarist during "Cover Of Rolling Stone." He coaxes a deafening wall of feedback out of his Gretsch, and then just sits there under his table drinking from a half-bottle of something or other. When he comes up front to sing "Penicillin Penny, he carefully drapes a handkerchief over Dennis' microphone to prevent any small forms of organic life from nestling in his beard. What a man!
Of course, the audience love them. Clumps of wildeyed young Hollanders link arms and jump up and down yelling "Hook! Hook! Hook!" in raucous tones, and of course they get their encore. At the end, Rolands meet Gentrudes and the ensemble hops happily away to their coach. Dennis is last on, dreamily wandering down the stairs in a greasy army greatcoat, toking on a cigar.
Anyway, listen. If you see them over here next month, if Ray and Dennis get too much for you, just close your eyes and listen and get their musicianship into perspective. They really are a fine band.
Hey, Ray. Tell 'em who we are....
Reproduced from New Musical Express ~ March 23rd 1974