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| 16 October 2015 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Dennis Locorreire 02

It’s 1am when we get Dr Hook’s soft rockin’ frontman Dennis Locorriere on the phone at his house in England, but there’s no sign that the 67-year-old is up past his bedtime: in fact he’s positively garrulous, cracking jokes and ready to tell all about the band he made his name with and the solo career he’s enjoyed since their 1985 demise.

Dennis Locorriere presents DR HOOK – TIMELESS AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2015:

Wed 14 October – Theatre Royal – Hobart TAS
Thurs 15 October – The Palms At Crown – Melbourne VIC
Fri 16 October – The Palms At Crown – Melbourne VIC
Sun 18 October – Crown Theatre Perth – Perth WA
Tues 20 October – Her Majestys Theatre – Adelaide SA
Wed 21 October – QPAC Concert Hall – Brisbane QLD
Thurs 22 October – Brolga Theatre – Maryborough QLD
Fri 23 October – Pilbeam Theatre – Rockhampton QLD
Sat 24 October – Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre – Mackay QLD
Sun 25 October – Jupiters Theatre – Gold Coast QLD
Wed 28 October – Civic Theatre – Newcastle NSW
Thurs 29 October – Enmore Theatre – Sydney NSW
Fri 30 October – Evan Theatre, Penrith Panthers – Penrith NSW
Sat 31 October – Canberra Theatre – Canberra ACT
Sun 1st November – Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre – Nowra NSW

Dennis Locorreire 03

Shane: Hi Dennis, how are you doing today man?

Dennis: I’m good Shane.

Shane: It’s 1 am where you are: are you permanently on rock n’ roll time?

Dennis: It’s not even rock and roll, I’m permanently on… [well,] it’s a lot of things. First of all when I used to be on the road with Hook, we were out there 300 days a year internationally so I never knew what time it was. I’ve developed perpetual jet lag – and it works in my favour.

It was [in] those night time hours that you could go back to your room and shut the door, because the rest of the day you were travelling with the band, [doing] radio wherever you were, but you were always with people. It was those night time hours that I would go back and I cultivated those hours on my own. There is something I really, really like about the middle of the night, you know, there is just something I like.

It’s very personal to me and I don’t do a whole hell a lot – I might watch a movie, read something, just think, draw some cartoons. It’s just, I know if my phone rings, it’s either my best friend in America who knows I’m up, or somebody is dead. Really not so many people have been dead, so luckily I hear from my friend a lot! Yeah, I like these hours. Everybody is great because everybody I’ve been talking to, they really like thank me profusely for staying up so late and I have to tell everyone of them, ‘no, this is fine.’ You got me, it’s the perfect time, everybody else has gone to bed… and I’m doing this!

Shane: I found in the night time I was very, very productive – until I became a dad!

Dennis: Oh yeah. Oh I bet, I bet, I bet. Yeah. I don’t sleep very much, I never do. I sleep about three, four hours a night. I always tell anybody, ‘if I’m with you and I’m asleep and it goes over five hours, put a mirror under my nose because something is dreadfully wrong!’

Children will wear you out. I have a little step grandchild, a little boy, Leo, that’s just… phew, man, he’s a terror – and you forget [what it’s like].

Shane: Dennis, I want to talk about rock n’ roll. There is a real tendency for some critics to write off Dr Hook as a cheesy pop act, but you look through your albums and there is some fantastic rock and roll songs in there as well. Are you satisfied with the band’s legacy?

Dennis: You do what you do as you go through it, you know what I mean? It’s funny because it looks like some freaking master plan when you look back on it. You do what you do. We started, we were a bar band. We were playing whatever it took to keep us from being killed. I mean – country music, anything. They’d come up and say, ‘do you know how to play… [such and such]?’ and we’d say, ‘yes we do.’ That’s what you did. Then we went out on the road, we had some success, we were support for a lot of different bands like Alice Cooper, and Kiss, and Sly & the Family Stone, and Blues Festivals, and Frank Zappa, and the Eagles.

Dennis Locorreire 04

We had to fit everywhere and we did. We were that kind of band. In the early days we had the benefit of the Shel Silverstein material, great stuff. For me as a singer, Sylvia’s Mother, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, those songs were… they were stories. They were songs that today when I sing them I don’t particularly feel like I’m recapturing the past or it’s a piece of nostalgia – I feel like I’m retelling a good story. When I sing Sexy Eyes, it was a huge hit all over the world but it’s very much of it’s kind. It’s about meeting this girl on a dancefloor – which I have to say I’ve never done ever in my life.

But it was a good radio record, see. So I’ve gotten ahead of myself a little bit by talking about Sexy Eyes, because we went out and we were this great cozy band, where you never knew if we were going to make it through the show. We were funny and we were singing these great show songs and we had some pretty good ones of our own and all that went to fucking bankruptcy man. It led to bankruptcy and our families losing houses and we had a choice: do we keep [the band] together or do we go back to whatever the hell we were going to do had we not met. We kept it together. We fought the bankruptcy, got a little congressional relief, we got to keep where we lived and our instruments and we regrouped and we recorded an album called Bankrupt which was more silliness and funny stuff and more like our original albums, but we had Only Sixteen on there and it became a hit.

So, then we were back on the radio and we were able to pay our rent. We started looking for material that would go mainstream. See, the way we were thinking about it was – and I guess maybe we were a little naïve – but Hook was very much a live band and entity. When you came to see Hook you knew what you were going to get, or maybe you didn’t, but that’s what you liked. Once we started having those hits, I used to see every time Dr Hook had a hit single, our show became about three and a half minutes longer. That was really all what happened. We would go out and along with Sexy Eyes, we would play Get My Rocks Off, and we would play Carry Me Carrie, and we just added those things.

We didn’t change it and I got a haircut – I got a haircut because they, I swear to God, they would not play our fucking records on the radio in America. When I had really long hair I used to look like bigfoot with a guitar!! And they wouldn’t go near our records. Then I went and got the haircut, and we went to a big station up in Cleveland and there was a woman, Roseanne Chomdley, I think her name was, and she was the program director – and she was one of those program directors that if she went on your record, 150 stations all over the country would go on your record. We walked in with Sharing The Night Together, she looked at me and I looked at her and she went, ‘yeah, now that looks better.’ She went right on my record, right on the fucking thing like it mattered what I looked like on the radio!

I mean it was about, ‘how did you get your records played, did you slip them a lot of money, did you give them cocaine?’ ‘I got a fucking haircut.’ You know what I mean? It didn’t seem like a big price to pay!

Dr Hook - "Bigfoot with a guitar"

Dr Hook – “Bigfoot with a guitar”

We knew who we were. When we were on stage we [were] just the same bunch of guys and the show was still funny and we were up to do anything, but our audience was getting bigger because we were on radio and people would always say, ‘wow I used to see you on TV.’ We were on TV because we had hits and somebody wondered what do these guys look like. You do what you do and yeah, I hear that shit all the time about, ‘well you guys sold out, you guys did this and you …’ It was fucking life. Is there anybody who’s going to read anything I ever say or listen to anything I ever say who hasn’t gotten to a period in their life when they look back and they go, ‘should I have done that?’ then you go, ‘okay I’m 66, it didn’t fucking kill me, I guess I’m okay.’ You know what I mean?

Shane: When you hooked up with Shel Silverstein [the writer of many of Dr Hook’s early hits], that arrangement came about because you did a couple of songs for a movie (Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me, directed by Herb Gardner in 1970), I believe, and then one thing led to another from there, didn’t it?

Dennis: Yes. The funny thing from … Go ahead.

Shane: No, you go, you’re the interesting person here.

Dennis: No, I was going to let you at least ask the question. I’ll talk to a dial tone, man. See, to back it up a bit, I was a big Shel Silverstein fan when I was a kid. He had a couple of albums like Inside Folk Songs and stuff that I just loved because he wasn’t much of a singer. He had a great rusty voice and he was a great interpreter of his own material. Saying Shel wasn’t much of a singer was like saying Bob Dylan wasn’t much of a singer or Mick Jagger isn’t much of a singer: piss off! They’re fine. Though Shel has this great voice and I used to love it because on his own albums he would sing something really lovely and poignant, and the next song would be totally raunchy and make you piss yourself. I’d go, ‘wow that’s really great.’

I saw him on a street corner in New York standing, and I didn’t have the nerve to go talk to him because he was really suavey looking guy with a black beard and a shaved head and he looked very gruff, [even though] he was actually a very sweet guy. The thing is he kept everybody from really being in his face because he looked like you didn’t want to be in his face. I let him wander away, and somewhere within that next year I was playing in bars with the guys in Hook and we had made some tapes of, I don’t know, Bob Dylan songs and something the guitar player wrote – just some demos, and somebody got a hold of them and said, ‘oh yeah, I was thinking about you for this movie.’ We said, ‘you’re kidding me,” I mean, we were playing to drunks at night, come on!

They came into wherever we were playing or rehearsing with a cassette and said, ‘here, learn these three songs and don’t mind the guy’s voice, he can’t sing.’ We put the tape on with Shel [singing]. Now the other guys were from down south so they didn’t really know Shel, I knew him because I was more an urban dweller and he would play a lot New York, Chicago kind of a places. I freaked out. I freaked out and I thought, ‘wow – Shel. Unbelievable. This is unbelievable.’ I was playing with these guys in bars, man, there was every likelihood that a couple of months after that I might have been playing in somebody else’s band, because that’s just the way that was.

I used just sit in with people in these little bars in New Jersey. I wasn’t looking at a career. I would just try to play drums for them when they needed me to, or I’d play some harmonica, I’d play some guitar. Meeting Shel, then having access to his material was like, oh my goodness, because he just had song after song. I’ll tell you why, I’ll tell something really cool about Shel, Shane: he was the guy around the third album that said, you guys need to write more, because otherwise people are just going to [write you off]. You guys need to express yourselves, [or] you’re going to wind up being known as just a mouthpiece for me.

He was right and we did start writing and it was intimidating… when it came to a meeting where it was, ‘okay what are we going to record?’ It was very intimidating to come in with one of your songs when you had access to Shel’s. Then later on once we started having hits, we were living in Nashville, Tennessee, we’d come off the road and there’d be a box of tapes at the hotel, with every writer in the world going, ‘here, I want you to listen to this.’ It was very intimidating to go, well I think my song is better than all of these!

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Shane: You stepped up, man. Your songs have been covered by some of the greats. You obviously rose to the occasion.

Dennis: Yeah. I tried. Yes I did. I did. I’m a good writer. My solo albums, I’m very proud of the songs. I do think I’m a good writer. The only reason I say that is because if I didn’t I wouldn’t waste my time or yours. I really wouldn’t. That was one of the reasons I stepped away from Hook and thought, ‘I’m going to leave Hook alone for a while.’ People now, they’re still congratulating me for something I did when I was 25, I needed to do something else.

Not to spit on Hook or denigrate its memory – it was great – as you see, I’m back working with this catalogue, I understand what a great body of work it is and how lucky I am to be involved in that. But I walked away, and I did some acting and I wrote some stuff for other people and I did a book of cartoons and poetry… Not to compete with those days, because we had the might of Sony and EMI behind us in those days. It was just to do other things to feel like I still had a pulse and a heartbeat away from Dr Hook.

Shane: And presumably not to be cabaret, either…

Dennis: Yeah. The next thing I could have done is just gone right back out playing those songs in hotels, or I don’t know where. People used to say to me, ‘you’re not very reverant, you don’t really have any respect for those days.’ I’d say, ‘if I didn’t have respect for those days I’d be singing Sylvia’s Mother in a chicken in a basket place!’ And never mind those days, I have no duty to represent ‘those days.’ The respect I should have is for myself and, I might add, for my audience.

I came back to Australia in 2014 and I hadn’t come down there for 15 years. They wanted me to do the tour I’m doing now – do the hits. One after another, knock ‘em dead. It’s possible, it’s a great catalogue, but I thought, ‘I had a great relationship with the Australian people,’ it was personal – we would go on Don Lane[‘s TV show], and he would let us just chat.

Everybody treated us like people and not just a musical entity and I wanted to come back after so long, so I said to the promoter, ‘look, if I come back, I really would like to come down there with my solo show, because I’ve been touring solo for the last 10 years, just me and my guitar.’ I talk to [the audience] and it’s really intimate, and I play the Hook stuff and I play stuff from my albums, and those went over really well. I came down with a show called Dr Hook & Beyond, which was exactly that. It was very apprehensive to come walk out there, but I needed to do that. I thought coming back after 15 years, slamming them with just the hits and then leaving was just obnoxious.

I thought, ‘what are they going to learn?’ They’re going to learn I’m older! ‘Hey it’s Dennis and he is singing the same songs again.’ Since then the compilation album [Timeless, released 2014] has come out, that I had put together for Universal and I had to listen to every Dr Hook track available to compile those 40 tracks. My head in the last few years or so got back into that Hook thing, and people were talking to me about their personal experiences with the music and how their families used to go camping and listen to ‘my dad passed away and he loved you guys’ and I’m right in the middle of people’s personal lives.

I always knew that people liked it but you don’t stop to gather stories like that til much later. The album is called Timeless but it takes 100 years to find out your timeless. Nobody calls their first album Timeless. It has to dawn on you later and when you’re doing it and if you have a hit record you hug each other and then you say, ‘oh my God, now we have to have another hit record.’ If you just bought a little nicer house you have to keep it. Nobody goes, ‘hey there is the guy who sings, Sylvia’s Mother, let’s give him a house for free.’’ We went from being Dr Hook & the Medicine Show the bar band with a paper sign in the window, to Dr Hook Incorporated.

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Shane: Yeah. Hey look I’m out of time already but I’ve just got two more questions that I want to ask you. Cover Of The Rolling Stone – one of Shel’s best songs, obviously, and very tongue in cheek, but it gave you guys an image of a real hard partying band. I’ve always wanted to ask even before I became a journalist, how accurate was that? Was it a big party with Dr Hook on the road? You said you might do 300 shows a year?

Dennis: Yeah, we were out there usually 280, 300 [shows a year]. We weren’t a hard drug band or anything like that, we really weren’t, and there has never been any rehab with Dr Hook. When you first go out on the road you pretty much think your career is going to last five minutes, so you think ‘oh this isn’t going to last very long – we better have the best time we possibly can.’ But when it becomes your actual itinerary and the way you’re going to live…

You know, after five nights in a row on stage, I pretty much wanted to sit down and read a book. I didn’t want to do a bunch of blow and go to a party! So you temper yourself, and I was never much for any of that anyway, to tell you the truth. We used to have a great time and maybe we even played up the image a little bit – because remember something, we used to open for groups like KISS! We were in the middle of glam rock where people… I’ll give you a great example, people say to me, ‘so Dr Hook, you always look high all the time. Are you guys high all the time?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah – and David Bowie was actually from Mars!’ [laughs]

It’s a little bit of showbiz but it’s based on who you are. None of it was an affectation. You can see now on YouTube, back then we were having a great time, we really were. We weren’t faking that. We thought it was great, and Cover Of The Rolling Stone was genius. Shel called us in a hotel room, he said ‘how’d you like to get on the cover of a magazine?’ I don’t even think we asked him which one. We said, ‘yeah that’d be great.’ He wrote the song and gave it to us and we started singing it that night and because we were opening for people like KISS and Alice Cooper and going out and doing that great pisstake upfront, people really liked it. We recorded it and it got to number one or two in America. It was absolutely genius on Shel’s part – and that’s a guy who knows the power of his own words, you know?

Shane: Yeah for sure. That was a fantastic song and I would say one of my favourite rock n’ roll songs – I was in a piano bar in Canada and that song just brought the house down a few years ago. It was just incredible.

Dennis: It’s still relevant too. Somebody told me the other day, and I don’t know if this is true because if it is I never saw it, but somebody told me the other day that the first issue of Rolling Stone that came out in Australia was the one with us on the cover!

Dr Hook in the mid-70s

Dr Hook in the mid-70s

Shane: Ray Sawyer left the band first, a few years before Dr Hook disbanded, and he still tours as Ray Sawyer From Dr Hook, or a variation thereof… do you two get along? I read that you own the band name and allow him to use it?

Dennis: Yeah, well, get along… I mean Ray and I, we were never… I mean we were friends, because we had a communal bond. It’s like when you’re in the army and tracer bullets are going over your head, you hold on to each other real tight! He’s 13 years older than me, when we came off the road, I would go to New York where I lived, he’d go back down south. He’d go fishing, I’d go to book stores. We’re not the same person. We never spent holidays together when we came off the road. We were really, really tight – we worked 200 days a year but we had a bond with Hook. We had a certain bond.

When the band ended, he’d left first and then we did another three years, and then he started using the name and I owned it. We had to have some discussion about that and we finally ironed it out, and I didn’t want to go right back on the road as Dr Hook, and he felt like he needed it – maybe because of the eye patch or the image. I licensed him the name for the last number of years and it’s in conjunction with his own, Dr Hook Featuring Ray Sawyer… I’ve always used it as more of an historical reference: The Voice of Dr Hook, or something like that… which sounds like a ventriloquist act [laughs]

I will tell you this: right up until the minute Ray left, there was no acrimony. Letting him go we thought, ‘yeah, okay, do what you want to do, you’ve been doing this long enough.’ And here was no acrimony. It was a year or two after, when all of a sudden he was using the name and things needed to be… you know, lawyers, accountants – because you walk away, but it was a business.

And I actually, particularly myself, grabbed the reins on the business end of it and the trademark end of it because I didn’t want to have it [end up being] a hot dog stand in Los Angeles because somebody picked [the name] up. I protected it, held on to it and when Ray wanted to use it I didn’t particularly want to use it at that point. He’s been using it, [and] that’s maybe coming to a close here now, but my decision to come out and try these things has nothing to do with a fight at all. If Ray were to stop now it would be a timely coincidence.

It’s not like I’m looking around going, ‘okay, can I do this now?’ I could have done it at any point. That was another thing too, once I said to him, ‘go out and do that if that’s what you want.’ I didn’t really want to be in ‘the battle of the Dr Hooks’ – I thought there was something unseemly about ‘the battle of the Dr Hooks’. I just went out as Dennis Locorriere and it did me well, because even when I go out now using the Dr Hook name, people go, ‘oh it’s Dennis.’ I’m not trying to confuse them, you know what I mean? This thing I’m doing here now is Dennis Locorriere presents Dr Hook – you know, four of the guys have passed away, it’s not the original band – we’d have to seance to have a reunion!

Shane: I was going to ask if you’d ever had the discussion about reuniting with Ray, and George [Cummings] and the remaining guys?

Dennis: No. You want to know something? The only people who have never talked to me about a Dr Hook reunion has been the other guys in Dr Hook. See, the thing that surprised me is that when Ray left, he said, ‘I’m just [the guy in] the hat & the eyepatch, you’re singing everything, I’m not feeling like I’m doing what I want to be doing. I’d like to go do some R&B.’ I said, ‘all right, go ahead.’ There was a contractual [issue] but I still didn’t hold him to it. What do I need that for? I [don’t] need a partner who is manacled to my wrist – go do your thing. Then when the band broke up it struck me a little odd that suddenly he did want to be the guy with the hat and the patch singing Dr. Hook songs. That’s why it got be legal.

Dr Hook 02

But Ray and I have never had a cross word, we’ve never had an argument. The lawyers all walk away smiling when stuff like that happens – it’s a business. It’s something you need to protect because it’s a trademark and we spent 15 years on the road building it. I didn’t really want him to take it away.

The mythology of the acrimony between Ray and I probably [came about] because we were so close and we were so tactile and stuff when we were together on stage and everything, [so] people really built up that acrimony. They’d say, ‘oh you and Ray don’t really like each other.’ Ray and I don’t really know each other anymore. I haven’t seen the guy since 1985. I’d be presumptuous to think I still know the man. That’s just the way that is. I know also there were shit stories on the internet that love to pit [us against each other.] But hey, they’re still pitting John Lennon against Paul McCartney!

Category: Interviews

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