The Apex bound Dr Hook’s Ray Sawyer is no longer a fan of Swindon’s motorway services

Ray Sawyer of Dr Hook

Ray Sawyer of Dr Hook - Credit: Archant

Ray Sawyer lets entertainment writer Wayne Savage in on the origins of one of Dr Hook’s biggest hits, the crash that changed his life and why he’s not a fan of Swindon’s motorway services.

Spending a couple of hours on stage, that’s the fun part Sawyer tells me when we spoke back in March. Catching planes, cars; all that stuff to get to gigs is the bad part. That certainly proved the case days later.

The band’s gig at The Apex was cancelled when he fell, badly breaking his arm on the way to Torquay’s Princess Theatre.

“We stopped at the services near Swindon. On the way back to the tour bus I tripped on the kerb as I walked through the petrol pumps and the end result - my arm was broken. I was taken to Swindon Hospital and operated on within 48 hours. Luckily it was a clean break so it was dealt with smoothly,” he tells me when we talk again.

“The remaining eight tour dates had to be postponed and the arrangements had to be redone for May, including flying back home to the US and flying back to the UK. Thankfully the operation went well and I’ve spent a lot of time resting.”

American rock band Dr Hook and the Medicine Show, later shortened to Dr Hook, were a mainstay of the charts in the 1970s with hits like Sylvia’s Mother, A Little Bit More, When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman and my personal favourite Cover of The Rolling Stone.

“We were on the road with Emerson Lake and Palmer and we played a show in St Louis… It was about three or four in the morning and Shel Silverstein (the American poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter and children’s book author) called me and woke me up.

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“He says’ get a pencil, you better write this down’. I say ‘where are you’ and he says ‘I’m in a phone booth in Chicago and I don’t have a pencil, write this down’. I got a pencil and wrote down on the cover of Rolling Stone the words he had. He was actually writing it as he was telling me this.

“He says ‘you want to get your picture on the cover of Rolling Stone’ and I said ‘well of course’. He had it like ‘I’m a big rock singer’ but we changed it to ‘we’re big rock singers’.”

Climbing into their nine passenger station wagon the following day to head to their next gig, Sawyer pulled out his guitar and played the band the song.

“Everybody loved it so we played it that night at the show. 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.”

Their caricatures ended up appearing on the cover of the fabled magazine.

“Back then when they put us on the cover there was nobody on there but Hendricks, Joplin and Jagger; big people. Here was this little band from Alabama standing on the corner saying ‘hey, put us on the cover’ - 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.”

Life could’ve been very different for Sawyer, who’d quit music to work in a log mill when he lost his eye in a near fatal car crash in 1967.

It’s a strange little story, says Sawyer, recounting how he was in Chicago playing drums and some bass with these three brothers but it wasn’t working out.

“It was me, I blamed it all on myself so said ‘I can’t do this anymore’ and I quit. I decided to move out to the west and get a job in a log mill. That’s when I had the car wreck. I’d just finished work and this friend of mine who worked there says ‘let’s go fishing’… “

It was back to music after that and he’s never strayed since.

Apex audiences can expect all the hits on May 13; the band’s scared not to play them.

“You’ve got to try to feel the crowd out and see but the big hits yes, you better do ‘em. If you don’t the people aren’t going to like it at all. I won’t name him but back in the 1970s we opened for (this guy) and he didn’t do one song that made him what he is, he played a whole show of new stuff. People didn’t like it… Right then I decided well we’re going to play ours.”

You’ve got to please yourself too, adds Sawyer; laughing he sometimes makes a list of songs they end up not following, with him just calling tracks off the top of his head.

“I want to thank audiences so very much from the bottom of my heart for all of the times they’ve hung with us; we appreciate that. We got the original fans, then their children and now we got their grandchildren so it’s a great thing… I’m always surprised at the longevity of this band.”

Touring England is always enjoyable and he’s definitely looking forward to getting things under way again.

“The shows were going great and there was a buzz around them. We’re looking forward to doing this show in more ways than one - and we definitely won’t be stopping at services on the way to Torquay. If we do, I won’t be getting out the tour bus.”

Dr Hook featuring Ray Sawyer play The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, May 13.

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