The Cover of Rolling Stone: Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show; Poison; Buck Owens

Hello there! This week our blog features a parody rock song, The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone.’ We will first discuss the original by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. Next, we will review covers of this song by Poison, and by Buck Owens.  We will also discuss interesting connections between this song and the movie Almost Famous.

Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show and The Cover of Rolling Stone:

I thought we would write about this song, as the lead singer Ray Sawyer passed away recently on Dec. 31, 2018.

The group Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show was formed by three musicians who had originally played in bands in the South. Ray Sawyer, Billy Francis and George Cummings were in a band that broke up.

After Cummings moved to New Jersey, he decided to form a new band, and he recruited his old mates Sawyer and Francis, together with lead singer Dennis Locorriere and drummer Jay David.

They picked their name, Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, after the character Captain Hook from Peter Pan. This was a reference to the eye patch worn by Ray Sawyer. Although many fans assumed that the patch was a prop designed to fit in with the “Dr. Hook” name, Ray Sawyer had worn the patch ever since he lost his right eye in a car crash.

Here is a photo of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show circa 1970.

Embed from Getty Images

Dr. Hook received some national publicity when they were chosen to record two songs for the 1970 movie Who is Harry Kellerman and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? That movie received significant pre-release publicity because it starred Dustin Hoffman, on the heels of his tremendous success in The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy.

Alas, ‘Harry Kellerman’ was a truly terrible, pretentious mess of a movie. However, it did feature Hoffman (playing a world-famous rock music composer) onstage with Dr. Hook. Probably the only good thing that came out of that wretched film was that the musical director, Ron Haffkine, became the manager for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. And Haffkine picked some songs that became successful hits for his band.

The Cover of Rolling Stone was written by Shel Silverstein. Silverstein was a versatile writer who began as a cartoonist. He had considerable success with his cartoons, many of which were published in Playboy magazine.

Silverstein subsequently became a highly successful author of children’s books. At the same time, he wrote several pop songs, including the Johnny Cash hit A Boy Named Sue.

Silverstein also wrote a series of songs for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. The group’s most successful album was the 1973 release Sloppy Seconds. Shel Silverstein wrote every song on that album, of which the biggest commercial success was The Cover of Rolling Stone.

The Cover of Rolling Stone was a parody of rock and roll bands. This tune presents a picture of a wildly successful rock ensemble. They make a fortune off their records, have a fan base of adoring groupies (“who’ll do anything we say”), they are attached to an Indian guru, and have access to unlimited amounts of drugs.

However, the group feels that their success is incomplete because they have not been  featured in Rolling Stone magazine. Here is their lament.

Well, we’re big rock singers
We got golden fingers
And we’re loved everywhere we go (that sounds like us)
We sing about beauty and we sing about truth
At ten-thousand dollars a show (right)

We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills
But the thrill we’ve never known
Is the thrill that’ll gitcha when you get your picture
On the cover of the Rollin’ Stone

[CHORUS] (Rollin’ Stone) Want to see my picture on the cover
(Stone) Wanna buy five copies for my mother
(Stone) Wanna see my smilin’ face
On the cover of the Rollin’ Stone

Here is the audio of The Cover of Rolling Stone, accompanied by clips from the 2000 movie Almost Famous.

This video is a great cosmic ‘in-joke.’ The movie Almost Famous is about a 15-year-old youth named William Miller who becomes a journalist for the rock magazine Rolling Stone. The film was written and directed by Cameron Crowe.

In the early 70s, at age 15 Crowe himself became a Rolling Stone journalist (he sent some of his record reviews to the editor, and somehow managed to conceal his real age until he was hired). So Almost Famous is highly autobiographical.

While working for Rolling Stone, Crowe wrote feature stories about some of the hottest acts of the day. Almost Famous shows young William traveling with and attempting to interview the fictitious band Stillwater, a mashup of various rock groups that Cameron Crowe actually interviewed.

The song The Cover of Rolling Stone appears in the Almost Famous soundtrack. Another fun fact – one of the groups that Cameron Crowe interviewed while he was a Rolling Stone journalist was Dr. Hook, following the release of their biggest hit.

And Dr. Hook was actually featured on the cover of Rolling Stone in March 1973. We show that cover below. In a clever twist, the Rolling Stone cover includes a caricature of the band members instead of a photo. And the title doesn’t actually identify the band; it says ‘What’s Their-Names Make the Cover.’

The March 1973 cover of Rolling Stone featuring Dr. Hook.

I thought Almost Famous was a memorable movie. The film was a deftly-written depiction of a successful rock group trying to stay on top while simultaneously attempting to keep from breaking up. Patrick Fugit was perfect as young William Miller, and Kate Hudson had a terrific role as aging groupie Penny Lane.

Cameron Crowe co-wrote the songs for the group Stillwater with his wife at that time, Nancy Wilson of the rock group Heart (the movie won the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack). And Philip Seymour Hoffman stole the show as the grumpy but brilliant rock critic Lester Bangs.

In the mid-60s, when I was a physics grad student at Oxford, one of my American friends was deeply into the British rock scene (a tremendously exciting period, at the height of the British Invasion). At some point he told me a buddy of his would be visiting Britain for two weeks, and asked if he could crash at our apartment for a few days.

A couple of weeks later a disheveled guy appeared at our door. Over the next few days he hung around our apartment. Not only did he stay inside almost constantly, but he rarely spoke and spent his time silently filling up notebooks and making pencil drawings.  The name of our uncommunicative lodger? Lester Bangs.

Although the film Almost Famous was critically acclaimed, it did poorly at the box office. But to me it was a real gem.

Now, here is Dr. Hook in a live performance of The Cover of Rolling Stone. This took place on a BBC show in 1980.

As you can see, this is pretty light fare. The boys have a lot of fun with the song, and the audience seems to enjoy this greatly, although the performance is somewhat amateurish.

Following the success of the Sloppy Seconds album, the band shortened its name to Dr. Hook. The group was known for its zany antics; however, they were also known for frittering away vast amounts of money.

A result was that despite considerable commercial success, the band was constantly on the brink of bankruptcy. Dennis Locorriere remarked about their fiscal policy,
“If we were in the black when we finished a tour, we’d party into the red.”
Although the group toured more or less non-stop, they had to declare bankruptcy in 1974.

Not surprisingly, a number of band members departed. Beginning in 1976 Dr. Hook changed their style to focus more on the soft-rock genre, and once again had a run in the pop charts. They had a top-10 hit with their cover of the Sam Cooke song Only Sixteen, and followed this up with Sharing the Night Together.

Unhappy with Dr. Hook’s new emphasis on light-rock songs, Ray Sawyer left the band in 1983. The group continued on for a couple of years with only one original member, Dennis Locorriere. Dr. Hook then undertook a farewell tour in 1985.

Since then, Locorriere has continued to tour as Dr. Hook. This year, he will commence the Dr. Hook 50th Anniversary World Tour. For several years, Ray Sawyer toured independently as ‘Dr. Hook Featuring Ray Sawyer.’ In 2001, original member Billy Francis joined Sawyer on his tours. However, Francis died in May 2010 at age 68 and as we mentioned earlier, Sawyer died in Dec. 2018.

So, very few members of Dr. Hook still remain. However, we salute a group that had a run of hits in the 70s and, by golly, they were featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone!

Poison and The Cover of Rolling Stone:

We discussed the band Poison in an earlier blog post on the song We’re An American Band. So here we will briefly review their career.

Poison is an American hard-rock band. They were formed in 1983 in Mechanicsville, PA with lead singer Bret Michaels, guitarist Matt Smith, bassist Bobby Dall and drummer Ricki Rocketts. They moved to L.A. in search of fame and fortune, but found themselves barely hanging on while waiting for one big hit. After their original guitarist quit the group, they replaced him with C. C. DeVille.

In 1986 Poison signed with the small record company Enigma Records, and released an album Look What The Cat Dragged In. The photo below shows Poison in concert at Madison Square Garden. From L: C. C. DeVille; Bret Michaels; Bobby Dall.

Embed from Getty Images

Poison was one of those “big hair” bands that proliferated in the mid-80s. Along with groups such as Ratt, Quiet Riot, Warrant and Dokken, they all surfaced on the West Coast and benefited enormously from their exposure on MTV. Their over-the-top videos featured lascivious young girls, quick video cuts and hard-rock party anthems.

With one or two exceptions (notably, Van Halen and Guns ‘n Roses), the music quality seemed consistently terrible. Furthermore, the big-hair bands seemed determined to live up to their reputations as hard-partying, hedonistic louts.

Poison did score a #1 hit with the 1988 release Every Rose Has Its Thorn. Furthermore, they managed to score 8 songs in the Billboard Top 20 pop charts, and they are reputed to have sold 45 million records worldwide, so they were apparently plugged in to whatever resonated with teenagers in those days.

Here is the audio of the Poison cover of The Cover of Rolling Stone.

OK, this is a pretty straightforward copy of the Dr. Hook original. The group includes the mock-country accents, the snarky side comments and various other ad-libs. However, following the first verse the acoustic guitar is accompanied by electric guitar, and C. C. DeVille throws in an impressive guitar solo.

Since we didn’t get to see Poison live on the preceding song, here they are in person performing one of their biggest hits, Talk Dirty To Me.

This is from a 2008 show in St. Louis. Now, Poison has shown a great deal of consistency, maintaining the same lineup for well over 20 years. C.C. DeVille is quite a competent guitarist, although I don’t rank him with top contemporaries like Eddie Van Halen or Slash from Guns ‘n Roses. But what do I know about the last 30 years of rock music?

Those were the days of big arena shows and concert tours with like-minded groups, so Poison went along for the ride, and they took their “work hard, party hard” mantra very seriously. C.C. DeVille dropped out in 1991, in large part because of a serious cocaine addiction.

Then in 1994, Bret Michaels ran his Ferrari into a tree, suffering several broken ribs and fingers and a broken nose in the process. Michaels has also spent a considerable amount of time in hospital, including an emergency appendectomy in 2010 and a brain hemorrhage the same year.

Poison members were also noted for fist fights between various band members, including Michaels and DeVille in 1991 and Michaels and Dall (this time onstage) in 2006.

The band’s original lineup is still touring today. In the meantime, the various members have pursued their own musical projects. And Bret Michaels seems to be constantly in the limelight.

Michaels starred in a couple of reality shows, Rock of Love with Bret Michaels, and Bret Michaels: Life As I Know It. The former program was a riff on shows like The Bachelor, where a group of women competed to be chosen by a bachelor. The idea here was to find a woman who could keep up with Michaels’ hectic lifestyle.

My only comment about these Michaels projects is that his shows made the Kardashians, by comparison, appear dignified – and that is saying a lot. Michaels also competed on Celebrity Apprentice – and won.

Poison, living the dream of the “big hair” bands – fame, fortune, babes, trips to the emergency room.

Buck Owens and On the Cover of the Music City News:

Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens was born in Sherman, Texas in 1929. During the Depression, his family moved to Mesa, Arizona. In the 1940s, Buck became a truck driver and then moved to Bakersfield, California in 1951.

Owens subsequently moved to Washington state, where he met guitar and fiddle player Don Rich. This began a long and mutually profitable partnership between the two country musicians.  Eventually, Buck Owens persuaded Don Rich to move to Bakersfield, where they teamed up to form Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. The band began to score top-ten country hits.

Below is a photo of Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, looking like they are about to perform at a Mexican wedding. Buck Owens is in the center and Don Rich is just to the right of Owens.

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The group’s first big hit was a cover of a Johnny Russell song called Act Naturally. Don Rich pitched the song to Owens, and Rich then moved from fiddle to lead guitar while Buck sang lead vocals. The song rose to #1 on the country charts and helped establish what is now called the “Bakersfield sound” in country music.

Over the next decade or so, Buck Owens and the Buckaroos became major players in country music. They had significant crossover success, and even inspired groups such as The Beatles (with Ringo Starr singing lead on “Act Naturally”) and Ray Charles (“Crying Time”) to cover their hits.

In 1974, Buck Owens released a re-titled cover of The Cover of Rolling Stone. He called it On The Cover of the Music City News (the Music City News was a Nashville publication begun in 1963 by country singer Faron Young). So here is the audio of that song.

Owens has simply converted this tune from rock to country. The song features a great deal of cowbell. It is also extremely silly, but it would take a lot to make it sillier than the original Dr. Hook version.

In the late 60s, Buck Owens signed on with the TV show Hee Haw. Buck Owens and Roy Clark were the co-hosts and the Buckaroos were the house band for the show, which began as a country alternative to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

Hee Haw lasted only two years before CBS cancelled the show. This and other shows (such as Lawrence Welk) were purged despite high ratings, because CBS was convinced that the demographics (such as the age, education and disposable income of the viewing audience) were unfavorable.

However, Hee Haw was then picked up in syndication, and continued for a 25-year run. Like Laugh-In, Hee Haw developed a series of silly skits (although the Hee Haw sketches were definitely skewed towards hillbilly humor).

A ‘Kornfield’ sketch from the TV show Hee Haw.

Eventually the show was run like a production line.  An entire season’s worth of programming would be shot in a two-week session. Skits like the Kornfield (shown in a photo above) or The Joke Fence would all be shot back-to-back on a single day, as would episodes of Owens and Clark’s musical numbers “Pickin’ and Grinnin’”.

So here are Buck Owens and the Buckaroos in a live performance of Hello, Trouble.

This appeared on Hee Haw in March 1972. This is a fine example of Owens’ trademark Bakersfield sound, featuring Don Rich on lead guitar and Jay Dee Maness on pedal steel guitar.

Buck Owens was devastated when his partner and best friend Don Rich died in a motorcycle accident in 1974. According to Owens, although he returned to performing, his musical career was never as satisfying after the loss of Rich.

Buck Owens did continue on Hee Haw until he left in 1986, while Roy Clark continued on until the end of the long run of that show. After 1986, Owens concentrated on a large and successful business empire as a music producer and owner of several radio stations.

Owens was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2006, he died of a heart attack at age 77 after performing at his establishment, the Crystal Palace restaurant and club in Bakersfield.

We assume that Buck Owens is still pickin’ and grinnin’ with the heavenly country band, and we salute the architect of the “Bakersfield sound.”

Source Material:

Wikipedia, The Cover of Rolling Stone
Wikipedia, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show.
Wikipedia, Almost Famous
Wikipedia, Cameron Crowe
Wikipedia, Poison (American band)
Wikipedia, Buck Owens

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. From 2002 to 2018, he and his wife shared their college-town experiences with two delightful cats, siblings Lewis and Clark, who enormously enriched their lives. Together with his colleague Steven Vigdor, Tim is co-author of a blog "Debunking Denial," that discusses the difference between skepticism and denial as manifested in various current issues. He is also co-founder of "Concerned Scientists of Indiana University," a group that supports evidence-based science, funding for science research, and policies based on the best available scientific information. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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