Dr. Hook ‘Cover of the Rolling Stone’: Backstory

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Whatever you thought of the song itself, you had to acknowledge that it was one of the greatest marketing ideas in the history of rock music: a band records a song about its burning desire to make it to the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and… ultimately achieves its goal!

Genius! It wasn’t easy though.

Let’s back up. The band was called Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show and its roots stretched back to a southern band formed in 1967 called the Chocolate Papers, which had some success touring but not on disc. After that act fizzled, two of its members, George Cummings and Ray Sawyer, relocated to Union City, N.J., just 15 minutes outside of Manhattan, and recruited a local bassist and singer, Dennis Locorriere. Billy Francis, another ex-Chocolate Paper, rejoined his old pals, a couple of other musicians were added and they were soon on their way.

Not much happened with the band—which took on the Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show moniker due to Sawyer’s eye patch—until 1970, when it was tapped to cut the soundtrack music for a new Dustin Hoffman flick called Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, which featured songs written by poet/cartoonist Shel Silverstein. (Trivia note: One scene was filmed before a Grateful Dead concert at Fillmore East, the day that Jimi Hendrix died.) The film, which included Dr. Hook performing the song “Bunky and Lucille” onscreen, was a bust (for good reason) but it brought Dr. Hook to the attention of Columbia Records, which signed them to a contract.

They hit pay dirt pretty quickly with “Sylvia’s Mother,” a song penned by Silverstein*, who wrote all of the songs on the group’s self-titled 1971 debut album. “Sylvia’s Mother” reached #5 on the Billboard singles chart but the album stalled at #45. The band knew that if it had any hope of continuing its run, and being taken seriously in the post-AM radio rock world, it had to do something to get the attention of record buyers. As Dr. Hook prepared its second album—also written entirely by Silverstein—it became obvious which song was the standout: “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

Rolling Stone magazine was only five years old in 1972, as Dr. Hook looked ahead at its options, but it had already become a very big deal in the counterculture. Coverage by the magazine could boost a band’s career while being ignored or shunned would paint a rock band as too unhip for consideration. “The Cover of the Rolling Stone,” with lead vocals by Sawyer, wasn’t quite serious but neither was it parody. Regardless of how popular a band might become, the lyrics went, they were still nothing until they experienced “the thrill we’ve never known…the thrill that’ll gitcha when you get your picture on the cover of the Rollin’ Stone.”

Columbia Records had argued with the band about some of the lyrical content—“We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills” and “I got a freaky ole lady name a cocaine Katy”—but the song was released as a single nonetheless, and on December 2, 1972, it had begun its climb, peaking at #6 in Billboard the week of March 17, 1973. The gamble had paid off: Dr. Hook had staying power.

Did you buy five copies for your mother?

While the song was ascending the singles chart, the group’s manager, Ron Haffkine, met with Rolling Stone’s editor and publisher, Jann Wenner, convincing him that the band was basically providing a radio commercial for his magazine. Wenner was persuaded, and sent young reporter Cameron Crowe to interview Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show.

Issue #131 of Rolling Stone, published March 29, 1973, featured the “Cover of the Rolling Stone” band on the cover of Rolling Stone.

If you look carefully at the image, you’ll note that although Wenner put them on the cover, he avoided mentioning them by name.

Dr. Hook (they shortened the name) continued to find success—there were four further top 10 singles and a string of charting albums—into the early ’80s, but to many rock fans they remain best known for that one impossible feat: singing their way onto the cover of the most popular rock magazine ever created.

Watch them perform the song on The Midnight Special in 1974

Locorriere, born June 13 1949, retains the Dr. Hook name and continues to tour. Sawyer died Dec. 31, 2018, at age 81.

*This is the same Shel Silverstein who wrote the best-selling children’s book The Giving Tree and the Johnny Cash hit, “A Boy Named Sue.”

Related: The story behind “A Boy Named Sue”

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  1. Lena
    #1 Lena 17 March, 2017, 18:27

    I saw dr. Hook in WV. Years ago in a bar I worked at called the White House. Loved them. Where are they’re.?

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    • Teresa
      Teresa 3 May, 2017, 12:08

      Dr. Hook surprised us and got up to play with a band on the front porch of my restaurant “Squealer’s BBQ in Meridian, Ms! What a thrill, one of my childhood idols! He sang “on the cover of The Rolling Stone”. Would love to be surprised like that again! He doesn’t know it, but a Southern Living writer and photographer were featuring our restaurant in a new book “the South’s Best Butts”, and they took a picture of him and the band that night. He is in the book with us!

      Reply this comment
    • Marc D.
      Marc D. 19 March, 2018, 01:18

      You had me at WV. I took friends to see them at the Tomorrow club in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1979. We ALL went backstage & they were so generous with their time to indulge us with one of the best times of our lives. One of my favorite RnR memories! THEY ARE REAL, PEOPLE

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  2. Brixton
    #2 Brixton 19 March, 2018, 08:36

    I was at some kind of record get together in NYC and Dr Hook was playing at our hotel. I wasn’t too impressed since they were primarily known as a singles band. Not having anything else to do I went and saw them & they blew me away. They put on a great performance. It’s too bad more people didn’t realize there was more depth to the band than just the singles

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  3. Chuck Miller
    #3 Chuck Miller 17 June, 2019, 12:47

    Trivia note – “Cover of the Rolling Stone” was altered for play in the UK, as the track was modified to say “Cover of the Radio Times” – with some unknown studio voices shouting “Radio Times” over the words “Rolling Stone.”

    Reply this comment
  4. Jim
    #4 Jim 19 November, 2019, 14:34

    I remember that at some concerts, they performed as their own opening act though disguised as a punk band (and usually getting booed off the stage by their fans).

    Reply this comment
  5. Mrodifer
    #5 Mrodifer 14 June, 2020, 01:19

    Did you ever consider doing a piece on Shel Silverstein? Interesting character – children’s books, songwriter, cartoonist (quite a few for Playboy) and an oddball solo album, “Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball”, which includes his immortal “I Got Stoned and I Missed It”. Asking for a friend….:)

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  6. carlsagan lives
    #6 carlsagan lives 14 June, 2020, 10:11

    I dated a girl in the late 70’s who, along with her friend, were invited to join the band for the party after their show at Milwaukee’s Summerfest. They had a blast, got more than a little buzzed, and wound up spending the night, if you know what I mean. She had pictures and some free t-shirts. It happened. BTW, they were only 15 at the time. Going on 30 as McMurphy would say! Different times, no harm, no foul. Have to throw the story in every rare time these guys surface. Cheers!

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  7. Gus55
    #7 Gus55 15 June, 2020, 16:35

    Acapulco Goldie –
    “Play the guitars…
    One of their best!!

    Reply this comment
  8. Whizbangsc
    #8 Whizbangsc 16 June, 2020, 10:44

    I was attending a Dr Hook show, played at some club on the Southside of Hagerstown Maryland the day/night the band were told they had made the cover.

    Obviously it took some time to actually be interviewed and published, they claimed to have gotten the news that very day.

    Now, that gig was a blast.

    Reply this comment
  9. 122intheshade
    #9 122intheshade 2 December, 2020, 23:13

    Silverstein is one of the truly under-appreciated talents of American music. Besides Hook, he was Bobby Bare’s collaborator in the 70s. Both Hook and Bare did the hilarious “Marie Laveau”. Bobby also hit with the equally funny “Big Dupree”, featuring a cameo by Shel. As a DJ, I REALLY appreciated Shel’s “26 Second Song”.

    Reply this comment
  10. Dr. Demento Fan
    #10 Dr. Demento Fan 9 December, 2020, 01:23

    There was a soundtrack to the Harry Kellerman movie that came out before the first Dr. Hook lp.

    Dr. Hook was fun but the real star of the show was Shel Silverstein. Uncle Shelby recorded a few times, including the hard to find lp with “The Smoke-Off” that was a Dr. Demento favorite. Silverstein was one of the true creative masters of the 20th Century.

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    • Jeff Tamarkin
      Jeff Tamarkin 9 December, 2020, 13:35

      A little bit of trivia: The band’s scene in the “Harry Kellerman” movie was filmed at the Fillmore East prior to a Grateful Dead concert. It took place on the same day that Jimi Hendrix died!

      Reply this comment

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