Sylvia’s Mother ~ Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
UNSPECIFIED – CIRCA 1970: Photo of Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show was a pop-country rock band formed around Union City, New Jersey in 1968. There the band’s earliest incarnation played many small clubs around the ‘Transfer Station’, an area of bars and restaurants, all advertising ‘live’ music.

The founding core of the band consisted of four friends–George Cummings, Dennis Locorriere, Ray Sawyer, Billy Francis–who had played up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, ending up in New Jersey one by one, with invitations from founding band member George Cummings. Told by a club owner that they needed a name to put on a poster in the window of his establishment, Cummings made a sign: “Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show: Tonic for the Soul.” The name was inspired by the traveling medicine shows of the old West. To this day, frontman Ray Sawyer is mistakenly considered Dr. Hook because of the eyepatch he wears as the result of a near-fatal 1967 car accident.

The band played for about two years in New Jersey, first with drummer Popeye Phillips, a session drummer on The Flying Burrito Brothers first album, The Gilded Palace of Sin. Citing musical differences, Popeye returned home to Alabama and was replaced by local drummer Joey Oliveri. When the band began recording their first album it became obvious that they would need a more solid back beat, and Olivieri was replaced by session player John “Jay” David, who was asked to join the band, full time.

In 1970, their demo tapes were heard by Ron Haffkine, musical director on the planned Herb Gardner movie, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, starring Dustin Hoffman as a successful songwriter having a nervous breakdown. The songs for the film were written by cartoonist, poet and songwriter Shel Silverstein, who determined that Dr. Hook was the ideal group for the soundtrack. Among the several songs the group did for the film, Dennis Locorriere sang the lead on “Last Morning,” the movie’s theme song, later re-recorded for their second album, Sloppy Seconds. The film was released in 1971 by National General Pictures to mixed reviews.

Meanwhile, CBS Records head Clive Davis had a memorable meeting with the group, described in Davis’ autobiography. Drummer David used a wastepaper basket to keep the beat, and while Sawyer, Locorriere and Cummings played and sang a few songs, Francis hopped up and danced on the mogul’s desk. This meeting secured the band their first record deal. Subsequently the band went on to international success over the next 12 years with Haffkine as the group’s manager as well as producer of all the Dr.Hook recordings.

Their self-titled 1971 debut album featured guitarist Cummings, singer Sawyer, drummer David, singer/guitarist, bass player Locorriere, and keyboard player Billy Francis. The album included their first hit, “Sylvia’s Mother.”

Shel Silverstein wrote the lyrics for many of Dr. Hook’s early songs (in fact, he wrote their entire second album), such as “Sylvia’s Mother”, “Everybody’s Makin’ It Big But Me”, “Penicillin Penny”, “The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan”, “Carry Me Carrie”, “The Wonderful Soup Stone”, and at least 24 more, some co-written with Ray Sawyer and/or Dennis Locorriere.

Sylvia’s Mother

The song tells the story of a man trying to say one last goodbye to his ex-girlfriend but is not able to get past her mother, who tries to interfere.

Sylvia’s Mother – Shel Silverstein

Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s busy, too busy to come to the phone
Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s tryin’ to start a new life of her own
Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s happy so why don’t you leave her alone
And the operator says forty cents more for the next three minutes

Please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her,
I’ll only keep her a while
Please Mrs. Avery, I just wanna tell her goodbye

Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s packin’ she’s gonna be leavin’ today
Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s marryin’ a fella down Galveston way
Sylvia’s mother says please don’t say nothin’ to make her start cryin’ and stay
And the operator says forty cents more for the next three minutes

Please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her,
I’ll only keep her a while
Please Mrs. Avery, I just wanna tell her goodbye

Sylvia’s mother says Sylvia’s hurryin’ she’s catchin’ the nine o’clock train
Sylvia’s mother says take your umbrella cause Sylvie, it’s startin’ to rain
And Sylvia’s mother says thank you for callin’ and sir won’t you call back again
And the operator says forty cents more for the next three minutes

Please Mrs. Avery, I just gotta talk to her,
I’ll only keep her a while
Please Mrs. Avery, I just wanna tell her goodbye

Tell her goodbye…
Please… tell her goodbye..

  • Audio from the 1972 album, Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show:

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Play Sylvia's Mother - by Dr. Hook &