“One thing I really remember is when we co-hosted Countdown with Dame Edna Everage. By the time we left that day, we weren’t even sure what gender we were.”
Dennis Locorriere is reminiscing about his first visits to Australia in the late 70s and early 80s. As lead singer of legendary rock’n’roll band Dr Hook, he was embraced by Aussie crowds, as well as media figures like Molly Meldrum and Don Lane. It’s a time he now looks back on fondly, but for many years he was wary of celebrating his chart-topping days with the band.
“There’s something very untoward about just accepting congratulations on something you once did over and over again. It makes you check your pulse. You don’t want the posthumous flowers to start showing up. It’s a little bit like getting older and having people coming up and go ‘Hey I remember you, you used to be gorgeous’. And you think: ‘Oh great thank you, I used to be…’.”
After Dr Hook broke up in the early 1980s, Locorriere relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where the band had recorded through the years, and reassessed his priorities.
“It’s just a great music community and although I didn’t want to go back on the road right away, and my son came to live with me, I certainly wanted to keep my hand in musically. I wrote with some Nashville people, sang background harmonies on a lot of people’s albums, but that meant they got on the tour bus, not me! I went home with my kid, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Dr Hook always had, if not a foot, a toe in the country music direction, especially with some of their hits penned by Shel Silverstein - the legendary songwriter, whose “A Boy Named Sue” was made famous by Johnny Cash.
Locorriere, a long-time fan of traditional country icons like George Jones and Merle Haggard, found himself singing with contemporary country stars Randy Travis and Travis Tritt on their albums, as well as Americana legend John Hiatt. Being immersed in Music City satisfied him creatively, while allowing him to work on the personal relationships that had been affected while he was relentlessly touring with Dr Hook.
“These days, with Skype and messaging, personal lives don’t suffer as much when you tour. But with Hook, we were on the road nearly 300 days a year. If I wanted to talk to my son, I’d have to find a payphone and hope I had a pocket full of change, and if there was no answer, I’d have to wait another 500 miles and find another payphone. It seems like I’m talking about caveman prehistoric times, but not so long ago, there wasn’t the opportunity to stay in touch like it is now.
So I feel a little more ready to go on the road now, because I don’t feel so disconnected from home.”
After recording two acclaimed solo records and finding ways other than singing and songwriting to express himself artistically (“I did some stage acting, I wrote a book of poetry and cartoons”), Locorriere felt like he’d defined himself as more than “the Dr Hook guy”. He began to reach into his back catalogue and start performing the band’s iconic hits like “Sylvia’s Mother”, “Only Sixteen” and “A Little Bit More” again.
“I didn’t want to deal with used-to-be’s for a while. I wanted to deal with who I was. And now I don’t feel like have to ‘become’ the guy in Dr Hook, I am that guy. Even when I’m in the supermarket and I’m not singing, I’m that guy. So I’ve reckoned with it and it’s nice. Sometimes you do need to step away from something to see how close you really are to it.”
These days, he’s closer to it than any time since leaving the band. He recently worked with Universal Music to put together a new double-disc compilation album “Timeless”, collecting songs from throughout Dr Hook’s lifespan.
“I had a listen to our entire catalogue to do that, which I hadn’t done in a very long time. The first CD is the greatest hits. Songs that people know. The second CD I went for some of the humor, the rockier things, some of the things that people might not immediately recognize, because I was hoping - and it seems to have worked out - that people might think ‘What a Way to Go, what album is that on? I love that’.”
The release of the album has been part of a rediscovery of Dr Hook amongst younger music fans. Recently a Taylor Swift fan tweeted to Locorriere that she’d love to see him collaborate with the pop superstar, an idea he finds very intriguing.
When he tours Australia this October, he’ll be performing some of the biggest Dr Hook songs with a new crack band who have worked hard to recreate the signature sound of the original albums. If his recent sold-out tour of New Zealand is any indication, he’ll be playing to a multi-generational crowd.
“One of the things I’ve found since I stepped back into the Dr Hook thing is the stories I get from some people about how they used to go on camping trips with their family and sing our songs and it met so much to their parents, and now they love it. Some girl just asked ‘Can you sign an autograph for my best friend? She used to write Dr Hook on her pencil case’.
It’s cool when you find out that you’re right in the middle of people’s lives who you don’t know. You can’t dismiss that, no matter what kind of lousy day you’re having or whether you want to even know about that right now. You can’t help but warm to it, because it’s their lives.”