Thursday, September 23, 2010

Five Questions with... George Cummings

The Chocolate Papers
(Photo courtesy of George Cummings)

You may not know George Cummings from when he played guitar for The Chocolate Papers, a group formed in the mid '60s that became a house band at an upscale dinner club in Biloxi, Mississippi called the Gus Stevens Restaurant.  You may not know that he backed such legendary musicians as Mel Torme', Elvis Presley, and Mamie Van Doren. You may know him however, from a simple lyric that you have heard so many times it is seared into your brain.

Does this ring a bell?
I got a freaky old lady named Cocaine Katy who embroiders on my jeans... I got my poor ol' grey haired daddy, drivin' my limousine.

That's right... That deep voice you hear in "Cover of the Rolling Stone" is that of George Cummings who left The Chocolate Papers after the band moved to Chicago and formed what would become Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show while living in Union City, New Jersey. It's been a long and torrential ride.

Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show in prosperous times
George Cummings third from left
The band did quite well. They sold over seven million singles along the way, including such classics as "Cover of the Rolling Stone," "Sylvia's Mother," and "When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman." While the music was good, the feelings within the band's inner circles were not. There was a lot of animosity, and despite the friendly faces they put on each night they performed, the band began to develop it's share of demons.

Ray Sawyer and Dennis Locorriere emerged from the rest of the band as the "rock stars" of the group, often leaving George and the other members feeling left out of the spot light. Of course this created a lot of turbulence and stress with George, and in 1975 citing health reasons, he decided to leave Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show and take his talents back to the south, settling in Nashville where he worked with Blues legend Lonnie Mack for several years.

With enough records sold during his career with Dr. Hook, George should be living a life of modest luxury. Instead things got twisted and essentially he got screwed by his band mates and the record companies. To this day George hasn't received a dime in royalties for the songs he helped write and play for the band he formed and eventually named.

Meanwhile the band continued to achieve without him, still recording albums and touring relentlessly.

They continued to play the hits that George helped to write and perform, and singles of these songs are still being sold. Somehow in the harsh reality that is the music business, George became forgotten when it came time to pass out royalty checks. It's as if he never existed. His tenure with  Dr Hook and the Medicine Show is but a ghost shadow on the walls of rock and roll oblivion. It is simply one of the great tragedies in the history of rock and roll.

Five Questions with George Cummings:

I hear you are soon to be releasing a new record. What can you tell me about it?

I have been planning on an album for the last 30 years, Actually cut one in Nashville a few years back but didn't release it yet as I didn't sing it well enough and ran out of funds. I am doing some tracks with a friend here in Bayonne now and it may be an album soon. I have a back log of material and could do an album in every style of American music. Just need to get off my ass and get 'er done..

Is there still animosity with other members of Dr. Hook... Are you currently friendly with anybody in the band?

The bad feelings run deep in this sad bunch of so called rock stars. It started when we signed with an asshole we did not want to sign with and he worked us to death and kept all the rewards. Death just claimed another member of the group a few weeks ago, Bill Francis. Some how Dennis L. wound up owning everything including the name I invented: Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show. I have not gotten a penny from our millions of albums sold over the past 35 years but have found people who are in the royalty recovery business and they have good news for me and my family. We may start getting some soon.

Modern day Mr. Cummings
(Courtesy of Ken Hatley)
In Keith Green's 2003 interview, he asked if you had a favorite Dr. Hook track, or a favorite album. You replied that your favorite song by that band was "Cookie and Lila", but that you didn't have a favorite album, saying "My musical expectations were never met." Is this still the case, and if you do not mind me asking, what were and what are your musical expectations?

I never liked the cuts we did on our albums as they were mostly done in layers and not done whole band style like we played in our club days before we got into the fame game. The overtones were not present doing it piece meal. But we had CBS and Capitol behind it so we had some success. I have tapes of us playing together that far surpass anything we did in the studio... May release them some day.

I read that in 2003 you were working on a soundtrack for a movie with your friend and producer Ken Hatley... Did that ever come to fruition? What other projects have you been working on since leaving Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show?

Hatley and his producer friend released the movie"Florida City" a few years back, I sang on a couple of tracks. Have been doing gigs in this area with good bands and biker festivals in Florida and then on the now oil soaked Gulf Coast. Did a McDonald commercial and co-wrote a song "Where's the Dress" that won the Country video of the year.and a few more things I cant remember now but hope to put it all in the book I have planned. Was recently included in a book by Katy Ishee..."Pieces of My Heart"... She used some lines of some of my original songs as chapter headings and wrote some things about me in the book. Check it out its some intense prose..

Is there anybody in the musical mainstream that you would admit to being a fan of?

I don't listen to top 40 radio so I don't really know what is the flavor of the day but hear things my sons play that sound better than the rap crap they used to listen to constantly. John Mayer, Jack Johnson. are two names I recall. My wife recently played a Cd by Roseann Cash ,"The List" that really moved me. I am a Jazz and Classical lover and collector.

(Bonus Question): What was the Dr. Hook show "medicine" of choice?

I named the band for the weed that we over indulged in and the one with the patch who did not want to get out of bed without a big joint to start the day.

Thank you George Cummings for the interview and your time... With extreme sincerity, we hope that things work out for you and you get what's rightfully yours.


Anonymous said...

How do you find these people?

-Jason C.

Len Cleavelin said...

Good one! Enjoyed it immensely. Keep up the good work.

Nik said...

Great interview! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Nice Work.

Glad to see folks still giving George a chance to clear up some wrong conceptions.
he is the real deal for sure.


Katy Ishee said...

Hey. I'm Katy Ishee George's Friend.
Could you please correct the website for Pieces of My Heart. It's and they can order an autographed copy there, read George's reviews and an excerpt from Pieces.
A newpublisher has picked up my book and I'm now with St. Clair Publishing.


Ronnie Pool Meridian Ms said...

Rock On Man your best friend Ronnie Pool

Anonymous said...

ONLY SIXTEEN is one i share with all my 16 year olds. You were great. Stoned but great. In my mine you are Dr Hook. Sorry to hear you got cheated out of your share .

Unknown said...

i want more. maybe y'all could volunteer to add some content to his wiki page. peace.