Experiences with Dr. Hook & Shel Silverstein

By 1970, I had earned the reputation of being a recording studio musician in the San Francisco recording boom. Columbia Records had a new recording studio on Folsom street. While playing on a Martin Fierro/Shades of Joy session the recording was interrupted by Ron Haffkin, the producer of newly signed Dr. Hook. He blurted out, “Does anyone play finger picking style acoustic guitar?” Out of I suppose an immediate response without thinking, I responded to the affirmative. So Haffkin Instructed me to report to studio A when finished with the current session.

When I came into studio A and pulled out my 1958 Fender stratocaster, Haffin said wait a minute, that is not an acoustic guitar. I replied that this was the only guitar I had. After a pause he said they were going on lunch break but instructed the engineer to record me on a track which he would listen to upon his return.

The track was “When She Crys” aka No One Knows my lady When She’s Crying. I eventually overdubbed a nice track on the song and upon Haffkin’s return he listened to the track, liked it and released it on their first album. Additionally I played harmonica on ” Sylvia’s Mother.” which at that time became a gold record.

On their Sloppy seconds album I recorded on “If I’d Only Come and Gone,” and “All The Things I Didn’t Say.” During the recording of the second album, Ray Sawyer and Dennis mentioned to me that I start coming to rehearsals for their up coming tours. The Dr. hook recording sessions were double Union sessions. 9:00am until noon with a lunch break and back for the 1:00-4pm session. After a two hour break, they were required to report to the rehearsal hall across the street for rehearsing their tour sets. Ray and Dennis on two occasions suggested that I should attend the rehearsals but Haffkin never spoke to me concerning becoming a member of the touring group. I was a session player and already booked on other recording sessions. Hence I did not attend the tour rehearsals.

During the recording sessions Dennis played bass on the first two albums and subsequently the next two albums but now they were looking for a bass player to take on the road. Jance Garfat was bass player on the early Mother Earth album and later played in my group Garfat. So one day I took Jance to the Columbia studios where Ron Haffkin was mixing the Sloppy Seconds album, opened the control room door, pushed Jance inside and said to Haffkin, “Here is the bass player you’re looking for,” shut the door and left. Consequently Jance was a member of the original group for thirteen years.

Prior to recording on the Dr. Hook sessions, I had attended the College for Recording Arts in San Francisco and learned much about recording, production and publishing contracts. I learned that only Dennis and Ray were contracted to Haffkin’s Production and management companies which in turn contracted to a production recording production contract with Columbia. Hense only Ray and Dennis, being the lead vocalists, were signed to anyone. All other band members were on salary. Jance told me his salary was $250 a week. As they became internationally famous, none of the other band members shared in any recording royalties whatsoever. So I was hesitant about being involved with them not to mention I surmised that there was no way I would survive given their international travel requirements. I was happy to be a studio musician.

Shel Silverstein wrote all songs on the first Dr Hook albums and one day took me aside and said he really appreciated my guitar playing even though he usually used Nashville studio musicians. He asked me to play on his upcoming album to be produced by Haffkin. I played guitar on ‘Thumbsucker,” “I Got stoned and I Missed It,”
“Don’t Give a Dose”which became the National VD theme song and “Liberated Lady” on which I also played harmonica.

During recording sessions for the album, Shel was vocalist as well as performing spoken comedy bits. When the engineer would transfer tracks etc, Shel would turn around and compose lyrics for “Cover of Rolling Stone” on a legal pad. During other breaks Shel would turn around and compose lyrics for “Don’t give a Dose”on a note tablet . He was truly talented and could creatively compartmentalize projects simultaneously.

I can only surmise that after learning that I was not going to be part of the touring group, producer Haffkin mixed my guitar tracks deep into the tracks and took my name off of the credits on all albums I played on to include Shel’s album. After “Sylvia”s Mother” went gold, I passed him on the street one day and he stopped and asked me how it felt to play on a Gold Record. I responded that no one knew it because he removed my name from credits which did my recording career no good. His response was, “Well, you know you did and that’s what counts.”

Nice Guy…….

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