If there are words to describe music icons, Three Dog Night, some of those words would have to include eclectic, brilliant, and just darn lucky.
Seriously. How many bands can say their hit catalogue includes songs, with rhyme but no reason, song about bullfrogs named Jeremiah, advice from Mama, numbers, power ballads, love songs and songs from musicals in no particular order?
It's no wonder, because their songs came from an eclectic mix of songwriters that no one at the time — in the late '60s through 1974 — had ever heard of. Most of these writers made names for themselves later, probably due to Three Dog Night's treatments of their songs. Try on names like Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Elton John, Laura Nyro, Paul Williams, Hoyt Axton among others.
The group's signature three-part harmonies had the power to turn just about anything they sang into one hit after another — because more than anything founder Danny Hutton loved that powerful sound.
That signature sound has carried Three Dog Night well into their fourth decade of music. From 1969-1974, no other group achieved more Top 10 hits, moved more records or sold more concert tickets than these guys. The band registered 21 consecutive Billboard Top 40 hits, including three No. 1 singles, 11 Top 10s, 18 straight Top 20s, selling more than 40 million records. Their hits appeared on best-selling charts in all genres (pop, rock and country).
The guys could rest on their legacy of a job well done, but they are more about expanding their audiences, delivering music and memories, reminding people everywhere about the incredible story they live each and every night — a story that is far from over.
Their releases from this decade alone have sold more than a million and a half albums and the band's continued popularity has landed The Best of Three Dog Night: 20th Century Masters on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart.
In 2003, Three Dog Night With the London Symphony Orchestra was released. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and in London at Abbey Road Studios.
The band maintains an aggressive, year-round touring schedule of over 70 dates a year. The band, including Hutton (founder/lead vocalist), Michael Allsup (guitar), Paul Kingery (bass/vocals), Pat Bautz (drums), Eddie Reasoner (keyboards) and David Morgan (vocalist), takes pride in performing their hit-filled concerts for generation-spanning audiences. (Co-founder and lead singer Cory Wells died in 2014; the "third" well-known lead singer, Chuck Negron maintains his own solo career).
For those who don't know, the band’s name refers to native Australian hunters in the outback who huddled with their dogs for warmth on cold nights; the coldest being a “three dog night.”
We talked with Hutton about the band's history, the music and the show they're bringing to Laughlin. Here's his take…
What have you guys been up to lately?
We recorded a new album, our first studio album since 1986. We did an album in 2003 with the London Symphony, but it was our hits. With this new project, we've got 10 songs. We're doing the 11th song on Monday and Tuesday when we get back from a show, and we're overdubbing — and it's just thrilling. For years, you just get in the habit, we have so many hits and it's pretty easy, but creatively, I've had my head turned off for a long time. Now all I do is listen to alternative radio and listen to how they're mixing stuff, it's fun, It makes me feel younger. I'm having a great time. I'll be 77 in September. I feel good.
Talk a little more about the album.
Are you familiar with "God Only Knows?" You know the end of it where there's interacting vocal parts, and everybody's chiming in? What I intend doing with this album, is showing everybody that everybody in our band is a lead singer. All six songs, at least the ones I've done, have all sorts of parts in them, interchangeable parts that move around. It's kind of like a Beach Boys song, only funkier. (He laughs) It's not barbershop-Four Freshmen, it's more rock and roll, grittier voices. That doesn't mean it's better, I don't mean it that way, but it's different in that sense. I'm excited. I think on stage people are going to really like that. When it gets to choruses, it's not just big, loud choruses. Everybody's doing these parts going "Whoa! Look at every one of them."
Creativity seems to feed the soul, doesn't it?
Absolutely! I wrote six of the songs, and we've always been known as a great group but we did other people's songs and all that. I was always a writer, but when Harry Nilsson or somebody else like Laura Nyro comes into your studio and says, "Here, I've got a song you'll want to do"...let's see, "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)"...do we want to do that? Yeah, I think we'll do that instead of the song I wrote.
Talk about the challenges of being in traveling and recording band with a long, but successful history.
When my great friend passed on, Cory, from the band, it was kind of tough. There's that old saying in the business, where a band that happens, they have their first album, they go to have their second album, but they get to the studio and one of the guys pulls in driving a Ferrari, everybody says, "Wow, what happened?" He says, "Oh, I got my writing royalty checks." Everybody else looks at each other and says, "Hmmm, alright, let's all have two songs on the album and, of course, being good writers is luck in itself. Being democratic on an album can just tank the album. Over the years, it's been kind of tough to try to put in my own writing because of that. Then you have the other guys, "well, I want to put in songs, too." I thought, "nope, this won't be good. We've got six original songs by people that maybe can't do it, you know? So now, I do the setlist. No more kicking out hits and putting in blues songs 'cause we're bored. Now the setlist is like a rocket ship. I just want all the hits to be in there and done well. That's what we're doing. None of the keys have been lowered, none of that stuff.
You guys defy age limitations on vocal ability. What regimens do you undertake to keep your vocals in tact?
I think for me, is I stopped smoking years ago. In the '70s, I was doing two packs a day. So actually what happened is when I stopped smoking, my voice — it was just holding me back a little bit because of smoking. So not smoking, my voice is better than it was then, but obviously if I hadn't smoked, it probably wouldn't have sounded as good. (he laughs).
Has the musical torch been passed?
I couldn't be happier. Everything is just wonderful. I live up in Laurel Canyon near L.A. I bought my house from Alice Cooper, so it's a really beautiful place. So I get to feel creative, whether I am or not, I feel creative. I have a studio and my sons record here. They play drums with other bands so that keeps me younger. I'll sit in and listen to their stuff. They're young, in their early 30s, so it's great.
After nearly 50 years, so many of your colleagues have fallen by the wayside. What do you think it is you did differently?
Obviously, it's the roll of the dice, the luck and your genetics a little bit, but from about 1980 on, I just tried to stay healthy. I watch my weight, no sugar. I'm 6 feet tall, I probably weighed about 161 or 162, in the early '70s and I'm the same weight now. I think that's real important. I don't do sugar, believe me, I love sugar — Cadbury's toffee — but I stay away now from bread, pasta, all that stuff that tastes great. If I have a hamburger, I deconstruct it. I walk everyday. I've got this old 90-pound dog that drags me around. It's a big labra-doodle. I was out before Christmas a few years back with Brian Wilson, and we went by this pet store and I just saw this little French bulldog, and I was like, "oh, that little puppy is so cute," — and we'd just lost a pug, so he came by my house a couple days later and in his arms, he's holding this labra-doodle. I knew it was going to be a 90-pound dog. I said, "How come you got him?" He said, "They were all out of the type of dog you had."
Talk about one of the biggest misconceptions about the band.
I think people should realize especially when we started, we did not cover songs, we resurrected songs from the dead — like "One" by Harry Nillson. The album had been out, the whole thing, and "One," the single didn't happen. Then we got a hold of it and made it a hit and helped him, and I feel that way about a lot of the songs 'cause I think we were, and we are good arrangers. That's what I did at Hannah-Barbera, HBR Records. I was the A&R there. I wrote, arranged and played a lot of the instruments on them, and then we'd sing three-part harmony, like Three Dog in the background. That's how I came through, on the show business end. All the other guys in the group were guys that were in clubs, like musicians and singers — they would be doing four or five sets a night, and driving around to gigs in a van. I was a studio cat, you know. I came from the other end. Richie Podolor, a producer who did "Born to be Wild," and Donovan and all these different people, so between him and Bill Cooper, the engineer, and Brian Wilson, I became really good friends with Brian.
Talk a little more about your studio experience behind the scenes.
I was around when Brian did Pet Sounds and all that stuff. He's like my professor. I was at the "God Only Knows" session, which Paul McCartney said is his favorite song in the world. I was there and watched him do it…and I learned a lot. Well, it helped later, I was the guy in the studio when we'd do albums. I'd stay two nights, three nights, with Richie Podolor and Bill Cooper and that was the old days when you had tape. We'd edit, literally edit it with a razor blade. You'd throw the tape around your neck, then on a master tape and you had to tape it exactly, and if you looked at the master tape while the song's playing, you just see all these cuts (he laughs).
What are your thoughts about Reginald Dwight becoming Sir Elton John?
I didn't even know him as Reggie. When I met him he was just at the start of Elton and he was just a sweetheart. He was a really, really nice guy. He was at my house one time, and I was standing behind him watching him play and he's amazing. I've done that with Brian, too. Brian's hands don't even look like they're moving. He does these little block things and the sound coming out is just incredible. Elton is more like classical, like Liberace or something and his hands are all over the place. It's wonderful to be around people like that.
Of all the accolades, awards and accomplishments, is there one that means the most to you?
Oh, yeah. If there's a fire, I've already told my wife, I have a postcard from Stan Laurel, from Laurel and Hardy, that says, "I'd love to see you next week, call me and I'll arrange a time." I found his name in the phone book in Santa Monica and I just phoned him up and he answered the phone. This is after all the movies and they were legendary and all that stuff, but the whole TV thing didn't kick in with the reruns, so they were a little bit forgotten. And I ended up going to his house and spending the whole day with him, just talking and him telling me all about Oliver Hardy and how they did their show and all that stuff. That to me is the thing I'd save over everything else.
Talk about the show you're bringing to the Edgewater this time.
Well, we will have a little surprise, near the end and it's new and I'm telling you the truth, it gets a standing ovation every night, and that's really hard when you're done following a lot of hits. We've had people cry, it's crazy. It's just amazing. Some of the new stuff we have, I just love. We'll probably slowly stick one in at a time and see what happens. If someone has driven 50 miles to see you, and then you stick 'em with five new songs, we can't do that. I'm there to entertain them, make them feel good, I'm not there to make myself feel good. I will feel good if they feel good. Our objective is when people leave they have a big smile on their face and they say, "My, God, I didn't know they had so many hits. They were so good. They look old but they sound like the records." That's all you can do.