Three Dog Night - Michael Allsup


Guitar solos were actually quite rare on Three Dog Night's records. Would you have liked to have played more solos, or was that just part of the band's "song-oriented" approach that seemed prevalent on the albums?

That's a very straight-to-the-point question.

Glad you liked it.

The answer may seem obvious, but, as a matter of fact, I was generally more of a rhythm and color oriented player. I did enjoy playing leads and still do, but I have never been one to say it WAS or IS my real calling.

Really?

See, I do like to burn now and then. Who WOULDN'T like to? It is way fun. On the other hand, Jimmy was great with his many-faceted keyboard manifestations and was always dependable for a great lead, not to mention his UBIQUITOUS intros. I, on the other hand, had to work at it, more often than not. Left to my own likes and dislikes, I did fine, but under the gun in the studio and at rehearsals with the likes of Richie and Danny and Cory and Chuck ... Gulp! ... It did tend to put the squeeze on, if you know what I mean.

I can see where that might be just a tad intimidating.

All in all it helped me develop and stretch, if you will. Working with Jimmy, Joe and Floyd was another experience altogether ... Magic seemed to just happen with us - and he's so, so modest (laughs). Not to say the singers weren't supportive, they were, real supportive, just REAL NITPICKY. Of course, that was part of the mix, wasn't it?

But, those who expect perfection often get it. Speaking of solos, however, the lead guitar breaks on "Joy To The World" and "Liar" were not on the Naturally album. Okay, Inspector Allsup, tell us the "case of the missing guitar breaks."

As best as I can remember, it was a simple case of "after the fact" record-making. When it came time for the single release everyone would look at the tunes just a little closer, one more time, and see how we can improve it, (or) even customize it for the airplay of those times.

Yes, the "three minute rule." I remember it well.

That's really how those guitar leads got in. When we would tour most of the year and then do two albums a year, it was quite a heavy schedule, even for young, pumped-up "on a mission" rock guys in their twenties. Getting the albums in on time for the record company was demanding. We loved it, but way demanding just the same.

Three Dog Night was at its peak when the term "commercial" somehow became a dirty word. Did being "commercial" bother you?

Yes, we tried to consider the formats of the program directors around the country and those "three minute and 10 second" records were really a sign of the times. Formula records? Hammer us if you will, but we learned the listening habits of the American people AND what the program directors like to hear as well. Is that formula record-making? I suppose, in a sense. I have always looked at it like being tuned into what the average listener liked to hear. It was, and is, in fact, what WE liked to hear as well. If there is one TRICK to making hit records, it is HOW DO YOU KEEP THE LISTENERS' INTEREST UP FOR THE ENTIRE RECORD.

And you and Richard had that magic - placing as much emphasis or importance on a piano intro or a guitar solo or the use of high-hats on the second verse as on the lead vocal. But you had to have a good tune as well.

Bottom line - good songs, good arrangements, good performances.

I once asked Cory - several years ago -what his favorite tune was from all the albums, and, after a long hesitation, he came up with "Yellow Beach Umbrella" (from American Pastime) because, as he put it, "it's just a great tune that takes you to a different place." Talk a little about some of your favorites.

It may sound predictable and even corny, but I really do enjoy them all. I like the hits especially. Shallow of me, huh? (laughs) I love to see the gleam in the eyes of the listeners when we play them. (It's) a real joy for me, for all all of us. Always has been and it is to this day. Thanks to every single one of you for the joy you have brought to us by liking our music.
Other tunes? "Singer Man;" I really loved that one. Vocally? "Heavy Church" and "I've Got Enough Heartache." Even though we were cohorts and workmates, that really blew me out. Man! What a sound! Now THAT was one hell of a white male gospel sound, no racial pun intended. I had to turn and let them know myself what a monster sound it was. "A Change Is Gonna Come" was my favorite of all of Cory's lead vocals ...

Mine, too.

... But of course I still love "Mama." Chuck's "Storybook Feeling" (NOTE: Written by Michael - T.W.) made me proud and "Cowboy" is a hidden treasure for me. "My Impersonal Life" was very special to me, and "Digger" (Danny) doing Elton's "Your Song" is a great thing to have in our history. A beautiful tune sung really great by Danny. "Liar"? Now there's a HUGE story behind that one as far as how we got the vocal sound in the studio.

So I've heard.

Ask Danny about that one sometime; he does a wonderful "podium job" of explaining it. Quite fascinating, in fact ... involving five takes of room mics placed out of the studio and down the hallway into the bathroom toilet ... our pursuit of genius (laughs). Great fun. Great, great fun. I'm very proud of this rock band, can you tell?

And, speaking of being proud, you have a great lineup in the band now to be proud of.

Yes. A good lineup of talent. (I'm) very proud to be working with Paul Kingery and Pat Bautz. Paul has a lot of heart and has a real love for music as well as for his family. A pleasure working with him. He and I have become very close.

And Pat is what you would call a "doer?" Someone who really gets the job done?

Pat is also very talented. He is quite motivated ... If you want something done, ask Pat to do it for you. Pat excels. He loves a challenge of any kind.

We can't get through this without talking about guitars. You started on the first album with a humbucker (pickup) -equipped Telecaster.

Yes. I did put a humbucker in that Tele. I loved my Tele but I wanted the warmth of the humbucker sound. (NOTE: Telecasters traditionally are equipped with two single-coil pickups; a dual-coil pickup is referred to as a "humbucker." - T.W.) It just didn't happen, though. Problem was, I didn't know about making the tone circuitry active on that pickup. On the old Teles, at least, the rhythm (neck) pickup was out of the tone circuit, so when I put that humbucker in there all it did was make it look a little more "avant garde." Much later on I found out how to make that combo work. That guitar was stolen from me in Tulsa after one of our first major concert tours with a famous group. Remember the Vanilla Fudge?

Certainly.

Great group. We had a great time on tour and made some memories that I don't dare repeat to this day. Old rock guy stories, you know.

I've heard about 'em.

Yeah. One last thing on the Telecaster. Some instruments are good. Some instruments are not so good. Very few instruments teach YOU how to play it. THE TELE DOES THAT. Can't explain it. You can ask any Tele player ...

Yep. I used to have one.

... And he will confirm it for you. Just something about them that makes you think different stuff. We used to call it "chicken pickin'" back in the old days.

Speaking of James Burton, as we were earlier. Then there was that gorgeous walnut-finished SG.

In regards to the SG, it was also stolen, in San Francisco after a gig. I then went completely Les Paul; had a couple of goldtops and soon, a "Black Beauty," as we called them. I got into the 900 series Leslies and was experimenting with driving (them) harder with bigger amps and therefore needed heavy drivers on top of the speaker cabinets. I had a specially made unit that would hold three drivers at once, just for the top of the Leslie itself. Sounds impressive, right? WRONG. Actually, all it gave me was more volume and less tone ... I ended up using a Fender Twin (amplifier) in combination with the Leslie, so that I could get a more traditional tone instead of so much Leslie.

What type amps do you use now?

My current rig consists of using two Peavey Classic 50s in stereo. Promoters furnish our backline on our gigs and I had to find something that was consistently available that I liked. Twins and Marshalls were about the only other choice. I was tired of Twins 'cause every one that would show up would be trashed from some kid blowing it out in his garage band. So, the Classic 50s have become my amp of choice on the road.

But no Leslie now, right?

For the Leslie effect I am using a Boss SE-70 (pedal). Don't really like it that much, but it travels well. A compromise, if you will.

Somehow I just can't picture you using Marshall amps, anyway.

I like the way Marshalls sound in other groups with other guitar players, but not this group with this guitar player doing this music.

And your guitar of choice today is a Stratocaster.

Yes, you are correct, a Fender Strat, but it is special, he says, condescendingly (laughs). It is not an old vintage one, but one made in '92, I believe. It is called a Strat Ultra and I love it. It has improved my technique just due to its trueness. The humbucking pickups at the bridge give me the gain and "bawls" - did he say that, how rude (laughs) - that I love. Yes, I miss the warmth of the Les Paul, I do admit it, but my Pauls never felt this sexy nor did THEY ever play ME like this one does. Now, wasn't that a nice answer? Cookies and milk will follow.

Good, I'm getting hungry. You wrote three songs on the Cyan album, and for my money, "Into My Life" is one of the best songs the band ever did.  

Thank you; very generous of you.

Talk a little about your songwriting.

My writing? For years ... it just stopped. The music just "left" me. Can't explain it. I have my suspicions, but that's all, just suspicions. A couple of years ago it started again. Better than ever; MUCH better than ever. I am not a prolific writer, per se, but I have become so excited with the music that has come to me or through me, or however you perceive it. All my years of musical experience and musical perspective seemed to come to a head two years ago when I had the somewhat funny revelation that "I love music. I think I will do this the rest of my life."

Two years ago this happened?

Isn't that ignorant? You would think that would have been obvious to me by now, but not really. Just the way I throught of it made it clear to me. It was something like, "Michael, you know you would do this even if it wasn't your occupation. It is your hobby ... your love." I'm saying all this to myself, you see, while looking over my shoulder to make sure no one is watching (laughs). Anyway, once I was clear on that I began to realize that NOW is my time. Not just then, but NOW. All my experience, all my fortunate experiences and acquaintances, the music began to come out regularly. It was though all I had to do was just stay tuned and listen. 'Course all this sounds like "pie in the sky" stuff, and, who knows, maybe I'm the only one who will give a poot about my music or even like it.

I DOUBT that.

But, I don't think so. I can honestly say that the music coming out of me now is the best I have ever done. The best I have ever written. I am so thankful for the music. A funny thing; music has always been my best friend. It has always been there for me. Just sit down and play and enjoy.
Even when the music "stopped" for 20 years or so, it was still there. I just inhibited it from happening for some weird reason. That's over. I'm committed for the long run now (laughs).

I'm glad to hear it.

To learn more about Michael Allsup, or to order his CD Some Women,visit his official website at http://www.michaelallsup.com


(Courtesy Timbre Records)

(Portions of this interview originally appeared in the Three Dog Night newsletter. Thanks to Madonna Nuckolls for her assistance and cooperation.)

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