Three Dog Night - Jimmy Greenspoon

What sort of unreleased recordings of Three Dog Night are there laying around somewhere?

Gosh! There's a few. A couple of them made it onto the "Celebrate" thing (NOTE: The CD is called Celebrate - The Three Dog Night Story 1965-1975 - T.W.) . When we first did the Elton John songs - when we were in London and Elton posed as a roadie to get in - he gave us a whole bunch of songs to listen to, and essentially put a "freeze" on them, this was before he got his record deal. He said, "You're the only group I want doing my songs (NOTE: This was after 3DN had released the Elton John/Bernie Taupin-composed "Lady Samantha." - T.W.)." So he gave us "Your Song," which we did, and he gave us "Border Song" and somewhere there's about a ten-minute version of "Take Me To The Pilot." And we never finished that - it's somewhere in the tape archives.
There's a bunch of jams, there's a bunch of (alternate) takes of things that never saw the light of day. There was a single version of "Sunlight," the Jesse Colin Young song, that we did with strings. We were going to have that as a single, but, for some reason, we canned it. So there's a wonderful mix of "Sunlight" that would be a great single. And later on, at a period that I like to call the "dark period," the very, very last album ("American Pastime") that was probably one step below the stuff that collects under the toilet, we won't get into that. Anyway, we did a GREAT version of Eric Carmen's "All By Myself."

Really!?!

Yeah, and we put that in the can and instead released some disco fodder, and that album got to #150 (on the chart) and then sank like a stone and the group broke up. God knows where that is, but it's hidden somewhere in the vault, too. But there's a few that would be interesting to resurrect someday, when they're doing some compilations and stuff.

Will that ever happen?

I don't know. Every time they say there's gonna be a compilation or a boxed set they say they're gonna dig up stuff. But in order to do that and finish them they'd have to go in and do vocals. Like "All By Myself" didn't have a vocal on it, "Take Me To The Pilot" just had a rough vocal. So I think they'd like to get something that's already there and just remix it or whatever. Some of that stuff, the tapes are probably such bad quality that it would take so much to get them up to standard and then transfer them to computer. I was trying to put together some stuff, some outtakes and intros that I had done with the 'Dogs and all the sessions I'd done throughout the years. A lot of the stuff that Richie and Bill - our producers - had in the studio. And the process of taking the tapes and "baking" them and transferring them and then you gotta put them into Pro Tools (computer program) and then to a hard disc, you'd lose a lot and the tape might disintegrate ... So it's come a long way from the old days of two-track with a couple of room mikes. But, as far as the "hidden gems," I don't think they're going to dig up anything that's going to change the course of history.

Talk a little bit about the arrangements, and the interplay you had with the other guys in getting those things together.

No interplay; in fact, I erased all their parts and recorded everything myself ... No.

(Laughter) Of course you did it all!

The interplay was, we worked so well together - the four of us, Michael, Floyd, Joe and I - we pretty much knew what the other guys would do. That was one of the qualities that was so good. We would sit down to do an arrangement and we'd just fall into a groove and didn't step on anybody's toes. You can get so many people together that are really good players, but they're all over each other. Everyone soloing at the same time, and we didn't have that. We had that ability to know when to play ... and in the very beginning we had that thing when we were first getting together and it was "I can play fast," and someone would think "I can play FASTER," and after a while it was "Guess what, guys? LESS is more."
It's like everyone disecting Alvin Lee's solo from Woodstock
(NOTE: A grab-bag of 50's classics titled "I'm Going Home" - T.W.) and it was like "Oh! He's setting the fretboard on fire," but I thought "Excuse me; can you pick any NOTES out of that whole thing?" So, after awhile, we just had this ability to play off each other know what we were going to do, and, as each album progressed, it was like putting on a pair of well-worn shoes; we knew instinctively what to do and what not to do. And everyone had equal parts in contributing and the singers would come in and suggest things and vice versa, so it was a very collaborative effort in getting to the final product.

But the focus was always on the song itself.

Absolutely, and also taking a song that was just a b-side or a song by some unknown and taking it and making it our own, and of course we got totally chastised by the press or the critics. We'd just take the best material we could by unknown people and ... the critics forget that we were the first group to have a hit by John Hiatt and Nilsson and Elton John ... and Neil Young wrote "The Loner" for us. I was just reading in the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young book that THEY were the first to do a stadium tour in '74, when WE did that in '71. Hello! And how Stephen (Stills) thought "The Loner" was written with him in mind. No, he wrote it for Three Dog Night, but we won't tell you, Stephen.

But, Sinatra didn't write his songs, and Elvis didn't write his songs.

No, exactly. And that's the whole thing, too, of why we'll never be inducted into the (Rock & Roll) Hall Of Fame. Two people who induct people hate us, one of them I like to call Jann "Weiner" and the other being Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic Records, because we didn't go with Atlantic, we went with Dunhill because they had a better offer, and he hated us for that.
That's fine, too, because those guys (critics) are probably doing Taco Bells now, and we're still playing sold-out shows. There was this one guy that just gave us a wonderful review in the Chicago Sun Times and he thought we were the greatest thing since sliced bread, and called us the greatest interpreters of anyone on this planet.

Well, that's nice.

Yeah, at least this guy got it.

But that was the point about Sinatra and Elvis too, wasn't it?

Yeah ... Exactly! They were great interpreters of other people's songs. But the other side of the coin was if we had turned around and done an entire album of originals they would have said, "Oh, well this stuff sucks." Excuse me, but we all can't be Jackson Browne.

You mentioned "Prelude To Morning" earlier, and there was a great tremelo sound on that, as well as "Freedom For The Stallion" from that same album.

That was actually a grand piano, miked, and that mike was run into an amplifier and we miked the amplifier. And the actual beginning to that was actually just me plucking the strings on the open piano, and it was miked into this old Sears Silvertone or (Fender) Vibrolux or some cheesy, cool guitar amplifier, with the tremelo turned up to "10." And they put a couple of mikes on that and ran them back into the board, and that's how they did that and "Freedom For The Stallion."

Any other little tricks like that?

Well, there was a song on one of the albums ... I think it was "Circle For A Landing." Someone was really counting on me to come up with this great effect. I walked in, and I tripped, and as I tripped I hit the drawbars on the organ and at the same time hit the notes, and in the booth they're saying "That's it! That's great!" "Yeah! You're right! I planned that. No problem - I don't know what the hell I did, but let's go for it." So that was a happy mistake. I actually just tripped and made a boo-boo, but they guys seemed to think I planned it, so okay. But there were so many things, like the way Michael would use his guitar through a Leslie to match my Leslie, to get that whole stereo panning thing going on between the guitar and the keyboard. Or using the Wurlitzer piano through a Leslie, which worked great for "Mama Told Me" and just little subtle things like that.

How does the current lineup approach the songs that may be different?

We've all done little subtle changes. We have arrangements now that are so superior to the way we recorded them, in part due to the fact that we've done them for 32 years and we got so bored doing them the exact same way. So there are several little nuances and complete different intros, different chords, different solos and stuff. We're doing that out of necessity ...

Just to keep yourself interested.

Right. And it's not like someone - who I won't mention - taking something like "Joy To The World" and turning it into a disco song, or "Never Been To Spain" and making a rap version out of it. Oooookay; I don't think people want to hear that.

I don't.

No. If you want to hear that you can go out and get the Bee Gees or Ice T or someone like that. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

What would be your favorite tunes from the albums?

Gosh, I could go by each album and run down a list of stuff. The first album would be "Heaven Is In Your Mind" and "Chest Fever" and "The Loner" and "Let Me Go."
And, on the second album I liked "Lady Samantha," of course "Celebrate" and "Eli," and "Circle For A Landing." On It Ain't Easy I liked "Mama" and "Out In The Country."

You said that you thought that some of your best playing was on "Out In The Country."

Yeah. That was a very pretty, melodic line, and the sound I got on the (Hammond) B-3, to this day, people still think it's a flute. Oh! And I loved "Woman.;" that's a great tune. We've just started doing that again; that's one of those heavy tunes. You put that next to something like "Joy" and you think "Oh my God! These guys are lightweight, and on the other side they can ROCK!"
On the Harmony album I loved "Murder In My Heart For The Judge." It took me years to get the guys to do a Moby Grape tune. I loved "You," the Marvin Gaye tune, and I loved what Chuck did with "Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer." A lot of the stuff I loved was the album cuts. On Naturally I loved "I'll Be Creepin'," the Free tune, and there was a Spooky Tooth tune called "I've Got Enough Heartache" which was really cool. "Heavy Church;" liked that one, and "Sunlight," which was always a great tune.
Going on to Seven Separate Fools, I really liked "Chained," that was an Argent thing, and I was a big Argent fan - I was the one that took "Liar" to Danny because I loved Argent - and "In Bed" was a cool tune, and "Freedom For The Stallion." On every album there were two or three tunes that weren't hits but I really liked them, like on Cyan there was "Ridin' Thumb" and "Play Children Play."

 

For the benefit of all the players out there, let's run down the equipment you used from back then and bring it up to what you're using today.

It's kinda gone full circle, 'cause basically then it was a B-3 and a Steinway baby grand, and then some sort of electric baby grand and always a B-3. I resisted going into the synthesizer era and using that stuff. I dabbled around with a couple of Arp Odysseys and Arp String Ensemble and an Arp 2600 like Keith Emerson had, but that's something you couldn't use live because it had like 200,000 patch cords and "God! I feel like a phone operator."

Well, you could have always taken Lily Tomlin ("Ernestine" of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In") on the road.

Yeah, really (laughs). And for the last 15-20 years I've been using a Korg M-1 and a B-3. Back to the basics.

You still use a B-3.

A B-3, a couple of Leslies. I took the liberty of making a sound card with my M-1 at home, getting the Wurlitzer sound in there and writing my own program, and tweaking a lot of stuff so I can have my own custom sound. When we tour and we rent the M-1 I just pop in the sound card and there it is.

So all your equipment on the road is rented?

Yeah. I just carry my sound card, (Michael and Paul) carry their guitars, Pat has a couple of cymbals that he carries. That's in the rider, this is what we will have or we won't do the show. That happened somewhere last year; they said they couldn't get it and we said we won't play the show and they said (sheepishly) "Well, you have to," and we said no, it's in the contract.

So you haven't shown up somewhere and found a Farfisa (cheesy 60s portable organ) there.

No, not yet. I used a Farfisa on some of the stuff I did with Michael Lloyd, and a Vox Continental organ. So no, I don't think I'll have to work with a Farfisa, although Don Henley used it on "Dirty Laundry" and it sounded great. It was so cheesy at the time, but in the right setting it was like "You know that's so cheesy I really like it now."

Talk a little about touring now as opposed to the old days.

Oh, God! Last year we did about 140 shows. We've been doing at least 100 a year for the last six years. That's double what we did, even when we were "on top." Let's see, we were younger then, now we're older and we're working twice as much. What's wrong with this picture? But everyone seems to enjoy doing it, and the demand is out there.

And, of course the autograph tables and things you do now you didn't have when you were playing stadiums.

No. We'll go out there now and people are so appreciative we'll spend an hour and a half to sign the CDs and books and shirts, and people go, "You guys are really nice. You actually come out and TALK to people." Yeeaahhh. Hey, you paid money to come see the show, so we want to come out and talk to you. Obviously, it's so great to see so many generations of people out there, and to see 15-year-old kids in Metallica t-shirts singing with every song. It's timeless music I guess, and it's not going to inspire anyone to go out and commit mass murder. Everyone has a little story, and "here's my son, and he's really into your music."

It kinda reminds me of something that Paul Revere told me a few years ago, regarding those teenagers. He said that maybe they've heard one song or saw an old album that their parents have, and they come to the shows out of curiosity, but he hopes they leave with a little respect.

Yeah ... EXACTLY! Some kids won't know the whole catalog, but you say Three Dog Night and they say, "I don't know," and then you say "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," then they say "Oh, it's YOU guys." And then they come to the show and it's "Oh, and THAT song, too! And THAT song, too! I didn't know you ... I didn't know you ... I'm going to have to go out and get that." And we've been so visible. This year alone we've got five soundtracks. I think we've had 20 or 30 film soundtracks in the last 10-12 years, so kids hear that and go, "Wow; I've gotta go hear this group live."

Talk a little more about your solo project.

I haven't gotten anything recorded yet, but I'll probably go into the studio with Richie Podolor sometime this year and try to get that done. I'm actually going to do a solo concert at a nice theater in Palm Springs. I've basically just written these ten or 12 instrumental tunes, and we're going to put together an album called Scoring Emotions. Well above John Tesh and Yanni, but, you know, Yanni can go out and do that stuff with an 80-piece orchestra and do the big, bombastic thing. What I plan to do is to do with one piano what 80 instruments can do.

Finally, aren't you amazed at how easy it is to go out and play now that you're clean and sober?

Oh! Yeah ... oh ... And really remember everything and go, "Wow; I LIKE this." And I go off after a show and have a Perrier or a non-alcoholic beer in a club or a bar, and there's people hanging off the ceiling and taking off their clothes and throwing s---, and I think "Wow! That used to be me. Boy, this is really uncomfortable." And then the next day they're going to be feeling like dirt, and I'm going, "I feel great; I'm up at four in the morning. Excuse me! I'm having a great time and I can remember everything I played and I had a good time."
So, yeah, it's definitely a lot easier, and it's a lot healthier too, obviously.

For more information on Jimmy Greenspoon and his solo recordings, visit www.jimmygreenspoon.com

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

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