Three Dog Night - Danny Hutton


It was through David Anderle that you met Brian Wilson, true?

Yeah, that was how I was really introduced to Brian. I had casually kind of met him at Gold Star (NOTE: Studio famous for Phil Spector's "Wall of Sound." -- T.W.), he was down there when I was doing some little thing. I had been on about four labels. The original A&M Records, when it was called Almo Records, which they later called the publishing company. I'd see him around, and David just brought me up to (his) house on Laurel Way.

Can you describe what Brian was really like in those days? There have been so many stories.

Yeah! He was just completely together, on top of it. Just full of confidence. And whatever he wanted to do or said, even if it sounded weird, within a year it was something that everyone did. There were things that, even if they sounded odd, or even crazy, they were just cutting edge. He'd say "this might seem goofy, but there's a reason ..." And, I think sometime, he'd just be playin' with people ...


Vintage photo of Danny onstage

Yeah; I've kinda gotten that impression.

But, when you have so much power, you just do whims. And he was so gifted. Even, when he would play things. I mean, I write and I know a lot of writers, but he would play things that were just so far ahead of what you would even dream of doing, that I (laughs) just stopped writing. "No, no; this guy's just on another level."

I remember one story about Brian is that he was complaining that he couldn't buy a telescope one night. Someone asked him, "Brian, who would want to buy a telescope at midnight?" And he said, "I would."

And he was absolutely right! Why not? But, if you think about it, 24-hour stores selling strange things, it's common now. I think that was part of it when he opened the health store, the vegetarian food store.

So, you saw the piano in the sandbox in his house?

Sure! Of course. That was in the house up on Laurel Way. You know, it was kind of pop art, but ... "Beach Boy; sand ..." I mean, it wasn't nutty. It was clever. It may have been unusual, but, if you think about it, it was a cool idea. Nothing weird about that. Playing in the sandbox had all kinds of levels. The Beach Boy guy, thinking about sand, sticking his feet in the sand, shut his eyes...

And write about sand; write about the beach.

Yeah. It wasn't crazy.

And it was around '67 when you got the idea for this trio?

Yeah. I always wanted to work with Cory; I thought his voice was great. What comes to mind was a combination of timing. I knew, as a soloist, and after being around Brian, that alone I wasn't going to make it at the level I wanted to do it. I knew Cory was there, and all the groups I had been in ... I had a couple of little things with folk groups, and it was always a trio.

Right.

So there was Cory and me, and then we got together and talked about it, and he had to finish some stuff. And I knew I could probably get Brian interested, and then we talked to my manager and then the name of Billy Joe Royal came up. We were looking for a guy with a high voice. Danny Whitten ...

Bruce Johnston ...

Bruce Johnston, we went to see Bruce. We wanted somebody with a high voice, and I had some musical ideas, and then Chuck was somebody that I had been hanging with as a friend. And Cory and I invited him over, and said, "Let's check him out; let's just do some jamming." And I think in a way he probably knew what we were doing. Cory and he connected because of that whole New York doo-wop thing that they liked. He left, and Cory and I said, "Yeah; let's go with him." And that was the start of it. But we didn't have any musicians at the time, and I brought 'em to Brian, and ... that got strange.

Is it true that you wanted to go on the road with the three of you, and tapes?

Well, I wanted to do that in 1965. I did a forum for a radio station, with all these other artists, and we were talking about cutting edge, and how in the future they were going to integrate tapes with that. And, I was pushin' for stuff like that, but it wasn't practical at the time. But, I was always pushin' for production, show-wise, y'know, doin' the whole number. Actually, later on we actually tried to do that, but we didn't do it the right way; we were scared off, and we threw it away. But, we were thinking along the lines of Pink Floyd, who later turned it into this extravaganza.
But, the practical thing to do, with a lot of prompting from our management, was ... "Look; just get some musicians. Get out there; get your feet wet." And all we had done was studio stuff, and I hadn't been out in years. Chuck hadn't been out in a long time. Cory had done all the club stuff. And we had to get out there and get our live legs together.

Right. Get out there and find out what you can do.

Jimmy was a neighbor; he lived two doors down from me. I had moved up to Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon, and I'd known Jimmy since probably '64. This crazy redhaired guy.

(Laughs) Right. Tell me what it was, what the appeal was, about those four musicians.

Well, it didn't start with those four.

Right.

It started with Jimmy, and then Cory brought in Joe, who he'd been in a band with. And then Jimmy had a friend, Ron Morgan, who was a really funky guitar player. Really great blues guitar player. And we auditioned a drummer, a guy from Texas, we saw him in a club, but his timing ... he'd speed up and slow down, and he wasn't the right guy. Actually, we had another guy, another drummer, who's in that first publicity picture ... I can't remember if we just got him to sit in for the picture ...

(Laughs) Designated photo drummer.

(Laughs)And then we saw Floyd at a place called The Red Velvet. And so, we got him. Michael came in, I guess, through ...

Through Joe.

Through Joe, right. And they had a really nice groove; they really fit together. And Floyd complimented that well. They all fit. And Jimmy, of course, is just Jimmy; he can play anything.

Musically, they came from some pretty far-reaching directions, right?

Yeah. But, good musicians. I mean, if everyone's from the same place, there's no chemistry, if everyone's thinking the same way. Everyone had a different approach, and they all complimented each other.

How did you get (Dunhill Records president) Jay Lasker's attention?

That was our managers. Looking back on it, it was so simple. We started working the Whisky, and - I don't know who - someone from Dunhill came in, and there must have been some kind of buzz. But, basically, it was pretty obvious, that our manager managed Steppenwolf and they were on Dunhill, and when he thought we were ready, he did an afternoon show at the Troubadour. Jay came down and that was it.

The managers called all the labels down?

I don't know; maybe they did. I don't remember. But Jay would have been the obvious one, because of the deal our manager had with Steppenwolf. It would have made sense to go with them. A little piggyback thing. There may have been some others there, but I don't think they were in serious condition, because Jay was going to get the first grab.
And then we actually went, we got the guy that produced the Grass Roots ...

Steve Barri.

Right; Steve Barri. And we tried something with him, or we went to a session and watched him work, and he wasn't the right guy for us. And then we went with Gabriel (Mekler), and that was good. He taught us ... I was used to, especially being around Brian, to be painstaking. Just going over and over and over something until it was perfect. But you never get anything finished; you're always questioning if something could be better. (Gabriel) was the first guy that said, "Just take it. Feels good." (We'd say) "But, that harmony's ..." And he'd say, "It's fine; don't worry about that stuff. It's done."

He was more interested in the feel, in the performance, rather than the precision.

Yeah. That's it. He was listening to a totally different thing. He had a fresh ear. It was good for us. I think, you need both. You can't just have a good technical sound, and then just do what you want. You gotta have the balls on the record. If you have a good live sound but ... the thing is a good live performance that sounds good.

Wasn't that first album pretty much done live in the studio?

Yeah. I remember (Cory's) performance of ("Try A Little Tenderness") as two takes, and we were doing an interview and he said, "C'mon, Danny! It was about 35 takes!" (Laughs) But, it was him (using) a hand-held mic, and it was a complete take. A live take. But ... I must have gone in the other room and slept (laughs). Yeah, there were some overdubs and stuff, but the tracks were done very quickly ...

It doesn't sound like there were very many (overdubs), if there were any ...

Yeah. It was four-track, or two-track. You couldn't cut different takes. And we had been doing the set for quite a while, so we were tight.

Did it go to eight-track for the second album?

You know, I don't remember.

It just seems like there were more overdubs on the second album, a much wider sound.

Yeah, it was bigger. They brought in some strings ...

The horn section on "Celebrate"...

Yeah, the horn section, and some girls hidden in the back there. Part of that overdub on "Celebrate" was done while we were out of town, and I was kinda unhappy when I heard it. Of course now days you can reproduce that sound live. But, a B-3? Where's the rest of that stuff coming from?

Did you have a bit of an influence on Michael with his volume swells; the "violin lines" as you called them?

Oh, yeah! That was, we had a song given me by Danny Whitten, and we had it for the first album, but it was a big orchestra. And we thought "we can't do that" but the only part that we could do, for him, was a violin. And he didn't do it with a pedal, he did it ...

With his hands.

What the youngsters don't do now (laughs).

And then, Richie (Podolor) took over as producer.

Yeah. Well, Gabriel was killed, in a motorcycle accident. But, Richie and Bill (Cooper) had actually been getting the sound anyway. It was their sound, their studio. Gabriel, at the time, had the direction, but by that time we had learned a lot, and Richie and Bill were great. Richie has such a great ear. They both do, but Richie's got this great, teenage kind of ear. What's a great hook, what's too much. And, especially guitars. He'd know. Michael would use different guitars and different sounds, and (Richie would) know exactly what was needed.

And Bill understood the bottom end and the rhythm section because he was a bass player.

Bass player; right. Both were great. Bill was great with drums, and bass, kick drums. He was great with Floyd; "maybe less here, more there," that kind of thing. They were great. They still are.

Tell me about the It Ain't Easy album, and then hitting #1 for the first time with "Mama Told Me."

Tell you what about it?

About hitting #1 with a song you didn't want to do, maybe?

Oh, sure! Right. It just wasn't working, in rehearsal, I just didn't hear it. I mean, I love that song now, but ... I don't know; it just sounded very odd.

Well, don't all Randy Newman songs sound odd? (laughs)

Well, (laughs), I met Randy through Van Dyke Parks when Randy did that song ... what was it? On (TDN's) first album. (Sings) "Sit by my window ..."

"That No One Ever Hurt This Bad."

Yeah; that's it. So, yeah, I met Randy back then. I loved his stuff; he's great.

But you didn't think "Mama Told Me" was going to do it?

No, I wouldn't say that. It could have been what I was hearing in the studio. I mean, that piano wasn't up there to get that groove, and with Cory doing that personality singing. I mean, "Yeah, okay," I thought it was a personal song that Cory liked. When I say I didn't like it, I mean rehearsal, because when we got in the studio, it was a different animal. It was happening, in the studio. I guess I didn't qualify that. No, once we got into the song, it started to cook. We never knew. I mean, you'd cut one song, and you'd go to the next song, same instruments, same mic setup, and the timbre of the notes or whatever. One song would leap out of the speakers, and the next one would just ...

Just sit there.

Right. Wouldn't have the same ... the speakers would flap as much. It's very weird.

And, on that album was "Your Song." You had already done "Lady Samantha."

Yeah. And (Elton John) sent me what I thought to be a bunch of demos, and it was really his album that was going to be coming out. I'm not sure. I don't think we would have done it ...

If you had known ...

Right, if we had known that it was going to be his single. Anyway, it was a great song; loved it. I cut out a verse of that. "Kicked off the moss," was that it?

Yes. "I sat on the roof, and kicked off the moss ..."

Yeah; that's it. And, I think I said, "I'd build a big house" instead of "I'd buy a big house." Yeah. But, Richie Podolor does an incredible guitar solo on that, I think one of his better solos. He and I worked on that for a long time.

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