Three Dog Night 


Three Dog Night was one of the most proficient hit-making machines in the history of rock.

From 1969 into 1975, the band reached the top 40 of Billboard's singles charts an amazing 21 consecutive times, with 18 in a row reaching the top 20. Eleven peaked in the Top 10, and three went all the way to the top. The songs are still played on the radio today, and still sound great. And they are still selling, as their total record sales are now said to be approaching 90 million. 

Versatility was a key factor in the 'Dogs success, with proficient musicians who could easily adapt to a variety of styles, and three gifted and distinctive lead singers who could carry a song in his own right, yet blended perfectly with his cohorts. 

Internal dissension had taken its toll by the mid-70s, however, and the band took a six-year sabbatical, reuniting in the early 80s, and still spreading its unique brand of good-time music to sold-out audiences today.

Pre-Dog Night 

Ireland-born, Boston-bred Danny Hutton moved west with his family as an adolescent, and began soaking up the rich musical culture of the Los Angeles area. By his early 20s, Danny had become a songwriter, and eventually scored a contract with Hanna-Barbera (yes, the famous TV cartoon production company), which had its own record label. Danny reached the national charts in 1965 with "Roses And Rainbows," although his subsequent efforts for H-B failed to catch on with a national audience. Around this time, he joined a tour headed by Sonny & Cher, where he met a young band called the Enemys, led by a white R&B singer named Cory Wells.

 Wells, a native of Buffalo, New York, had gigged with an interracial vocal group which reached the finals of the Armed Forces Talent Competition. Returning home from the military, he worked with several local bands before himself making the move westward. Up to this point, the Enemys had yet to score a hit, although they had appeared in two popular U.S. television series, Burke's Law and The Beverly Hillbillies. Danny produced a couple of singles for the Enemys (including a version of "Hey Joe"), but success eluded the band, and they split shortly thereafter. Danny remained in L.A. and continued to work as a producer and writer, while Cory relocated to Scottsdale, Arizona, and formed the Cory Wells Blues Band. Danny also met, and became friends with, such L.A. music luminaries as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, and producer/writer Van Dyke Parks. 

Somewhere, circa 1967, Danny got the idea of forming a band with three lead singers. And the key word is "lead" singers, not just a trio with one voice usually featured out front (along the line of such acts as the Lettermen). He immediately contacted Cory, who, after some hesitation, returned to Los Angeles to partner with Danny. The initial third singer, according to Wells, was Bruce Johnston, who decided to remain with the Beach Boys. Hutton then thought of Chuck Negron, of the New York City area. Negron had briefly been under contract with Columbia Records, but had also sung backup on a couple of Danny's singles. The three met in Danny's home and began to sing together. Each man knew immediately that they had something special here. An early idea was for the trio to be just a trio, and to work accompanied by pre-recorded tapes (the original "karaoke" act), although this thought was quickly replaced by the more realistic idea of bringing musicians onboard. 

Jimmy Greenspoon, a native Los Angelino, was a classically-trained pianist and studio veteran who had worked clubs from the Sunset Strip to the Rocky Mountains, was among the first on board, followed by bassist Joe Schermie, who was born in the midwest but had spent his teen years in Arizona. He had been the bassist in Wells' Scottsdale blues band, although his playing style leaned heavily toward a Latin influence.

The first guitarist, Ron Morgan, a friend of Greenspoon's, was quickly replaced by Michael Allsup of Modesto, California, who had worked with a variety of bands since his teen years. Allsup brought a mix of blues, gospel and rock influences to the table, and he quickly became one of the most proficient guitarists to use a Leslie organ cabinet in his playing, along with his mastery of "volume swell" techniques.

Finally, breaking the color barrier, was Floyd Sneed, a young Canadian who had most recently been working clubs in Hawaii with a band called Heat Wave. Sneed brought in a style of drumming he called "Lafrican," a mixture of African and Latin rhythm techniques. As for the vocals, Negron's clear tenor was blended with Wells' gritty R&B leanings and Hutton's versatile pop phrasing to create a unique vocal sound. 

The band then went to work on harnessing the various influences into a cohesive unit, playing some small gigs at clubs and bowling alleys. Some early demos were recorded, with Brian Wilson producing at one point, but it was decided that the best way to showcase this band was in live performance. Such a performance was staged at the famed Troubadour club, and Dunhill Records emerged as the winning bidder. Recording sessions began in earnest, with producer Gabriel Mekler and engineers Richard Podolor and Bill Cooper behind the board. Then there was a question of what this band should be called. After mulling over such winners as Six Foot Three, Subrosa, Soma and Tricycle, Danny's girlfriend at the time suggested Three Dog Night, after reading an article on Australian aborigines in Mankind magazine. It seems that these gentlemen sleep with their dogs on cold nights in the outback, with a "One Dog Night" being fairly cold, a "Two Dog Night" being quite cold and a "Three Dog Night" being as cold as it gets. According to Wells, the band wasn't crazy about that idea, either, but eventually reconsidered, and Three Dog Night they became. 

Let Me Serenade You 

(Courtesy MCA Records)

A quickly-recorded first album was slated for release in October of 1968. The first single, the rollicking "Nobody," "bubbled under" Billboard's Hot 100, peaking at #116 in January of 1969. That same month, the band loaded aboard a modified transit bus and hit the road, serving as opening act for fellow Dunhill labelmates Steppenwolf (the two bands also had the same management) on a jaunt across the Pacific Northwest. The second single, "Try A Little Tenderness," was a reworked version of a song which first became popular for Ted Lewis in 1933, although, in more recent years, it had been a staple of the late Otis Redding's shows. Wells, a huge Redding fan, wanted to record the song as a tribute.

Spurred in part by the band's energetic performances on tour, the single broke first in the Northwest and debuted on the national charts in Feburary of '69, eventually reaching #29 during a three-month stay in the Hot 100. Then came Harry Nilsson's "One," with Chuck taking the lead, which put the band in the Top 10 for the first time, peaking at #5 (and also causing confusion among some fans, who thought there was a religious connection here - the Trinity: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost - three into one, right? No ...). Also included on the album were "The Loner," a tune written for the band by Neil Young, Robbie Robertson's "Chest Fever" and the Lennon-McCartney composed "It's For You", previously recorded by Cilla Black. 

The band quickly returned to the studio to record a followup album, Suitable For Framing, which would spend almost a year and a half on the album chart and spawn three more hits, "Easy To Be Hard" (from the Broadway musical Hair), a charged-up rendition of Laura Nyro's "Eli's Coming," and the party anthem "Celebrate," which eventually became a concert-closer. The album also contained the first notable cover of a song from a then relatively unknown writing team of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, "Lady Samantha," along with Traffic's "Feeling Alright" and a wonderfully soulful rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." The latter was another tribute by Wells to one of his idols. 

((Courtesy MCA Records)

(Courtesy MCA Records)

In September of '69, the band recorded its concert at the Los Angeles Forum for a live album (an unheard-of feat for a still new act), although the move paid off. Captured Live At The Forum became the band's first Top 10 album, reaching #6 after its release in November of '69. 

Good Time Living  

By this point, Gabriel Mekler had moved out of production, with Richard Podolor, a talented studio guitarist (he can be heard on many of drummer Sandy Nelson's instrumental hits of the early 60s) taking over as producer, with Cooper retaining his engineer's post. The band charged into 1970 with It Ain't Easy, and its leadoff single, Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not To Come," a song that Wells had campaigned two years to get the band to record. His persistence paid off, as the song became the band's first #1 single shortly after its release in May of that year. It was followed by the lovely "Out In The Country," which could only muster a #15 peak on the charts. Other highlights included a hilarious ode to doo-wop, "Good Feelin' 1957," the sinuous "Woman" and the countryfied working of the Ray Davies-composed title song. Also notable is the John/Taupin composition "Your Song," which actually predates Elton John's recording (putting his own recording career on the musical map). 

(Courtesy MCA Records)

(Courtesy MCA Records)

The band rounded out the year with the #19 "One Man Band," the leadoff single from its fifth album, Naturally, released in November. The band had reached many new heights in 1970, although an even more explosive year was about to arrive. 

Happy Song

By late 1970, singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton had become a friend of Three Dog Night, and had opened a few shows for the band. Axton's catalog had included the Kingston Trio's "Greenback Dollar" and the anti-drug "The Pusher," taken to the annals of rock history via an angry, electric adaptation by Steppenwolf. Hoyt then composed what would become his, Three Dog Night's, and Dunhill Records' biggest hit, a little ditty called "Joy To The World." Wells, at first, was among a couple of members who didn't want to do the song, as he felt it was a little "bubblegumish." Once the band applied its considerable talents as arrangers to the tune, emerging with a happy, gospel flavor, and an infectious vocal from Chuck, what emerged was to become the biggest hit of 1971. The song made its chart debut in March and quickly shot to the #1 position, where it stayed for six weeks. EVERYONE, it seemed, knew "that bullfrog song," by the end of the spring. 

The band changed gears and released a blistering version of Argent's "Liar," sung by Danny, which reached #7 that summer. Among the other many colors on the album's musical palette were a tender rendition of Jesse Colin Young's "Sunlight," an almost-single eventually rejected, and the gospel-flavored "Heavy Church" and "I've Got Enough Heartache," along with the full-throttle instrumental, "Fire Eater." A hits package, Golden Bisquits, was released in early '71, containing all the hits from "Nobody" to "One Man Band." 

(Courtesy MCA Records)

The band's seventh album, Harmony, wasted little time in assaulting the charts upon its October, 1971, release. The first single, "An Old Fashioned Love Song," came from Paul Williams, who had also co-written "Out In the Country." The single charted in November and reached #4, although it was chased up the charts by Axton's "Never Been To Spain," which peaked at #5. Another Williams composition, "The Family Of Man," topped out at #12 in early 1972. As if those hits weren't enough, the album had much more to enjoy, from the rocking "Jam" (the first song credited to all seven band members since "Rock & Roll Widow" from It Ain't Easy) to a tender reading of Stevie Wonder's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer" to an irresistibly cool arrangement of the minor Marvin Gaye hit, "You."


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