One of the Top 10 largest grossing groups in rock 'n' roll history, Three Dog Night had sold around 50 million records by the mid-1970s. Since forming in the late 1960s, they earned 12 Gold albums, seven Gold singles, two Grammy nominations, three No. 1 songs; and 22 Top 40 singles.
The band's many memorable hits, still often heard today gracing movie soundtracks, included "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)," "Joy to The World," "Black And White," "Shambala," "Easy To Be Hard," "An Old Fashioned Love Song," "One" and "Never Been To Spain."
"They were pretty good songs," says Danny Hutton, one of Three Dog Night's founding lead vocalists. "People can relate to harmony, melody, hooks and choruses. The songs don't have expiration dates; they're all about emotions and that doesn't get dated."
Three Dog Night lead singers Danny Hutton (foreground, center) and Cory Wells in red shirt, are backed by bassist Paul Kingery (from left), guitarist Michael Allsup, drummer Pat Bautz and keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon.
Photo courtesy of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center
The current lineup of founding members Cory Wells and Danny Hutton on lead vocals, as well as original keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon and guitarist Michael Allsup, along with Paul Kingery on bass and Pat Bautz on drums continues to captivate audiences.
Unique for its time, the band featured three separate lead singers, Wells, Hutton and Chuck Negron, and each member brought specific musical influences to the mix, enhancing their popularity.
"I always thought of the three vocalists as horns," Hutton explains. "In my head we were a seven-piece orchestral group and we could sing lyrics. We mixed the harmonies almost like a horn section, they're louder than most groups."
Both Hutton and Negron had previously found mild success as solo singers, while Wells had performed with a couple of bands.
Hutton had made friends with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, who wanted to get into producing other acts, and he quickly took the three singers under his wing. Wilson offered them a couple of his songs and started to produce an album, but the other Beach Boys nixed the project.
"We recorded a couple of songs with Brian and then the Beach Boys came back from tour and said, 'We want those songs,' so they took our voices off," Hutton recalls.
According to legendary composer/arranger Van Dyke Parkes, TDN's Hutton also influenced the Beach Boys' genius. "Brian Wilson was fascinated with Hutton's innovation," he writes.
"I learned a lot from Brian," Hutton reports. "I was in the studio when he did the whole 'Pet Sounds' album and that was like going to college."
Playing small California clubs, the ensemble still had no permanent name, until one night, a friend came up with a suggestion. During cold nights Australian aborigines, would sleep beside their dogs for warmth. The very coldest weather was called a "three dog night."
Climbing the local L.A. club scene, alongside groups like the Byrds, the Doors and Buffalo Springfield, TDN started to get attention wherever they played.
"The record company heard us play at the Troubadour (in L.A.) and said, 'Great, we want an album finished and out in two weeks,' " he recalls. "We said, 'We don't even have any new songs, we've just been playing different songs.' So they said, that's your album."
After the title song of its debut album, "One," was released as a single in 1969, the band scored its first gold record.
Three Dog Night reaped enormous success recording the music of the best (and mostly undiscovered) new songwriters of the times including Harry Nilsson ("One"), Elton John and Bernie Taupin ("Lady Samantha"), Laura Nyro ("Eli's Coming"), Randy Newman ("Mama Told Me (Not To Come)"), Paul Williams ("An Old Fashioned Love Song"), Hoyt Axton ("Joy To The World" and "Never Been To Spain") and Russ Ballard ("Liar").
"I like to say we resurrected a lot of songs," he says. "We normally didn't do songs that were hits by other people; we did songs from their albums and made them hits like 'One' by Harry Nilsson. I think we had good ears and were good arrangers."
Back in the late 1960s, when he was known by his birth name, Reggie Dwight, Elton John approached the band with one of his first songs.
"I was at a publishing company in London and Reggie came over; he was one of their writers," Hutton explains. "He played me his first album and we became good friends. When he came to the States for the first time I helped him get a gig at the Troubadour."
One of their most interesting chart toppers, "Black & White," had been a hit in England for the reggae group Greyhound. Composed in 1954, it was inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling making segregation in public schools illegal. The original folk song was first recorded by Sammy Davis Jr. in 1957. Three Dog Night recorded an adaptation at a time when civil rights was a burning issue, and they were one of the first American groups to score a hit with a reggae-inflected song.
All the group's musicians played a part in arranging various versions of songs by artists from Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder to Joni Mitchell and Moby Grape. And they even recorded a Lennon and McCartney tune, "It's For You," which the Beatles never released.
'We had a lot of fun doing 'It's For You,' which they wrote for (English pop singer) Cilla Black," he notes. "It was a waltz and we turned it into an a cappella song."
Known for their pop hits, on their albums they often really rocked out on tracks like "Jam" from the "Harmony" album and the instrumental "Fire Eater" from "Naturally."
"A lot of people have a misperception of what we're like," he says. "They tend to pick the more melodic and softer and novelty songs that were the hits. A Japanese friend sent me a couple of the old albums that were remixed, and I was shocked how much hard rock was on them. We've been on the country charts, the rhythm-and- blues charts, the pop charts, the rock charts, all over the place. We were like the first iPod group and we didn't know it."
It's hard to imagine that at times the band was so huge they would even top the Beatles on the charts ("Mama Told Me" charted higher than "Let it Be"), and packed stadiums at a time when this was rare.
Eventually, the relentless album-tour pace and lifestyle took its toll, and finally in 1977, Three Dog Night split up, and the members began pursuing various solo projects.
By the mid-1980s they had reformed, and today (without Negron) they often perform shows backed by symphony orchestras. In 2002, they released a CD of hits recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, and then put out a DVD with the Tennessee Symphony.
"The London Symphony at the Abbey Road studio was just magical," he says. "Our conductor with those shows, Larry Baird, is also the conductor for the Moody Blues."
In 2004, the "35th Anniversary Hits Collection" featured TDN with the London Symphony Orchestra on a "brand-new recording of old favorites with symphonic backgrounds that remain faithful to the original versions," praised an Amazon review. "Three Dog Night sounds as great as ever on this 19 track collection."
In the fall of 2009, the group began releasing some new songs as a prelude to a new studio album. Available as online downloads, the rousing rocker "Heart Of Blues" and the beautiful a cappella ballad "Prayer of the Children" showcase Three Dog Night's versatility and ability to stay current.
"If you wait long enough, whatever genre of music you like, we'll get around to doing it," Hutton concludes. "That's what helps keep it fresh, not settling on one kind of music."
* Three Dog Night performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. John Cruz will open. Tickets are $35, $55, $65, and $85 plus applicable fees, available at the MACC box office, 242-7469, or www.mauiarts.org.
The Grammy Award-winning classical ensemble Los Angeles Guitar Quartet teams with Firesign Theatre Radio Hour veteran Phil Proctor for a special dramatic adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' classic "Don Quixote" on Friday evening at the MACC.
The quartet's founding member Bill Kanengiser explained in the Rochester City Newspaper: "It's a real labor of love, taking literally thousands of hours of study and work. We play music from the Spanish renaissance, music which could have been heard by Cervantes himself. We hope that the audiences come away with a real appreciation for the humor, pathos, and surreal modernism of this 17th-century masterpiece."
With programs ranging from bluegrass to Bach, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet members John Dearman, Matthew Greif, Scott Tennant and Kanengiser have established themselves as masters of the classics and creators of a unique syntheses of world music and contemporary styles.
In recent years Proctor has voiced characters in a number of hits movies including "Finding Nemo," "Monsters, Inc." and Eddie Murphy's "Dr. Dolittle" series
For the Maui performance, Proctor plays the narrator, ingenious Knight of La Mancha, comical Squire Sancho Panza and a host of other characters, while music of the time includes works by Narvaez, Encina, Pisador, Milan and Martin y Coll.
* The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet with Phil Proctor presents an adaptation of "Don Quixote" at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Castle Theater. Tickets are $12, $26 and $35 plus applicable fees, available as above.