Three Dog Night
Danny Hutton on the group's hits, latest tour and those cover-band critiquesBy CHRIS BIERI
Special to the Union Leader October 04. 2017 12:45PM
If you go...WHO: Three Dog Night
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center, 39 So. Main St., Plymouth
TICKETS: $69.50 and $79.50
INFO: 536-2551; www.flyingmonkeynh.com
Danny Hutton knew it in an instant.
When he brought together Cory Wells and Chuck Negron in his Southern California home in 1967, Hutton realized immediately he’d found the sound he was looking for.
“I had an idea to add a third guy (along with Cory and I),” Hutton said. ”I had a friend in a group called Crazy Horse, Danny Whitten. I wanted to use him as a third singer, but he wasn’t enough of a tenor. We needed someone to sing up high. I had another friend, Chuck. I invited him up to the house to jam, but it was actually a secret audition. We dropped into some harmonies, and Cory and I looked at each other and said, ‘That’s the guy.’ ”
With the three-pronged singing lineup secured, Three Dog Night went on to become among the most prolific hit makers of the classic-rock era.
Three Dog Night brings that impressive collection of hits to Plymouth on Sunday with a performance at the Flying Monkey Movie House and Performance Center at 6:30 p.m.
Hutton and Wells already had achieved some measure of success as solo artists on separate labels when they started working together.
After bringing Negron into the fold, the group performed a showcase at the Troubadour in West Hollywood and was almost immediately signed by Dunhill Records.
“They wanted us in the studio the next week,” Hutton said. “When I said we didn’t have any material, they said, ‘That’s your first album — what you’ve just played.’ ”
The self-titled debut record was released in 1968, and featured the song “One,” written by Harry Nilsson.
It was the first of many songs written by other artists that the band would push up the charts.
Three Dog Night scored Top 10 hits with Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming,” and “Joy to the World” and “Never Been to Spain,” both by Hoyt Axton.
In some circles, the group has been dismissed as a cover band, an assembled group like the television-bred Monkees, built to churn out hits.
Hutton views it differently.
To him, they are revivalists, taking great songs that hadn’t found an audience and turning them into pop hits.
“We used to get slammed by certain people that would say, ‘They’re a cover band,” he said. “We resurrected songs. If one wasn’t a hit the way the (songwriter) did it, we dusted it off and changed it all around.”
While the tightly wound vocals quickly became the band’s calling card, Hutton said the rest of the band was just as impressive.
“All the musicians in the band were lead singers in their own bands,” he said. “There were no rookies. Nobody was faking it.”
The band’s sound was influenced, in part, by the bright tones and sonic energy developed by Hutton’s friend Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys.
Hutton had been hanging out with Wilson during the recordings for “Pet Sounds” and formed Three Dog Night while Wilson worked on another Beach Boys album, “Wild Honey.”
“That really helped me,” Hutton said. “I went to college watching Wilson work. The three-part harmony was the template for Three Dog Night. From Brian I learned how good something had to sound in the studio to make it on the vinyl. You lose presence and a generation of sound, so you really have to know what you’re doing. You just had to sit back and watch. He was the Mozart, the George Gershwin (of that era). He’s the most talented musician I’ve ever seen.”
Part of Three Dog Night’s appeal stems from the group’s ability to dabble in numerous genres while arranging songs for a mass audience.
“The roads we went down on songs, we did it on all of them,” Hutton said. “Every song to me is an intricate puzzle. You have to put a lot of thought into it and really care (about the final result). We’d have fun with songs but you have to tailor it.”
According to the band’s website, Three Dog Night had more hits than any other from 1969 to 1974. Since then the band has seen some lineup changes. Negron left the group in the mid 1980s and Wells died in 2015 at the age of 74.
But additions to the group, including David Morgan (formerly of the Association), may be recognizable to fans of 1960s rock.
Hutton was born in Ireland and has spent much of his life in California, but grew up in the Northeast.
“I came to Boston when I was 4 and a half and stayed until I was 12,” he said. “I have fond memories. When we play the Northeast, we really kick it up.”
His goal on this tour?
“What I hope to do with people, when they come to see us, is suspend time, (to) have people look at each other and say ... ‘I can’t believe how many hits they had,’ and have them leave really happy in a good mood,” Hutton said. “We usually always pull it off.”