Three Dog Night to celebrate legacy, honor late bandmate

Three Dog Night will perform at Williamsport’s Community Arts Center on March 27.
Three Dog Night will perform at Williamsport’s Community Arts Center on March 27. Photo provided

Three Dog Night, one of rock ’n’ roll’s most successful groups of the late 1960s and early ’70s will make a stop in Central Pennsylvania, as Three Dog Night will take the stage at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport on March 27.

Originally formed in Los Angeles in 1968, the legendary music icons are known for their numerous hit songs, including “One,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” “Joy to the World,” “Black and White,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song” and “Shambala.”

Led by lead vocalists, Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron, the band registered 21 consecutive Billboard Top 40 hits between 1969 and 1975, a record that still stands today. Three of those hits made it to the number one spot. The group earned 12 gold albums, sold more than 40 million records, and helped to introduce mainstream audiences to the work of many songwriters, including Paul Williams, Hoyt Axton, Laura Nyro, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Leo Sayer.

Born in Buncrana, Donegal, Ireland, in 1942, Hutton came to the United States at the age of 4. After living in Boston for several years, Hutton and his family relocated to Los Angeles when he was 12. Beginning his childhood in Ireland gave Hutton the early exposure that would prove beneficial to developing his craft and eventual career in music.

“Everybody creates their own music in Ireland; it’s kind of the national spirit there,” he said. “All of my aunts and uncles played and sang, and my mother sang and played mandolin. We’d have these family gatherings and everybody would get up and sing or recite a poem or play an instrument. So I’ve been around it all my life.”

Hutton, 72, eventually began his musical career as a producer and writer for Hanna-Barbera Records in 1964. His job was to get all the happening acts he could find on the street. When he couldn’t find an act, Hutton would go into the studio and write a song, sing the lead on it, and then sing the three-part harmonies. Hutton soon became a singer and songwriter and scored a modest national hit in 1965 with “Roses and Rainbows,” a song that was featured in an episode of the The Flintstones, with Hutton cast in the cartoon singing on television.

In time, the pieces for Three Dog Night began to come together in 1967, as Hutton met Wells and auditioned Negron — forming a vocal trio named Redwood, produced by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.

“Eventually our manager helped us get the guys to form the group, so we became more of a band instead of a vocal trio,” Hutton said. “People don’t realize that at the time it was very different to have three lead singers — nobody had done that. And the guys in the band were such good musicians, and they all could sing too. When we did the vocals for the choruses, it was a pretty mighty sound.”

Released in 1969, “Celebrate,” one of Three Dog Night’s signature songs, prominently features all three singers taking turns on lead vocals.

Keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon, bassist Joe Schermie, drummer Floyd Sneed, and guitarist Michael Allsup rounded out the original band. Today, along with Allsup, and founding members Hutton and Wells, bassist Paul Kingery and drummer Pat Bautz complete the band’s current lineup.

On March 11, Greenspoon passed away at the age of 67 after a brief battle with cancer. Greenspoon took a medical leave of absence from the band last October to pursue treatment for metastatic melanoma.

“I will be forever shattered by his death,” said Cory Wells, in an official statement from the band. “Jimmy cared so much about excellence in the music and always made sure we had what we needed on stage and in the recording studio. I will miss my fellow Aquarian brother and will keep him in my heart forever.”

“He was like a brother to me, I knew him since he was just a teenager and he was my oldest friend in the band,” Hutton said. “Also, Jimmy was a critical part of our early history, bringing a sound to the band that helped develop our style. He left an indelible mark.”

The band plans to continue their 2015 touring schedule and honor their late friend and long-time bandmate. Eddie Reasoner, who came on board during Greenspoon’s leave, now takes over on keyboards.

With two of the three original lead singers remaining in the band, that one aspect alone is vital to keeping the original sound of Three Dog Night intact. “Cory has this incredible blues voice that’s really hard to duplicate,” Hutton said. “But we pretty much could have sung each of the other guy’s songs. We have a bass player who is also a great guitar player, and he does high harmony parts on a lot of the songs. You get the personality of the original records from our voices. We haven’t changed the keys in the songs, so we sound like the records.”

Though they didn’t typically write their own songs, Three Dog Night didn’t cover other artists’ hits either; rather they arranged the songs in their own way that suited the band and their three lead voices. They championed songwriters by taking their songs and essentially making them their own. They all knew that when they heard something it had potential, and they were all on the same wavelength.

“I don’t think we ever covered anybody — I always called it resurrecting,” Hutton said. “Being a great songwriter doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being a good arranger. Sometimes we would get songs that weren’t hits and we’d resurrect them and get the arrangements right and turn them into hits. So that’s what I feel we did. We would get a song and it wouldn’t be personal to us, so we would cut out words, change the verses and move it around. We would do all the things that most people would never do.”

Whether recording in the studio or performing live on stage, Three Dog Night were and still are all real musicians and singers, crafting songs that continue to stand the test of time. “They have good melodies, good choruses, and the lyrics in general are about emotions — emotions never get dated,” Hutton said. “We weren’t political, and that usually puts a real date on your songs. We had big choruses, performed well; and even if you’re singing in a different language and people don’t know what you’re saying, they know good singing and they know good harmonies — and we had that.”

After nearly 50 years in the music business, Hutton considers himself very lucky to just be in good health and doing what he loves to do. “What it does and what it’s done is given me a wonderful life,” he said. “I just feel like we come on a good night and we are the party in that town. With the kind of show that we do — at the end of the night, people usually leave and they’re smiling and singing, and they’re happy. It’s wonderful to have that magic.”