Three Dog Night

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Combining Hollywood pizazz with soulful swagger, Three Dog Night sounded big and brassy even in their quietest moments. The bold, colorful blend of show biz savvy, punchy horns, and gutsy vocals gave Three Dog Night a remarkable string of Top Ten singles in the early 1970s, hits that helped define the dawning of post-hippie pop music. A creation of three lead singers, Three Dog Night didn’t write their own material, choosing instead to bring attention to emerging songwriters of their era, a decision that helped build the careers of Harry Nilsson (“One”) and Randy Newman (“Mama Told Me Not to Come”) while deepening the reach of the likes of Laura Nyro (“Eli’s Coming”), Paul Williams (“An Old Fashioned Love Song”), and Hoyt Axton (“Joy to the World,” “Never Been to Spain”). In addition to these hits, Three Dog Night covered Elton John before he was a star in his own right and they cut Ron Davies’s “It Ain’t Easy” two years before David Bowie recorded it for Ziggy Stardust. After a half-decade of extraordinary success, Three Dog Night imploded in the mid-’70s, only to reunite in 1981. Chuck Negron left in 1985, and Danny Hutton and Cory Wells fronted Three Dog Night into 2010s, playing their classic hits to appreciative crowds year after year. Hutton continued to lead Three Dog Night after the death of Wells in 2015.
A veteran of Hanna-Barbera Records, an offshoot of the famed cartoon studio — he had a Top 100 hit in 1965 with the sunshiney “Roses and Rainbows” — Danny Hutton formed Three Dog Night in 1968 with Cory Wells, a veteran of the rock band the Enemys. They soon expanded into a trio with the addition of Chuck Negron. Working under the name Redwood, they came to the attention of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who produced the group singing his songs “Time to Get Alone” and “Darlin’,” but the project never got beyond the demo stage. After parting ways with Wilson, the trio adopted the name Three Dog Night and recruited a band featuring guitarist Michael Allsup, bassist Joe Schermie, drummer Floyd Sneed and keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon. Soon afterward, they were recording an album for Dunhill Records and made their live debut at the Whisky-A-Go-Go.
It took a few months for Three Dog Night’s eponymous debut to find an audience. The record didn’t click until their rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “One” went into the Top Ten halfway through 1969, opening the door for “Easy to Be Hard” and “Eli’s Coming” to reach the Top Ten later that year. Both were taken from the band’s second album, Suitable for Framing, which also featured “Celebrate.” Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” gave Three Dog Night their first number one single in 1970, a position matched by Hoyt Axton’s “Joy to the World” in 1971, a year that also brought the Top Ten hits “Liar,” “An Old-Fashioned Love Song,” and “Never Been to Spain.” “Black and White,” the group’s final number one single, arrived in 1972, with “Shambala” reaching three in 1973 and “The Show Must Go On” closing out their run in the Billboard Top Ten in 1974.
By the end of 1974, Three Dog Night started to lose original bandmembers, with Allsup and Sneed leaving the group to form SS Fools with Schermie, who’d departed TDN back in 1973. After completing the 1975 album Coming Down Your Way, Three Dog Night parted ways with Hutton. His position was filled by Jay Gruska, who appeared on American Pastime, a 1976 album that wound up being the last the band released that decade. Three Dog Night soon collapsed: they played their last show at the Greek Theatre in July 1976, just three months after the release of American Pastime.
Three Dog Night rallied for a reunion — all the original members minus Joe Schermie showed up — in 1981, releasing the new wave-inflected EP It's a Jungle in 1983. The EP failed to reignite interest in their recording career, so Three Dog Night turned to live performances. Soon they started cycling through bandmembers, with Negron leaving the band in 1985. Hutton and Wells carried on with Three Dog Night, usually with guitarist Michael Allsup and keyboardist Jimmy Greenspoon in support, carving out an enduring place on the oldies circuit. Occasionally, the group would issue a live album, such as 2002′s Three Dog Night with the London Symphony Orchestra or 2008′s Greatest Hits Live.
Wells stayed with Three Dog Night until his death in 2015, as did Greenspoon, who died the same year. Allsup left the group in 2021, leaving Hutton the only original member in the 2020s, and he carried on with a lineup that also featured guitarist/singer Paul Kingery and drummer Pat Bautz, who had both been in the band since the ’90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine