An Interview with Danny Hutton

There’s a Three Dog Night song on the radio right now.  Or maybe it’s on television. Or stuck in your head– and if not… just wait. Iconic is just one word to describe the music, songs like “One”, “Never Been To Spain”, “Old Fashioned Love Song”, “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)”, to name only a few, have become standards– and who doesn’t light up with the first line of “Joy to the World”? Jeremiah was a bullfrog! See, you’re smiling and singin’ it right now! Formed in 1967, Three Dog Night found consistent success with excellent songs from talented writers and dynamite vocal performances from a trio of lead singers– Chuck Negron, Cory Wells, and Danny Hutton. With a career that started in the cartoon industry and wove around Laurel Canyon and the L.A. punk scene, Danny Hutton has seen music evolve, ebb, and flow through six decades. He’s a man who appreciates much and requires little– just a good song and an audience to sing it to. It’s apparent how much fun David Higdon had while speaking with Mr. Hutton, and if that’s any indication then Three Dog Night at the Macon City Auditorium on December 6th will certainly be a show to celebrate!

 

David Higdon: We are excited to have Three Dog Night coming to Macon.

Danny Hutton: Oh, it is going to be wonderful. You know, I love touring. We are actually off for three weeks, which is unusual. We are recording. I am very excited about that as it has been a while since we have been in the studio mode. It is great; I am energized.


So, how do you switch gears from a live show setting to being in the studio? Is that a

hard transition?

No, not at all. The studio is at my house. I bought my house from Alice Cooper; it has a real nice setup. My two sons run the studio; it is their studio. A lot of young bands come in here, and I get to hear a lot of the new bands and speak to them.


Constantly finding new music and finding what the new trend is?

Yeah, we had Jimmy Cliff in here a while back. You know, he’s a reggae superstar.

 

Of course, he’s a legend. “The Harder They Come.”

Yeah. My son recorded an album here with him, and they got Reggae Album of the Year, so that was a lot of fun… What a lot of people can expect to hear at the show, well, what I hear and read, are the reviews on Ticketmaster, “I had no idea that they (Three Dog Night) had so many hits,” or, “They sound good for old guys!” We haven’t lowered the key in anything. We are all firing on all cylinders. If you like the records, we sound like the records or better. There are a couple of those songs on the records that we would have changed the tempo, and now we have corrected them. We tour arenas, performing arts centers, the old vaudeville 1,200 seat theaters, festivals, outdoor amphitheaters, all sorts of venues, and I just love it. My idol is Tony Bennett, and he is 92. I just want to be there on stage when I am that age; why not?


You say Tony Bennett, and even at his age, the guy is relevant. He was creating new music and performing with Lady Gaga. He has stayed fresh.

Oh yeah, and he can still hit above a high C, and that is something else.


And, all the men in the audience are still worried that they could lose their wife to Tony Bennett when he sings.


(Laughing) Oh, I agree.


Three Dog Night at such quick success at the beginning that you went from playing small clubs to arenas almost overnight.


After The Beatles, we were the first group to play stadiums. People seem to think that it was Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, but it was us. We were the first band to go out with screens and a big sound system and stuff. We had Rod Stewart & The Faces open for us at the Cotton Bowl.


Wow! That had to have been something.


Yeah, it was. It was crazy. There was a lot of Grand Marnier backstage. Those guys like that heavy stuff! That was fun. They were a fun party band. We played with The Beach Boys to half a million people at the Washington Monument. We have had some cool, crazy gigs. Ringo on drums (laughs); that was very crazy.


You have named a lot, and I couldn’t ask you narrow that down to a favorite show. It sounds like you have gained so many memorable experiences playing live year after year.


We have done two Super Bowls. We did the Super Bowl in Tampa when Whitney Houston sang the National Anthem. Do you remember that?

 

Do I? That is one of the definitive versions of the National Anthem ever performed.


What I liked about that show was that we shared the dressing room with, well, locker room I guess, with every guy who had played in the Super Bowl up until that time. Larry Csonka, Mean Joe Greene, all of those guys. So, we were just hanging backstage with them, and it was amazing when you see just how big these guys are. It was a lot of fun. We had 21 consecutive Top 40 Hits. Anybody coming to see us, whatever type of music that you like, it will probably be in our set. Genre-wise, a lot of people don’t realize that we weren’t pigeon-holed into a heavy metal thing, or a country thing, or a folk thing. We were on the easy listening charts, the pop charts, the rock n roll charts, the country & western charts, #1 on the R&B charts with “Mama Told Me Not to Come.” Went to London, England and recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, so we were on the classical charts also. During the evening, just hang on, and we will get to your type of music.


Have you been in California since forming Three Dog Night?


I was born in Ireland and moved to Boston when I was about 4 ½ then moved out to, as my Mom would say, “Hollywood”– she would never call it “L.A.”– when I was 12, and I have been here ever since; I am 76. I have been here a long time. I finally became a citizen of the US 4 years ago. I waited a long time, but I figured it was time.


You have seen a lot of musical movements in California. Did you find that it was a supportive scene when you were getting your start?


Well, I really didn’t come at music from a guy playing live and in bands doing five sets a night. I got my start at Disney Studios literally at the bottom of the music world: I loaded and unloaded albums out of trucks for Buena Vista Records, and that’s how I started. Through strange circumstances, I ended up going to Hannah-Barbera. They started a label, a rock n roll record company, and I was head of A&R there. I produced, wrote, played a lot of instruments, and sang all the harmonies on the songs that they did. I was a studio rat– one of those guys– so, I didn’t come at it from that point of view. I was around for the whole music scene. I was doing the whole cartoon stuff. They actually drew me and put me The Flintstones.


Did they really?


Yeah, there’s an episode with this Brian Epstein/Beatles manager type guy who goes and discovers Pebbles and Bam-Bam. So, he goes to visit Fred’s house, and they are sitting and watching me on TV. They tell me, “Hey, we are going to release this as a single.” I said, “I’m not an entertainer; I’m a studio guy.” They said, “Well, you’re gonna have to go out and plug this record.” So, I ended up playing American Bandstand with The Lovin’ Spoonful. The first live show that I did was opening with Sonny & Cher when they had “I Got You Babe.” 5,000 people. I said, “Oh my god, I’m either going to go out and faint or do it.” So, that was my first exposure to playing live. I then went out on tour with for three weeks. The whole scene in Laurel Canyon when Stephen Stills and all of those guys came to town, and I was their neighbor. They had the first hit with The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” in April ’65. I was the second guy in Laurel Canyon to have a hit with “Roses and Rainbows” that I did. I was around that whole scene in ’65 and ’66. It is funny that the papers always jumped on the Year of Love, I guess it was ’67 in San Francisco– but it was actually in ’65 in L.A. when it all happened. The Jefferson Airplane were recording in RCA Studios down on Sunset, and The Rolling Stones recorded “Satisfaction” at the same studio, and this was all in ’65. And all of those groups– The Byrds, Love– that was all happening when I got into the scene.

 

That’s powerful and amazing to think of those studios. Here in Macon, you know, we have the history of the Capricorn Studios…


Oh yeah, all of the Allman Brothers stuff was recorded there.

 

You got it.


I was buddies with those guys in the old days. We had a few drinks.


When you come to town, you should visit their old house. It has been turned into a museum with their old memorabilia in it.


Really! That would be cool to do that. Our thing is that we all live in different states, and we do these five day runs with a travel day in between. We fly and meet somewhere and the tour bus will be there, and then we travel. We usually leave around midnight and get into the next city in the middle of the morning, and I usually go back to bed (laughing). But, if it falls on a day off, I would love to do something like that.


I have got to ask you– when I was researching for this interview, I came across that you spent some time managing some punk rock bands.


Yeah! I did that here in L.A.


FEAR with Lee Ving, Spit Sticks, all those guys.

 

Three Dog Night stopped touring for about two years, and I started going out of my mind. I started going to the clubs, this was in the later ‘70s. I saw this band at The Troubadour, and my mind was just blown by FEAR. I don’t know if you have ever seen this movie “The Decline of Western Civilization”…


Of course, Penelope Spheeris…


That was when I managed them was during that filming. Yep, Penelope, and Darby Crash and The Germs, X…


Oh yeah, X, one of my all-time favorites, The Blasters…


Yep, I was around all of those guys during the whole time. We would play the Whisky, and FEAR would come up early before the show and get whatever cheap beer they had and pour it into their hair and then spike it; they were quite a sight. It was a good experience for me; people don’t realize that. When people ask me what kind of music I like? Good. I like good music. We play every style of music. I am open to everything. I am not so much into rap, but I do like Eminem. A lot. I think that he is a smart cat.


Did Lee Ving ever try to convince Three Dog Night to cover a FEAR song?


(Laughing) No, I don’t think that I could sing the “I don’t care about you, f–k you” (laughing). I couldn’t do that. And that was my problem with FEAR– I couldn’t get them on the radio at the time. And all of their songs had either an “F” word or “scum” or, you know, they were really politically incorrect with women… ”Beef, Beef, Bologna.” I don’t think that we can cover any of that.

 

Were you managing FEAR when they had their infamous Saturday Night Live appearance?


No, but they were Belushi’s favorite group. Have you ever seen the picture of him hitchhiking with a FEAR button?


Yeah… I had read that Belushi had tried to get FEAR on the Neighbors soundtrack and that the producers just said, “Uh, no…”.


Yeah, I just couldn’t get any action for them. They were recognized as probably the first speed metal band. If you listen to their tracks, those guys were so tight, I mean they were tight. They were good. And everybody respected them. Lee Ving, with all of these other groups, he would come into the dressing room and look at everybody and say (sneering), “God bless you…God bless you all.” Everybody was like, “OK, OK. Go away.” (laughing).


That is what people don’t recognize about punk rock. They think that it is easy and simplistic, but you really have to be dialed into the other players to be able to pull it off.


Oh yeah. Well, you can do that thing where you only know two chords, and thrashing and cutting yourself and being sloppy but being threatening– but that doesn’t appeal to me. What appealed to me was that FEAR were just…they did this instrumental that was just so crazy tight that, I mean, it was amazing.


I know that you have a busy day, and I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. We are excited that Three Dog Night is coming to town and with all of the music that you have given us.


That’s great; thank you. They are actually using three of our songs right now– one is for a TV show, one for one of those Pixar things, and RuPaul is using “Mama Told Me” for her drag queen series. So people hear our songs all of the time, and they don’t know it. “Shambala”… and there is one of those big box stores, and they are using “Joy to the World”, but they have recorded ten commercials– ten scenarios– and my grandkids love that, especially during the holidays.


I am sure that you receive requests all of the time to have Three Dog Night’s songs used for movies or TV.


Oh yeah, we have a whole bunch of them coming up this year. I tell you, it is wonderful: I am in good health, and I weigh what I weighed in 1969; I have my hair, and we haven’t lowered the key, so what more could you want? I am so proud of the guys; we sound as good, if not better, than the records, and that is hard to do.

 

Yes, it is.


As my mother said, “Self-praise is no praise at all,” (laughing) but I am just telling you the truth! We just want everyone to come out, and believe me, you will leave with a smile on your face. We’re not there to lecture or to speak about politics or do dark and gloomy, and there is nothing at all wrong with that, but it is just not what we do. For an hour or two, just escape all of the pressures, all of the stuff; get away from the news, and just forget your troubles and have a good time.

 

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