Three Dog Night’s founder and lead singer, Danny Hutton, returns to Belly Up Aspen
Special to The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: An Evening with Three Dog Night
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Friday, Aug. 23, 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: Sold out
More info: bellyupaspen.com
“Jeremiah was a bullfrog. Was a good friend of mine.” More than likely, you can recite the next line of “Joy to the World,” one of the many hits that American rock band Three Dog Night has produced (it also happens to be the song played at the end of every Denver Broncos home victory).
Danny Hutton, lead singer and founder of Three Dog Night, is returning to Belly Up for a sold-out show with his band Friday.
“We’re firing on all cylinders, and I’m just thrilled to still be doing it,” Hutton, now 77, said in a recent phone interview from his Laurel Canyon home in the Hollywood Hills.
After 51 years together, Three Dog Night’s longevity is no doubt impressive.
“I think the key to our success is our songs,” Hutton said. “Our songs are universal because mood-wise, they are either about emotions which never get old, or they are party songs which also never get old.”
Hutton’s early days as a live performer included going on “American Bandstand” with The Lovin’ Spoonful and going on the road with Sonny & Cher when they first released “I Got You, Babe.” That was the start of singing publicly for Hutton. Eventually, he broke off and started a band designed for three singers.
Formed in 1967, the band’s original three singers were Hutton, Cory Wells, and Chuck Negron. Popular hit songs include “Never Been to Spain,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “One,” and “Joy to the World.” The band registered 21 Billboard Top 40 hits (with three hitting No. 1) between 1969 and 1975.
“We have not lowered the keys in any of the songs. We go out to kick butt. I want to leave the stage and give them the finger and say ‘follow that’ to whoever is up next,” Hutton said.
Brian Wilson, co-founder of The Beach Boys, acted as a mentor for Hutton through the years.
“We bonded and became quick friends,” Hutton recalled. “He taught me how to produce and arrange like no one else. He’s like Mozart. When he did the ‘Pet Sounds’ album, I was there. When he did the ‘God Only Knows’ session, which Paul McCartney calls the best song ever written, I was there.”
“Joy to the World” was originally intended to be on a Saturday morning children’s cartoon show and the band members first thought of it as a silly song for kids. The tune quickly turned into a smash Billboard no. 1 hit and became one of the best-selling singles of all time.
“I thought the song was just nuts,” Hutton said. “I never thought it was going to work. We ended up doing it and sticking it on the album. We had two hits off the album, and we were ready to move along, and the record company phoned and said, ‘We’re getting calls, crazy calls from everywhere, all over the country about that song,’ and we couldn’t believe it.”
The single was out for less than two months before, on April 9, 1971, “Joy to the World” was certified gold.
“Who knew?” Hutton said. “It’s funny because everybody loves it. It makes me feel good, it makes everybody feel good. It’s one of those universal songs. It’s like lightning in a bottle. How do you plan that? It’s wonderful.”
Hutton went on to talk about one particular gig in England at the Marquee Club where he became good friends with a writer named Reggie Dwight. Turns out, it was a sold-out show and the guest list was full.
“We snuck Reggie backstage as a roadie and he pretended to load equipment in the whole time,” Hutton said.
Reggie would eventually go on to change his name to Elton John.
“When Elton first came to the States, I brought him to his first restaurant,” Hutton said. “He even sent me the demo for ‘Your Song’ before it was released.”
For the first time since 1986, Three Dog Night is now recording a new album — six of the songs written by Hutton.
“I think people are going to be so surprised,” Hutton said. “We do at least one new song at every show. You must stick your toe in the water to see how it’s going to go. I’m telling you the truth — the new songs get a standing ovation every night.”
Hutton expects that the new album should be all wrapped up by mid-September.
“We have our fanbase, but we’re picking up new people, too,” Hutton said. “I love watching these college kids looking like, ‘OK, what are these old cats going to do now?’ Then just going in, having their jaw dropped and say, ‘Wow, man. They look old but damn, they sound good.’”
Marilu Henner won’t be able to appear in Theatre Aspen’s production of “Love Letters” on Saturday at Paepcke Auditorium.