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Three Dog Night's just getting warmed up

Rockers from the '70s hit the road for Spirit Mountain show


In the late 1960s and early ’70s, there wasn’t a bigger U.S. rock ‘n’ roll band than Three Dog Night.

The Los Angeles contingent had 21 top-40 hits from 1969-75, seven of which went gold and three — “Mama Told Me Not to Come,” “Joy to the World” and “Black and White” — reached No. 1 on the charts.

Forty-five years later, four original members — Danny Hutton, Cory Wells, Jimmy Greenspoon and Mike Allsup — remain intact. Joined by “newcomers” Paul Kingery and Pat Bautz, who came on in the early ‘90s, they’ll visit Spirit Mountain Casino at Grande Ronde for a Saturday, May 4, show. Get tickets for the show online at spiritmountain.com/event/three-dog-night.

Lead singer Hutton spoke with the Portland Tribune on Monday from his home in Laurel Canyon, Calif., a famed neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills in which he has made his home since 1977:

Tribune: Can you believe you’re still together after 43 years?

Hutton: I can’t believe I’m still alive. It’s funny, I got a call from Cheech Marin not long ago, which brought to mind something that happened in the early ‘80s. I’m in a mall with my wife and I hear somebody yell out, “Danny, man, I thought you were dead.” It was Cheech.

I couldn’t be happier right now. I’m healthy. The group’s going great. I have a wonderful wife and kids and grandchildren. It couldn’t be better. I’m sitting outside. It’s 75 degrees in L.A. I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in our part of the country. We were in Toronto and Chicago the last two weeks. Back there in the winter, it’s like black-and-white movies. On the West Coast, it’s like technicolor, evergreens and greenery and all that lovely stuff you have up in Oregon.

Tribune: Laurel Canyon was famed as a haven for rock-’n’-rollers in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with such notables as Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell living there. You’ve been there a long time.

Hutton: I don’t even want to tell you what I paid for the house. I love it. It’s 11 minutes from the Sunset Strip. My house is Alice Cooper’s old house. I got rid of all the snakes. Mickey Dolenz used to live next door. My yard, it’s all palm trees. You can’t see another house.

Tribune: So many of the rock bands of your era went through a rather reckless kind of lifestyle. Did Three Dog Night go through much of that, with the drugs and partying and women?

Hutton: We did nothing different from anyone in my era. My favorite thing is finding out Cary Grant did eight trips on acid. He was my idol. Esther Williams did a lot of acid trips. Once you find out why, then it doesn’t seem so crazy.

There was an innocence. Everybody thought life was going to be wonderful. Drugs were not bad. People lived in communes together. Though I was not a commune person, the lower canyon was one of the centers for it. Everybody talks about Haight Ashbury being the origin of the hippie scene. L.A. is where it started.

Tribune: How many shows will you do this year?

Hutton: I’m guessing 50. It’s organic. We don’t say, “This year we’ll do X amount of gigs.” We see what everybody is doing and we make it work. We don’t do bus tours anymore. We can be in New York one night and in Washington state the next day.

Besides Spirit Mountain, I think we have only one other show in May. We’ve been on all sorts of musical charts over the years. Now we’re on medical charts. We have health and dental work to be done. We’re getting ready for the summer onslaught. Once we’re out there, we’re out there. Not a lot of time home.

Tribune: Any idea how many times you’ve played in Oregon?

Hutton: Too many to count. We’ve been in all 50 states many times. In the ‘80s, when my kids were young, we were doing bus tours. My wife and I would drive in our own vehicle. We drove 40,000 miles in a summer. We became road warriors. Most people wait until they retire to start camping. I was doing it the ‘80s and loved it.

Tribune: The legend goes the band got its name from the idea that on a cold night, indigenous Australians would sleep in a hole in the ground with a dingo, a native species of wild dog. If it was cold, it would be a one dog night. If the night was freezing, it was a three dog night.

Hutton: Something like that. Early on, we tried different names. Our manager finally said on a Friday, “Look, I want you guys to meet up, sit down and by Monday I want a name.” We sat down at my kitchen and wrote down about 50 names. Three Dog Night was one of the names. It came out of a magazine called Mankind. I liked the idea that it had a number in it and it was a picture and people would find it odd and would remember it. Our manager was horrified. He said, “You want to have a name with the word ‘dog’ in it?”

Tribune: Though you’ve endured as a band, your hits ended in 1975. Why do you think the magic lasted only seven years?

Hutton: Think about marriages. Have you heard of the seven-year itch? There is something to that. There was a burnout factor. The norm for us was to do 20 to 24 new songs a year, and out of those 24, they expected six to be hit singles. That was a lot of work. We didn’t have some Svengali producer. We had a fabulous producer, but he was like another member of the group. We picked the songs, arranged the songs, performed the songs. Guys got into different things. We broke up for awhile and then got back again in 1980.

When we were hot, we were hot. We hold Billboard magazine’s record as the group that had the most consecutive top-40 hits. For more than six years, we never had a single that didn’t make the top 40. That’s pretty cool. We became very big very quickly. We were the first group after The Beatles that did stadiums. Before Led Zeppelin, before Crosby, Stills and Nash — we were second.

Tribune: You were born in Ireland. How did you get to the States, and at what age?

Hutton: We moved when I was 5. My grandmother was an invalid, and my mother took care of her. After my grandmother died, my uncle had enough money to get my mother, my sister, my brother and me to Boston. One night my mother said, “We’re going to Hollywood.” She had $300 in her pocket. Somehow, we made it work.

Tribune: How often do you practice with the band?

Hutton: Almost never. We all live in different states, except two of us are in California. We’re in Florida, D.C., Michigan, New York, Arizona. We fly in the night before a concert. We have triplicate equipment trucks — two in Indianapolis and one in Las Vegas. Depending on where we’re playing, the truck leaves a couple days ahead of us. We fly in the night before and really don’t have to rehearse, except for a couple of new songs we’re usually doing. Forty-three years later, we better know our stuff.

Tribune: Do you do shows abroad?

Hutton: We’re putting together a European tour in September. We haven’t been there since the early ‘70s. I’ll finally get to play in Ireland. We’ve never played there. I got an email from the Irish ambassador. They’re going to give me an award they give to someone from Ireland who has been successful from a foreign country.

Tribune: How you do decide which songs to play?

Hutton: We play a lot of the obvious hits. We don’t do “The Show Must Go On” anymore. We haven’t done “Try a Little Tenderness” for awhile. We shift around, and at Spirit Mountain, we’ll do two new songs. One of them we’ll play if we’re lucky enough to do an encore. I think it’s an amazing song.

Tribune: Do you have a personal favorite of the songs you’ve done?

Hutton: Not really. I used to. But we started doing symphony songs, and it changes some of the ballads to become incredibly gorgeous songs. “Liar” sounds like a Phil Spector record on steroids.

Tribune: You’re 70 years old. What drives you to continue to perform?

Hutton: It’s fun. Hey, I get to go up to Oregon, then come back home. It’s perfect. We’ll be out all summer, then go to Europe. My wife comes to certain gigs — you can guess which ones. We get to travel. I vowed I wouldn’t do any more cruises, but we’re going to do one in November — on the Royal Caribbean, a wine-and-food tasting cruise with Kenny Loggins. You can’t beat that.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers