Three Dog Night - Jimmy Greenspoon

Onetime Three Dog Night road manager (and later manager) Joel Cohen once said that the only way to get a straight answer out of Jimmy Greenspoon was to ask an insane question. I don't think I've reached the point of insanity - yet - but I have learned that the ubiquitous "Spooner" is rarely at a loss for words.
Here, we discuss his 32-plus-year-tenure with Three Dog Night, including his favorite recordings, along with his autobiography One Is The Loneliest Number (chronicling his many years of chemical addiction) and his solo recording project, Scoring Emotions, released in late 2000.

What influenced your decision to write the book?

Basically, I was keeping a journal when I was in rehab, and even when I was out of my mind and stoned I remembered everything we ever did ... where we went, what color the dressing rooms were ... and the guys would say, "Charlotte," and I'd go, "Charlotte Coliseum, sits up on a hill, walk down a ramp, light green walls, dressing room is to the left." And we'd go there after ten years and they'd go, "Damn! How'd you remember that?" So they always looked to me for some kind of trivia stuff. So, I just kept writing facts and information and I kept a journal when I was in rehab of the recovery end of it. When I got out in '85, my (ex-)wife said "You've got all these things written down in chronological order, all these funny anecdotes and stuff, why don't you try to put it together cohesively and make a book out of it?". Actually, she did the legwork on it and looked around for some publishing companies and got somebody interested ... and they put me together with a ghostwriter (Mark Bego) and I basically just dictated everything that I had written to him and then it was just ... done.
I said I didn't care about making money on it, I just wanted to get this off my chest, sort of part of the recovery process.

So it was a form of therapy ...

Yeah, and in the meantime people had called and said, "Hey, we've been fans for years, and our son has a problem and we couldn't get to him. But he read the book and then he checked himself into a hospital. Thank you for saving his life." Well, okay, there you go. The book has served its purpose, if it got to one person and saved him, that's fine. I don't care about having a best-seller. But I've had a few stories like that, and basically that's the gratification of doing the book. I still go off and speak to different church groups and schools, and I'm still listed in the phone book. I've had people call me at night and say, "Look, I know you don't know me from Adam, but ..." And I say, "that's okay, that's what I'm here for." And when I do my speaking engagements I tell people that I'm in the phone book and it's all confidential if anyone wants to call.

Okay, let's go to music now. Who were your major influences as a musician? Who was it that you heard or saw and said, "I want to do that."

Oh, gosh. Well, I started taking classical piano when I was seven years old, and I listened to anybody and everybody. A lot of jazz pianists - Les McCann - and Jimmy Smith, the jazz organist. And Floyd Cramer (NOTE: Legendary country session player and solo artist - T.W.), who I got a lot of my style from.

Mr. "slipnote."

Yeah, exactly. Which was actually kind of amazing for a seven-year-old kid to be listening to all of that. And then whatever was on the radio. I listened to records and then start figuring out the keyboard parts. As things progressed I just listened to anyone and everyone and became aware of every keyboard player's style and the contributions they made. So then I could listen and say, "Yeah, that's so-and-so on drums, that's so-and-so on keyboards," and so forth. And this went all the back to the early Elvis records, which was interesting because I got to work with some of the guys, like Earl Palmer and Ron Tutt (drums) and Jerry Scheff (bass) and James Burton (guitar), who did all the Ricky Nelson stuff, too. So that was kind of hoot to have been seven years old and listening to these people and then getting to work with them. And there were also people like "The Wrecking Crew" (NOTE: Assemblage of top L.A. session players - T.W.) with Hal Blaine (drums), Larry Knechtel (keyboards) and Joe Osborne (bass) and Tommy Tedesco and Ben Benay (guitars) and everybody who was on everybody's records. And later on it was all the guys from Toto and the Section and they were all friends of all of ours. Each decade had like its own little group of people like that.

How did the classical training come into play with Three Dog Night?

I used a lot of the classical training just reworking things, on the arrangements. Some of the intro things I came up with were from that. The intro to "Old Fashioned Love Song" is a classically-oriented thing. Whenever we'd get the demo and would be working on the arrangement, inevitably the guys would go to dinner and say, "Okay, come up with a hit intro," and I'd say "Fine, go out and eat and when you get back I'll have one," and when they came back and hear what I came up with they'd say, "Oh, cool."
The classical influence can be heard in some of the progressions and some of the solos I do. It's just the way I approach the actual playing. The little snippets of things, like when I did "Prelude To Morning" which we tacked on to "Pieces Of April" was something else that was classically oriented. And even now when I do the solo in "Chest Fever" I'll throw in a little bit of Beethoven. It all comes back ... for a while there, people got burned out on it because of the progressive English bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, who tried to take the classical stuff and ram it down everyone's throats. And I'm doing a solo thing, an instrumental New Age album now, just think Yanni and John Tesh, only cooler. And there's a lot of classical stuff on that. I'll write a song and then think, "Wait! I think I heard that when I was eight years old. I think that's from Chopin - but he's dead, so who cares?"

Michael mentioned to me when we were talking about this great flair you have for intros.

Yeah, and except for one or two, I started every single song. So I told them, "Look, if something ever happens, if you guys p___ me off, I'm just going to go on my own and do an album of hit intros."

Was it THAT easy for you?

Yeah, pretty much. I wouldn't even give it any thought. With "Old Fashioned," for example, I think it took me five or ten minutes. The intro to "Joy To The World" literally took three minutes. When we got the demos they were in such raw form there was nothing to them, just a beat and then someone would start singing. Even when I did the solo for "Out In The Country," I took a couple of stabs at that, a couple of different melodies, and I came up with that solo in five minutes or so. It was one of those things where if it isn't there the first time around or the second time around it's not going to be there.

So, was it your intro to "Joy To The World" that changed that song from a folkish, countryish type song to one with that gospel flavor?

Yep. Exactly.

So everyone else just fell in behind that.

Right. The original demo was just DAT-DAT-DAT, and then Hoyt (Axton) started singing. And the same with "Old Fashioned Love Song," the same with pretty much every song except for "One" where we used the same intro that Nilsson had on the record.

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