Three Dog Night - Danny Hutton

Danny Hutton. For many Three Dog Night fans (particularly those of the female persuasion), he is that darlin', smilin' Irishman they love to watch onstage.
Danny is actually quite a legendary figure in the early days of Los Angeles' emergence as a major music center in the 1960s. In addition to his own solo career as a performer, he worked behind the scenes as a writer and producer. He also became acquainted with many others who helped shape the face of the L.A. scene in the "swinging 60s." Among these are such notables as Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks (who claimed that the Beatles grew moustaches after seeing some of Danny's promotional photos, they so admired his sense of style)and Kim Fowley, among many others.

It was Danny's vision that led to the formation of the group that became Three Dog Night, and his friendship with Brian that led to their first demos, which Brian produced. It has been said that the group may have been signed to the Beach Boys' Brother Records, but that infighting among the Beach Boys nixed that idea.
Danny and I had the chance, in this 2003 conversation, to try to cover as much of that ground as possible, from his solo days through TDN's glory years and beyond. And, true to form, Danny frequently punctuates his comments - with smiles.

How much do you remember about Ireland?

Ireland? You mean when I was little?


Not a lot. You know when you have one of those things where you don't know if it's dreams of it's just things that have been told to me so many times?

I know what you mean.

My mother ... We had a family home on the main street of the town of Buncrana, and, just before she had me, for some ungodly reason, she sold the house and moved up to Derry. And (she) hated it there and was homesick, 12 miles away, and came back. And there was a little place called the gatehouse, and that's where she had me. She had me in this little teeny house, about a block and a half away. I remember the fireplace ... and I remember playing in the street with some of the other little kids.

How old were you when you moved to Boston?

Four and a half. I remember we came over on TWA. We flew over, and went to New York, and I remember having ice cream when we got off the plane. Everybody in that family was sick, airsick, except me. I loved it, and I remember the taste of that vanilla ice cream. Then we went to Boston.
We were the "poor relations." We were the ones that came over last. My mother's brothers had all come over, years before, and we were the last ones to come over, and I remember they had us at their house for, like, two weeks, my uncle Eddie, who was the oldest brother. And then my mother got a little apartment, down in the south end of Boston, and that was really rough in the 40s.

Did the interest in music start there in Boston?

No, that had always been there. Well, in Boston, at least, we always had what we called "big nights," where all the relatives would get together and everyone would do something. You'd recite a poem or play an instrument or sing a song. And everybody just gets up and does that. And I, of course, refused. I wouldn't do any of that. My Uncle Bill played nine instruments, and my Uncle Eddie played flute and danced, and my Aunt Mary played the harmonica (laughs) and used to sing "I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts," Spike Jones.

(Laughs) Right.

So everybody could do something. And my brother played the trumpet and my sister sang. And I was the shy kid that hid under the table, and wouldn't do anything, which is weird.

So, when did the bug bite?

Well, the first record that knocked my socks off that I remember was "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise," an old 78 (RPM) record by the Firehouse Five Plus Two. Dixieland. The song would start slow and then at the end it would get faster and faster and faster. And that was the first one that, for whatever reason, got me. And I found out later that they were all cartoonists at Walt Disney that, on the side, played.
Then, I guess, it was Lavern Baker. There was a guy named Symphony Syd that, I think, used to come on a station out of New York. Howard Stern's father was his engineer, in fact (laughs). And I heard "Jim Dandy" by Lavern Baker and then I heard the original "Sh-Boom," that wasn't by the Crew Cuts.

The Chords.

The Chords, which I thought was great. So, that's the early stuff that registered in my head.

Who was it, other than those two, that you heard and said, "That's what I want to do?"

I don't know if it's "that's what I want to do," but "that's what I want to hear." It would have to be Little Richard. I had all of his 78s on Speciality - still have 'em - and I thought that was it, that he was rock and roll. And, because of my brother, I still listen to Stan Kenton and Chet Baker and that kind of stuff. I'd hear that around the house.
And then I liked folk music. The Kingston Trio ... you know, that whole A Mighty Wind movie, that they're goofin' on? (laughs)

(Laughs) Yeah.

That whole commercialized folk? Yeah. I liked that. Hangin' in the coffeehouses and drinking expressos, smoking a pipe.

One of my favorites was the Rooftop Singers, remember them?

Oh, yeah! What was that song? That big song?

"Walk Right In."

Yeah! "Walk Right In." That had that great 12-string (guitar) on it, and ... (sings opening guitar riff from "Walk Right In"). Yeah.

That goes back to 1930 or something.

That song?

Yeah. Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, or something like that.

But, yeah, just all that early stuff like that.

You didn't actually start to play until well after you moved to L.A., right?

I didn't start to play until I went to Ireland, when I was 17. I bought a guitar in Belfast, for about 14 bucks. I had that guitar for years; I wrote everything on this little cheap guitar, inexpensive guitar. Actually, Danny Whitten, the guy that was in Crazy Horse, the guy that the song was about ...

"The Needle And The Damage Done?"

Right. Well, he was at my house, near the end. And Danny took my guitar and hocked it, and I kicked him out of the house. He was actually one of the guys that we were contemplating to be the third singer in Three Dog Night. But the voice wasn't exactly right.

How did the Hanna-Barbera contract come about?

Contract? A contract?

(Laughs) The record deal, then.

I'd been working at Disney, unloading, in the warehouse, working for Buena Vista Records. And I used to hang out at night at IHOP, International House of Pancakes, across from Hollywood High, Orange and Sunset. Liberty Records was next door, and everybody - either at nine at night, before they went out to the clubs, or after two - everybody would go there. All the musicians, to eat breakfast, and I just started hanging there.
And I met this guy named Pat Vegas and his brother Lolly ...

Oh, sure.

... who later became Redbone. Pat said, "You gotta meet this guy named Kim Fowley." So Kim (laughs) came climbing over the wall of my house and came in, and I met Kim Fowley. And I ended up just driving him around, and learning a lot about the business. He introduced me to a guy named Larry Goldberg at Hanna-Barbera. Hanna-Barbera decided that they were going to start a rock and roll part of their label. So this guy Larry Goldberg was trying to get that job and he told me, "I can go there and get you some happening people." So then he then got me, basically so he could get the job, and said "here's a young guy in the streets that knows all the new, happening stuff." So, they brought me in. They brought me in as kind of an all-around guy, producer/writer, and they had me put a melody on these lyrics that they had. And they went, "Great." And that was the start of it.

But you also ended up doing some cartoons and things too?

Well, that's what I'd do. I'd do some little background stuff on cartoons. What they would do is find ... what a lot of labels are doing now, actually, is go and find a regional hit and then buy the master and then release it on Hanna-Barbera. And I was kind of the "in-house" guy, so I would go in the studio ... like on a record by the Bats, I played everything on it. The drums were just a leather seat, that I slapped.

Sounds like some of the old Elvis things, with a cardboard box.

Yeah. And I slowed the tape down and did a picking guitar, 'cause I really wasn't a very good guitar player, and then sped the track back to normal and it had this high, harpsichord sound on it, that kind of stuff. You used to just have to invent what was happening.

Pre-Dog Night - 1970 compilation of Danny's 1960s solo material (out of print)

Then came "Roses And Rainbows."

Yeah. That was part of a three-hour session, a standard union session, and I'd done it as a demo, and they liked the demo. We had Earl Palmer - Little Richard's drummer - and I did the vocals later. But that was a great session. And then we did "Dancing In The Street," which I knew wasn't going to happen. Covering Motown, that was insane.

Well, the Beatles did it (laughs).

(Laughs) Well, that's a little different. But, I was not an artist at all, I was a studio guy. But they said, "we think this could actually happen," so they went and took me over to their manager, a guy they had, and I signed some ridiculous contract with him.

Oh, brother.

I gave away all the publishing, and half the writing, to a song I wrote completely, to this Larry Goldberg guy. But, they did a big hype, actually. They put me in a cartoon, The Flintstones, and in Billboard they put in a floppy disc (NOTE: not a computer disc, but a thin plastic record known as a "soundsheet." -- T.W.), which I never saved, that you could tear out and play. And then they took some thing from a kiddie album, that I just sang part of, on the back, which was horrible for any kind of an image thing. I had no control over it.
Then, I went out on tour, and I remember coming back and somebody in the office, jokingly, said, "You know you're paying for everything in this office, including the stamps. Your royalties." So, I got a new manager, David Anderle, and they got me off Hanna-Barbera.

Tell me about "Funny How Love Can Be." The Ivy League song ... (NOTE: The Ivy League was a British band that didn't make the boat for the "Invasion." -- T.W.)

That's right; that's right.

A ballad, that you did at hyperspeed.

I found that song somewhere, and it didn't happen in the States. And I loved it. Anderle then went to MGM, and he got me, I think, a singles deal. And I got Gene Page to do the arrangements. I heard an album of 18th Century instruments, they were old, old instruments. When you hear symphony orchestras now, Beethoven, how they sounded then were entirely different because the instruments were different. They didn't sound at all the same way. Anyway, I just told him what I wanted - a countermelody here and this there - and Gene did the charts. And we had (engineer) Dave Hassinger at RCA do the song. And we had Carol Kaye on bass, (guitarist) Tommy Tedesco, (drummer) Hal Blaine ... the whole "Crew" was there.

The "Wrecking Crew." (NOTE: Legendary group of L.A. session players. -- T.W.)

Well, I didn't know that at the time. I just knew they were the best guys. And Gene, they worked a lot with Gene. And, Frank Zappa came; Frank was with MGM at the time, and I really think it influenced him. If you listen to that song, it's very like a Zappa kind of thing. And he went, "Whoa! This is cool." And I'd taken acid by then, so my head was ... I mean, I was fine, but ... it was a legal drug then.

Yep; in California, it sure was.

Cary Grant had taken a whole bunch of it (laughs), and I thought, "if it's good enough for Cary, it's good enough for me." Anyway, the session really went great.

Did you do all the harmonies on that?

Yeah, I did all the harmonies.

In a way, it sounds like an early Three Dog Night record because of those harmonies.

Yeah; yeah, you're right. All the slides ...

2003 British CD compilation of Three Dog Night hits (courtesy Universal/Spectrum)

Yeah; a precursor to it.

Yeah, those slides, which we did on the end of "One Man Band." And like we do on "Chest Fever." Yeah, it's the same kind of block harmony. Same stuff. But, afterwards, I took it home and then I said to Dave, "I love it, but it doesn't have the bottom that I expected." And he said, "Danny, in the studio it's really got to sound immense." And I said, "It does, but ..." And he said, "Come in the other room; I want you to listen to this thing I've just done. I'll show you what I mean." And he played me "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," the master tape (laughs).

That was at RCA (studio).

Right. The little place. But, I was stunned. The whole room bounced around. So, I learned a lesson there, too.

And you met Cory on the tour after "Roses And Rainbows?"

Yeah. He was ... Yeah, you know that story, Tom. And then I went out of town, and came back and he was playing at the Whisky (A' Go Go), and my manager and I went to see him. And I thought, "what a great voice."

And you did some production work for the Enemys.

Yeah. I was the hot guy at the time, I had a couple of local hits, and we had the guy that did Simon & Garfunkel's first hit (Tom Wilson), and I just went into the studio, and getting them to do some crazy stuff. Like getting a board out and having them stomp on it, just (laughs) weird stuff like that.

And, "Hey Joe" was one of the things you did with them?

Yeah. That was my song, my opening song, on the "Roses And Rainbows" tour, and Cory really liked it. And I said, "Oh, okay, go ahead, you can do it."

And both of you and everyone else wound up doing it.

Well, yeah, but after Tim Rose, I think I did it first, really. This was before the Grass Roots, all those guys, did it.

And (Jimi) Hendrix.

Oh, yeah; way before that.

Did Chuck do some background vocals with you?

We did ... not on my records. We did backgrounds for somebody else, actually, a friend of mine. Actually, on the back side of "Funny How Love Can Be" was "Dreaming Isn't Good For You." (NOTE: Later recorded by TDN for Suitable For Framing. -- T.W.)

Yeah; right.

And, on the demo, I had Stephen Stills on that demo.

So this was before Buffalo Springfield.

Yeah. He was just in town, and I had met him through Van Dyke Parks.