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Thursday, Sep. 18, 2014

Basic Biittner: Blast from the Past

Monday, September 13, 2010

This weekend we went to the Clay County Fair to attend a performance by a classic rock group from the late 60s - early 70s, Three Dog Night. 3DN is a bit of an unsung group - you never hear them mentioned as a candidate for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example - but for a few years, they were as popular as any act, with 21 hit singles over a four year period. During those years, I know they were right up near the top of my personal musical pantheon, anyway. One of the reasons that I think 3DN has not received the attention that other acts have is that they did not write their own songs in any era where just about everyone else did.

Though they did not compose their own music, 3DN showed a genius in finding young unknown composers and bringing their music to the public.

This apparently came about because of the past experiences of one of the group's original lead singers, Chuck Negron. Negron, a native of the Bronx, spent a lot of time visiting the Brill Building in New York, a place where many of the popular songs of the 60s were composed, and the connections he made there apparently paid off in the 3DN days. Among the young composers whose material 3DN selected to record were Alan Toussaint (Play Something Sweet), Laura Nyro (Eli's Coming), Hoyt Axton (Joy to the World, Never Been to Spain), Paul Williams (Family of Man, Old Fashioned Love Song), Harry Nilsson (One) and one Elton John (Lady Samantha). The first version of John's signature song, "Your Song," that I heard, in fact, was the one recorded by 3DN.

Though the names of these composers may not be familiar to all readers, believe me, they wound up being the most successful pop tune-smiths of the day. And though 3DN is not in the Rock Hall, Toussaint and Sir Elton John are, and they may be joined someday by Nyro and Nilsson. Another composing team, Lennon and McCartney, also provided 3DN with the opening song on their first album , "It's For You," a unique song, never recorded by the Beatles, which shows off the three lead voices of the group. Williams had a brief acting career in the "Smokey and the Bandit" films, but is best known as the composer of "We've Only Just Begun" and many other hits by the Carpenters and Three Dog Night.

Three Dog Night were also pioneers, or ground-breakers, in a couple of areas. They were one of the first multi-racial groups (drummer Floyd Sneed was an African - American), and they were also the first (and perhaps the only) group to feature three lead singers, as Negron, Corey Wells and Danny Hutton were singers only - that is, their voices were their only instruments.

The original Three Dog Night disintegrated years ago, thanks largely to the severe drug habit of Negron, but Wells and Hutton have continued to perform through the years and original guitarist Michael Allsup and keyboard player Jimmy Greenspoon still provide the duo with strong accompaniment. The original drummer (Sneed) and bass player (Joe Schermie) have been replaced, and the guy who currently plays bass (Paul Kingery) also serves as the third singer, replacing Negron, who overcame his addiction in 1991, has written a book ("Three Dog Nightmare") about his experiences, and continues to perform as a solo act.

3DN also has another spot reserved in my memory bank, as they were the first concert my young bride and I attended (in the old Veteran's Auditorium in Des Moines) some 40 years ago this summer. I'm happy to say that, though times have changed and so have we, that young bride accompanied me to the concert again on Sunday, and we enjoyed the superb music of Three Dog Night all over again. Thanks for the memories, guys!

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner