Right from the start, you know it’s going to be a fun conversation when Three Dog Night founding member Danny Hutton casually mentions he’s sitting out by the pool on a beautiful Los Angeles morning.
But this isn’t just any pool.
“I bought Alice Cooper’s house up in Laurel Canyon, and I got rid of the snakes,” Hutton says, laughing about the slithering reptilian props Cooper, best known for his ghoulishly great rock music, has used in his live shows for years.
Hutton also assures us Cooper’s former watering hole is filled with nice, sparkling clear water. Not a drop of blood, which most would have seen as par for the course for a swimming pool previously owned by the king of shock rock.
“No, it’s filled with golf balls,” Hutton adds with a big laugh, a reference to Cooper’s passion for golf.
At 77, and with more than 60 years in the music business — the majority of them with Three Dog Night — Hutton has more than earned the right to quit touring, kick off his shoes and look back on a successful career.
But that isn’t Hutton’s style. This year, Hutton and Three Dog Night original guitarist Michael Allsup, along with their band, will play at least 105 shows.
And when they aren’t on the road, they’ve spent considerable time in Hutton’s home studio recording Three Dog Night’s first album since 1986.
During their earliest and most successful years, Three Dog Night was hammered by many critics because they relied too much on covering other artists’ songs.
Their biggest hits — songs like “One,” “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” “Joy to the World,” “Eli’s Coming” and others were written, respectively, by Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Hoyt Axton and Laura Nyro.
“We used to get nailed in a bad way about doing covers, and I always liked to say we didn’t cover songs, we resurrected them,” Hutton says, half joking. “Nilsson’s album came out with ‘One’ on it and it didn’t (become a hit). And then we got the song (which hit No. 5) and it kind of helped him. I think on our first album the only cover we did was Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness.’”
But even Redding’s song was a cover. The tune, written in the early 1930s, was recorded seven times, twice by Frank Sinatra in 1947 and 1960.
No one can accuse Hutton or Three Dog Night of poaching previously recorded tunes on the group’s first album in 33 years, which could be finished by the end of August.
“I wrote six of the songs just to show people that I can write and I’m so happy with what we’re doing,” he says.
Three Dog Night will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, July 25 and 26, in Sound Waves at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
The original group formed in 1967 after Hutton had an idea while listening to some Motown groups. In his opinion, too many Motown acts had one lead singer and several people working behind them.
The idea began to gel after Hutton drove past the old Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles — home of the former Coconut Grove nightclub — and saw the Concours d’Elegance, a collection of incredibly valuable cars displayed on the hotel’s front lawn.
“I realized each car was completely different and magnificent,” he says, recalling that pivotal moment.
“And I thought, ‘What if you had three lead singers (in a band) and all three could really sing? I loved all of the Motown groups, they were all wonderful singers. But they’d have one guy singing lead and then there’d be three guys dancing in the background. I thought we could do a group like that, but with no background singers. When we would sing, one guy would be singing the melody, and the other two guys (Chuck Negron and the late Cory Wells) would be singing just as loud on the microphone. It was more like a horn section.”
(Negron developed a serious heroin addiction in the early 1970s, one of the factors that caused the group to split up in 1976. He kicked the habit and now pursues a solo career. Wells died of cancer in 2015.)
Hutton was influenced by many artists as Three Dog Night was gaining a foothold on popular music, but the person who held the most sway over Hutton was one of his best friends — Beach Boys founding member and musical genius Brian Wilson.
“He was like my mentor, so I was around him when he did the whole ‘Pet Sounds’ album,” he says.
Hutton points to the interacting vocals at the end of the Beach Boys’ 1966 hit “God Only Knows” as an example of how “America’s Band” still influenced him as he wrote songs for the new album.
“It’s not just a big chorus, the (music) moves around and they’re very intricate parts,” he says. “I have about four songs that are just crazy where everybody’s singing these celestial parts. So (the album) is going to be really exciting. I think people are going to be very surprised.”
Despite being in his late ’70s, and the last lead singer standing of the original three, Hutton feels Three Dog Night sounds just as good today as they did a half-century ago.
Unlike some groups that try to freshen up songs from years ago, Three Dog Night is going after the sound their longtime fans remember.
“We sound like the records,” Hutton says. “Hopefully, we sound as good or better than we did in the ‘70s. We haven’t lowered the key in any of the songs. There are no rookies. Everybody really knows their stuff.”