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Three Dog Night finds enduring success

The 1960s-era band has the hits, Billboard rankings and gigs to prove its lasting appeal.

July 18, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Three Dog Night co-founder Cory Wells.
Three Dog Night co-founder Cory Wells. (Daily Pilot )

In terms of critical plaudits or recent exposure, Three Dog Night may not be the biggest name at this year's OC Fair Summer Concert Series.

Still, by one mathematical formula, it's the most successful act in rock history.

In 2007, when statistician Joel Whitburn released his 12th edition of "Top Pop Singles," he introduced a new formula, the Top Pop Hit Average, which calculates the average chart peak for an artist's Billboard hits. Among acts with enough hits to qualify, Three Dog Night scored the highest with an average of 12.

That number — think of it as the pop-music equivalent of "Moneyball" — features prominently on Three Dog Night's website, which boasts that the band "continues to top the list of artists with the best Billboard Top 100 Chart average." So how did the group, whose signature tunes include "Black and White," "One" and "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," score so consistently?

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"It all boils down to, we were in the right place at the right time, with the right chemistry," said co-founder Cory Wells, who will take the stage with fellow lead vocalist Danny Hutton and two other original members Friday. "That's what it was."

Wells, reached by phone Tuesday, doesn't have a particularly romantic view of the music industry. He admits that lucky breaks benefit a career more than talent, that a band's growth is often at the mercy of audience tastes and that, sometimes, he really does get tired of playing "Joy to the World" one more time.

But considering that Three Dog Night, by Wells' count, plays 60 to 80 shows a year, he's not ready to pack it in yet. Last year, the band joined the OC Fair lineup for the third time, and this week, it will take the stage with the Grass Roots, the 1960s-era band who scored with "Midnight Confessions" and other songs.

Dan Gaines, the fair's entertainment director, called Three Dog Night a recurring favorite for two reasons: its loyal audience and the fact that the band charges a modest performance fee, which allows for cheaper ticket prices.

"They do exceptionally well," Gaines said. "They've never sold out, but they always come very, very close."

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