Joe Schermie

Lively bass player with Three Dog Night
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The Independent Online

Joseph Schermie, bass player: born Madison, Wisconsin 12 February 1945; married (one son); died Los Angeles 25 March 2002.

Three dog night are largely regarded as one-hit wonders in the UK – their only Top Twenty hit was "Mama Told Me Not to Come" in 1970 – but they had considerable success in America with 21 Top Forty hits, including three No 1s.

Their bass player Joe Schermie was born in Wisconsin in 1945 and raised in Arizona. He played in various rock groups at school and then worked in bar bands in Los Angeles. The Irish-born singer Danny Hutton wanted to form a group that would feature strong harmony singers and Schermie became a founder member of his concept, Three Dog Night, in 1968. The name was chosen because Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth and a bitterly cold night was a "three dog night".

The group featured the lead and harmony singing of Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron. Michael Allsup played lead guitar, Jim Greenspoon keyboards, Schermie bass and Floyd Sneed drums. Their album Three Dog Night (1968) included their first hit singles, "Try a Little Tenderness" and Harry Nilsson's "One". Their second, Suitable for Framing (1969), included "Easy to be Hard" from Hair and Laura Nyro's "Eli's Coming".

Although the group contained some competent songwriters including Schermie, their skill lay in finding excellent material by little-known writers. The success of Nilsson and Nyro's songs helped their own careers and Randy Newman had his only chart-topping success via their version of his risqué "Mama Told Me Not to Come". In this witty song, an innocent young man finds himself at a wild party: "I seen so many things I ain't never seen before / Don't know what it is, I don't want to see no more." Three Dog Night were often criticised for their showband arrangements, but they championed several notable writers and their cover versions are much better than their critics thought.

Their producer, Richard Podolor, worked with the Grateful Dead and Three Dog Night simultaneously. He recalled,

Working with the Dead was absolutely insane but then I would go to Three Dog Night, who would be discussing fishing trips. They had three lead singers with different styles and that gave me a lot of scope.

In 1971 Hoyt Axton played Schermie "Joy to the World" a song he had written for a children's television show. Schermie recommended the song to the band, who turned a fairly inane song into a joyful celebration of life. It topped the US charts for six weeks in 1971 but only scraped into the Top Thirty in Britain.

Holidaying in Europe, Hutton heard a UK hit, "Black and White", by Greyhound. Three Dog Night's own version topped the US charts in 1972. The song, which was co-written in 1955 by David Arkin, the father of the actor Alan Arkin, celebrated the US legislation to ban segregation in schools.

Three Dog Night were an enormous concert attraction, playing 200 dates a year. Schermie was a lively bass player, and noted for the Troll doll that he fixed to the top of his guitar. They had a successful double-album with Around the World with Three Dog Night (1973) and during their travels they recognised the potential of Leo Sayer's "The Show Must Go On", a US Top Ten hit for the group in 1974. Ironically, Sayer's lyric foretold the end of the group. They were tired of constantly touring and the group disbanded shortly after Negron was arrested for possessing cocaine in 1975.

Schermie went into session work but he also played with the band S.S. Fools. His most recent band, KATT (Katt and the Time Trippers) reunited him with Floyd Sneed, his long-time friend from Three Dog Night.

Spencer Leigh

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