It’s a Friday night in Knoxville, Tennessee. Former Three Dog Night drummer, Michael McMeel, had just finished playing a set with his band 3DC (Three Dog Celebration), a celebration of the original band. He agreed to a conversation with me. Decked in a cowboy hat and a smile, McMeel and I stood outside the venue, Jackson Terminal, where he talked exclusively about Three Dog Night, rock star life, living in a broom closet, his charity called Inner City Slickers, and more.
Where It All Began
“It was illegal for me to play in clubs so I had to set up my equipment outside while the rest of the band played inside.”
I started the interview by asking Michael to tell me a little about himself. He told me he was born in Colorado. By age seven he started playing the drums and by fourteen McMeel was playing with his band in clubs. Interesting enough, it was illegal for him to be playing in clubs because at the time you had to be at least eighteen to play there. Not wanting to let the opportunity to play get passed, McMeel found a way around this law.
“It was illegal for me to play in clubs so I had to set up my equipment outside while the rest of the band played inside,” McMeel stated that after a while the club owner liked him enough to let him come inside.
A few years and bands later McMeel moved to California where he shared a small, one-bedroom, apartment with nine people. This is when he lived in a broom closet. “A serious broom closet?” I asked, just to see if it was an exaggeration, but he confirmed, “Oh yeah, you could get a bed in it and that was it. No bathroom, no nothing. It was $35 a month and I would have to pee in the sink!”. That, my friends, is what I would consider starting from the bottom.
Because of connections with a girlfriend named Raspberry, McMeel was able to replace the drummer of Chaka Khan and became a studio band where he was featured in several hits like Everlasting Love by Carl Carlton. Then, the producer of Three Dog Night came to him and said the band had broken up and so he joined the band in 1974.
“I did the last two albums with [Three Dog Night], toured the world, and because of drugs and everything else, we just broke up.
At this point, McMeel decided to try acting out. McMeel became very popular with shows like The Krofft Supershow, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, and The Bay City Rollers Show. Despite his success and love for acting, he admits to never finding his niche.
Finding His Niche
Fast forward to 1992, the riots had broken out in Los Angeles. The riots over five days in the spring of 1992 left more than 50 people dead, and more than 2,000 injured. This is when McMeel developed a passion for the inner city. He started creating television programs for kids. While shooting a commercial that had horses and children in it he noticed the positive effect the horses had on the kids. That’s how the charity Inner City Slickers began and he’s been working with that ever since. I could tell from our conversation that this program was something very special to McMeel’s heart and he has estimated that he has worked with over 15 thousand people over the past 30 years.
“I don’t care if you’re from Beverly Hills or the Hills of Tennessee. Every kid is at risk.”
Inner City Slickers, ICS, is an equine-based program that allows at-risk youth to have an “Old West” experience, learn about animals and experience and understand what it is like to work with others. Children in the program learn to live by the “Cowboy Code Of Ethics”. This is something that helps them learn to trust and self-esteem by learning kindness, dependability, keeping your word, and being responsible. With influences like the internet and this crazy world around us.
McMeel drives home that no matter where you live or what your life situation is, every kid is at risk for mental health issues like depression or thoughts of suicide. Mental health is a huge problem in the United States right now. He opened up about losing six kids three years ago to suicide because of cyberbullying. He stated that suicided is the biggest problem other than opioids. ICS helps kids to find their way and better their lives. It’s about keeping in touch with the children in the program, recognizing what is wrong, and truly caring for the problem, not masking it.
One thing that McMeel said during our interview is that in today's world people are selfish. He said that before he works with the kids in ICS he tells himself this, “Today is not about you. It’s about that person. You take care of that person. If I can get one person to volunteer a little bit more and care, this country would be in much better shape.”
In 2005 McMeel moved to East Tennessee where he founded his new band, 3DC which plays music from Three Dog Night. He uses money from touring with 3DC to give back to the ICS. I asked McMeel what it was like playing with the now tribute band versus playing with the original band. “What’s interesting is, this band has become every bit as good as Three Dog Night. ‘Course the vocals are a bit different but this is just a celebration. So we are just celebrating that time when it was innocent and free. So I’m actually loving playing in this band a bit more! My band members now are great.”
From acting, performing, and giving, McMeel definitely has a long list of accomplishment. It’s an amazing thing to have a former rockstar use his success to give back to the community and people in need. His passion for helping children is visible just by talking to him. Huge thank you to Michael McMeel for talking with me. For more information on Inner City Slickers or to find out how to help, check out their website here.