From 3 Dog Night to Inner City Slickers

Published 12:25 pm Thursday, May 18, 2023

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Michael McMeel, former drummer of the rock band Three Dog Night, most assuredly follows the beat of a different drum. It’s all good, though. McMeel will be the first to tell anyone that he follows his heart wherever it may lead him.

For the last couple of decades, he’s made his home in the southern portion of Claiborne County where he opens his ranch to disadvantaged and troubled youth.

More recently, he is footing the bill to showcase local musical talent, all from his home-based recording studio. He says his newest endeavor was created from a sincere wish to see that our county folk receive their musical due.

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Mickey’s Place continues under a tight, weekly production schedule. As each episode is shot and edited, it uploads to YouTube. The high-quality episodes can be used by the musicians to promote and acquire future bookings.

“It seems to be helping in getting a platform for all this local talent. It’s a great opportunity for up-and-coming as well as established people,” said McMeel.

Growing up on a ranch in Colorado, he says he learned life lessons from the nature of horses – how they maneuver through life, gentle when needed but quick to strength when necessary.

This, he says, is what he wants to convey to young people through his nonprofit organization Inner City Slickers. The concept was born in 1991, while doing a commercial with horses and kids.

“I was raised around horses, and I just remembered how we loved them. Every time the horses came out on the set, the kids just went nuts. I must have had the movie City Slickers on my mind. I thought ‘how about Inner City Slickers?’ because, at that time, the inner city was the place where kids really weren’t doing well.

“The LA riots broke out and I decided I wanted to do a television series about the inner city. So, I went down and walked into gangland, hung out at churches and talked to everybody. I thought, ‘heck, I’ll just come up with this Inner City Slickers Program,’ and that’s how it got born. That was in 1992. I’ve been working with kids ever since.”

McMeel says he was shocked to discover the lack of activities for kids when he settled down in Claiborne County.

“There were 200 churches in the county and the county was the meth capital of the state. There were more children born to opiates than anywhere else in the United States. And, I thought ‘what is wrong with this picture?’

“It’s been an uphill fight. People are apathetic about helping kids they don’t know. This is not uncommon. Everywhere I’ve traveled from California to New York, people don’t really – I mean, there’s a group of us, but we don’t have the blow horn. You can’t even get people to take a day off to work with a kid. Our kids are being kidnapped by the world. They’re being turned into something that’s unrecognizable. It’s frustrating, but we do what we can here (at his ranch).”

McMeel recalled a documentary he produced on the Claiborne County Renaissance School and a comment then-school principal Carl Nichols said.

“He said ‘how do you expect a kid to study when they haven’t eaten in the morning, they’ve been up all night because their parents are screaming and hitting each other? And, then we expect them to come in and be up for school work? But, we stand in the possibility that we can do something to turn it around.’”

McMeel was 7 years old when he found music in the form of a snare drum. The kid took to it easily and, before long, was part of a band that catered to roller rinks and school functions.

Moving to California with his then-current band, McMeel wrestled through the hard times, living for a while in a “broom closet” for $35 per month and acquiring a short-hair wig to hide all his long hair under so he could find work at fast-food restaurants.

Good fortune shown on the musician and he was in great demand as a studio drummer with Rufus & Chaka Chan. The band toured extensively and wound up cutting two albums before eventually parting ways.

McMeel made a detour into acting with films like Hard to Kill and Zanadu while doing guest appearances on television shows like WKRP in Cincinnati and the Donny & Marie Show.

A screen test eventually led to being cast in the ABC children’s show “Kaptain Kool & the Kongs.”

“Everything took off. We were in all the teen magazines and got a cover for Newsweek. We were doing telethons and all kinds of stuff.”

Never the kind to sit on his laurels, McMeel started a television production company which continues to this day.

He says he never could really find his niche – until he found a need to stand in the gap for kids.

Inner City Slickers receives no federal or state aid. McMeel foots the bill outside of donations to keep the ranch and its many offshoots alive.

“If people want to donate, they can go to our website. But, I’m more interested in getting people involved than their money. I want people who are interested in kids to show up and be willing to take the time to devote to them.”

For more information, or to volunteer or donate to the cause, log onto: or call McMeel at: 423-489-8614.