What can you say about a band that had 12 gold albums and 21 consecutive top 40 hits, seven of which went gold? Especially during a time when there where countless bands vying for airplay and record sales, and a time when the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and even Elvis were making records!
AND … over a period of only about six years. I am sure you would agree that achieving those numbers is quite mind-blowing.
Danny Hutton, Cory Wells and Chuck Negron came together in 1967 as a rock-vocal trio with a backing band. They came to be known as Three Dog Night, a name suggested by Hutton’s girlfriend at the time who had read an article about early Australians who would regularly sleep in holes in the ground.
During the chilly nights, the natives would sleep with a dog to keep warm. If it was very cold, they would sleep with two dogs, and, on those blistery nights, three dogs were enlisted for overnight warmth. She thought it was an interesting name, and so did the guys.
The group disbanded in 1976, but then regrouped briefly in the early ’80s. Chuck Negron fell victim to serious drug problems and never really rejoined the touring band. I have had the privilege of working with this band on several occasions, but not before Chuck Negron left the act.
Cory Wells, the bright-smiled original member who sang lead on several hits including the No. 1 single “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” died at age 74 last October of blood cancer. Despite the rampant drug environment of the day, he was noticeably clean, never taking part in those addictive vices of the industry.
I remember him well as a soft-spoken, talented soft-rocker. The shows I did with Three Dog Night, really consisted of only Wells, Hutton and the band, and I had never worked with Negron up to that point.
I really wanted to work with Negron as I have been a fan of the band since hearing the tunes on WLS and WCFL in 1970s Chicago. I wanted to hear the guy who recorded such gems as “One,” “Shambala,” “Joy To The World” and so many others. My opportunity came on a whim as I was listening to the radio in my car a few months ago when Three Dog’s “Eli’s Coming” was playing, only to be followed by Grand Funk’s “We’re An American Band.”
As I was playing the dashboard-keyboard, I thought to myself: “Now THAT’S a cool concert lineup!” Why not pit two of my favorite rock voices together, Negron of Three Dog Night and Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad (more on Farner in an upcoming column).
I spoke to their respective agents and they thought it was a brilliant idea! So both guys came with their own bands, and MAN did The Arcada rock! Two icons, a night of power hits and a crowd that went insane.
What usually happens is the crew comes in first to set up and test gear. Then the band comes in for a sound check, THEN come the lead singers. So Negron’s band was on stage doing its sound check, while Chuck walked in through our main entrance. He didn’t really say hello to anyone; he just heard the music and went straight to the theater doors.
Rather than walking in, he just stayed at the door and watched his band with a proud smile on his face. Before I even met the guy I knew it was going to be a great show because I immediately saw the excitement on his face about his own band!
Negron has a large, towering presence, in obvious rocker garb with moderately spiked hair while still sporting his signature bushy ‘stache. As I introduced myself to him, he could not have been any nicer. Within 10 minutes of making his acquaintance, he was already sharing stories of the Three Dog heyday.
In his native Bronx, New York, dialect, he looked around and said: “I just love these classic joints. Reminds me of places like The Fillmore (a legendary San Francisco club that hosted all the big names back then).”
As I was talking to this guy, I could not help but think about the drug-addicted part of his life that not only haunts him to this day, but also is regularly associated with him as a rock icon. I complimented him on his tell-all book, the 1999 release of “A Three Dog Nightmare.” It talks about his unceremonious departure from the band as he was presented with papers of his dismissal while in rehab. He didn’t fight it at the time, thinking his ultimate sobering would result in an invitation to return. The invite never came.
“Ya know, drugs were absolutely everywhere back then. Most of the guys were into it heavily, except for Cory. Because I chose to come out publicly with my demons and face them, drugs have always been associated with me,” Negron told me. “Believe me, the other guys were as guilty as I was.”
“But Cory had his ‘situations,’ too,” he said. “I can tell this story ‘cuz he’s gone now, and I wouldn’t have wanted to embarrass him. I was very good friends with his wife and she told me a cute story. Once in a while, Cory would ask me to tell his wife that he and I were going fishing, which we actually never did. He would do whatever it was he would do, then return home with his ‘catch.’ The last time he did that though, the fish was stuffed with shrimp and bread crumbs! Instead of buying his raw fish alibi, he bought a stuffed one by mistake. His wife just shrugged her shoulders and was laughing … on the inside! She knew what was going on. That was the time, and that was Cory!”
We talked about him ever singing with Danny Hutton and the band again. “Now that Cory is gone, it is almost a mute point. There can never be a Three Dog Night again. I have always wished that I would be welcomed back into the band. My heart was broken then, and it is broken now about the issue,” he said.
There isn’t a day that goes by that a Three Dog Night song isn’t playing on the radio somewhere in the world. “I still get a thrill when I am driving and one of our songs come on the radio,” Negron said. “My 15-year-old doesn’t think it’s so cool yet. She will one day I’m sure, but until I do a duet with Justin Timberlake or Taylor Swift, she will still roll her eyes at the songs.”
As I watched Chuck at the microphone during his show, I was just blown away by the sound of his voice, and the way he connected with the audience. It was like being in his home as he told the stories connected with the songs. It was a virtual jukebox of Seventies tunes, one hit after another, all performed by a guy as excited about the music as the audience was.
As these rock icons get on in years, and as we join them in the process, I can’t help but marvel at the impact their music has had on pop culture. They sold hundreds of millions of albums, performed live to millions of fans over their careers, and left a lasting impact on generations of karaoke-culture vocalists to come. And they did it without the Internet, without international downloads and without the help of sensationalized press.
They did the old fashioned way, one disc of vinyl, one AM/FM radio play, and one paper concert ticket at a time.