Chuck Negron Interview: Former Three Dog Night Lead Vocalist on Legendary Band's Career and Strife Between Danny and Cory
Image attributed to Mac O'Brien Imagery
New York City native Chuck Negron was a co-founder of the hugely popular, multi-platinum band, Three Dog Night, in 1967. The group went on to become one of the most successful bands of the late 60s and early 70s with 21 Top 40 hits and 3 number one songs including, “Joy to the World,” “Black and White” and “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).”
The band’s first gold record was “One,” which featured Negron on lead vocals as did “Joy to the World” and many other of the band’s biggest hits including “Old Fashioned Love Song.” Negron has kept the music that he helped make famous “alive” by continuing to perform throughout the decades.
“They never got along. They’re unkind to one another, I guess. Cory is terribly disappointed in Danny and how he does business. Danny just dislikes Cory. He really dislikes him. So it’s just one of those things. And they’re out there on stage. They don’t talk to one another. They don’t look at one another. I can’t believe they’re working because I would think the word would be out that it’s just not a very friendly show (laughs).”
Negron joins The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Mark Lindsay (former lead singer of Paul Revere & The Raiders) and Gary Lewis & The Playboys on the Happy Together Tour which begins on Saturday, June 8, 2013, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi and will subsequently land in more than 50 cities across the United States and Canada on a trek that is expected to last through early October.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Chuck, tell me about the Happy Together Tour.
Chuck Negron: It’s with some great acts – Mark Lindsay, Gary Puckett, Gary Lewis and The Playboys, The Turtles and Flo and Eddie. It’s kind of just packed with a lot of hits, a lot of fun and a lot of memories. People grew up with this music, so there are fond memories. It’s a fun show. You see people out there just reflecting to all the music and enjoying it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is this the 4th annual tour?
Chuck Negron: At one time, it was called Hippiefest, and I did that with Mark (Farner) and Howard (Kaylan) and Felix Cavaliere and Joey Molland from Badfinger and a couple of other acts. The last couple of years, they have been out as the Happy Together Tour, so yes, it has been going for a while.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How was it formed?
Chuck Negron: The Hippiefest did really well. Mark and Howard had gone out as the Happy Together Tour, and the promoter that did both said, “Look, let’s combine this thing and put four or five acts together with Mark and Howard.” That’s how it came about, just putting two different shows together, and it works.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it primarily older audiences that remember these songs from the 60s and 70s?
Chuck Negron: Different nights you see different things. A mother will bring the daughter who has kids, and the daughter will bring the kids. Sometimes all of them dress up in 60s hippie attire, so the audience has a good time with that. Our music is also played on Classic Rock stations, so there are kids out there that hear us, so when we come into town, they want to see us. The demographic is broad, but I would say the majority of people are people who grew up with the music.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I read that, as a teenage musician, you went to the famous Brill Building in New York City, widely known for housing music industry offices and studios and where some of the best and brightest songwriters could be found.
Chuck Negron: Yeah.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We recently interviewed Burt Bacharach.
Chuck Negron: Oh, no kidding! He was one of the guys in the Brill Building.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you ever meet him?
Chuck Negron: No. He was one of the new guys on the block when I was out there. I did get to meet Hal David, Burt’s lyricist, several times. I just missed Burt a couple of weeks ago. I’m doing an album in the studio, and Burt came by, but it happened to be on a day I was out of town doing a concert, so I missed him.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That’s a shame. Burt just turned 85, and he’s still going strong.
Chuck Negron: Yeah. He’s amazing, huh?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He is indeed. Chuck, what did you learn in those early years about the music business?
Chuck Negron: Being young kids from a generation that respected parents and older people, we assumed that everyone knew what they were doing and that they were honest and would care for us. We found out not that they were dishonest … well they were dishonest (laughs). But you really had to learn how to look out for yourself, and you needed to really learn how to find your own music that fit you and not let someone else decide what you needed to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing interviews Magazine): Three Dog Night released 4 albums in just 18 months. Did you realize at the time that things were moving too fast?
Chuck Negron: We were really on a roll and very prolific. We were in the zone so to speak and really putting it out there. Back then, I don’t think it hurt us. It started hurting a little after that when there was just too much product. We were going to towns too many times a year. I remember getting off a plane in Dallas and thinking, “Wait a second. Weren’t we just here?” Just thinking, “Oh, God, how are we going to sell out?” We did, but I knew this wasn’t going to happen again, and the next year we were going to suffer.
I talked to the management and said, “We need time to record. We can’t just keep knocking these albums out.” They said, “Are you crazy? Go out there and get it while you can.” So even when the band was in trouble through drugs and all sorts of things, they didn’t stop the dates. I became very aware that we were really on our own and had to make a decision to stop on our own, take care of ourselves and go make another album in a year. Then I came to the realization that I didn’t think some of these guys including myself would last a year without work. You know what I mean? We needed something to show up for. I think we would’ve gone down a very dark road.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did the drugs help with the creative process during that time?
Chuck Negron: No. It helped you stay up longer. It helped you go over many different ideas. Something different and new like drugs might create something different because it might stimulate a new part of the brain or stimulate you to write something different since it was a brand new experience. But I think a brand new experience has to happen just once. When you continue to do it, you’re looking for something that’s gone. You’re looking for something that’s already happened.
I saw Brian Wilson had a DVD that came out when they were doing the Smiley Smile Tour. It was really nice. It showed them putting it together and different people were being interviewed. Of all people, they asked Danny Hutton from Three Dog Night, “Do you think drugs hurt Brian?” Danny answered, “No. I just think it helped him work longer.” Brian had some serious troubles. Yeah, cocaine and drugs hurt him (laughs). If you can’t see it in his speech … well, just know there is a terrible price to be paid.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve interviewed Brian Wilson, and he definitely has some memory issues.
Chuck Negron: It’s sad. He’s a casualty of guys like Danny Hutton who gave him drugs, by the way, and who thinks he can put a spin on what happened to Brian. They think they can actually put a positive spin on it. That’s pathetic, not Brian. He was okay as you sit there and try to pull out the word “the” from the man, right? It’s very sad. Think of his family and what they have to go through. His wife must be an unbelievably strong woman just to deal with this because he’s like a child.
Anyway, let me give you my summation of “drugs can help you.” If having cancer, if getting cancer would help you write a hit song, would you want fucking cancer? That’s what drugs do. I don’t care if it gives you a hit song. What does it matter? The point is not if it helps you create, the point is it kills you! Are you willing to die because you wanted to try drugs to try a new experience? That’s the question. I’m in a town here where there are many who ain’t the same and never will be. Sad.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you had any contact with Cory Wells or Danny Hutton?
Chuck Negron: No. I haven’t had any contact with them in quite a few years. Danny doesn’t live far from me, so I see him around town. But every time he sees me, he bolts. He literally runs like I’m carrying some kind of weapon or something (laughs). Some guy said to me innocently, “Oh, my God, I can’t even imagine what he must’ve said about you that he thinks you know for him to run like that.” That’s probably it. What he’s done, not what I’ve done.
I never hit Danny. I never did anything physical to him, so I think the guy’s right. What he’s running from is what he has done to me, and I don’t even know about it (laughs). Danny is a skinny, frail little guy. He’s very thin. Not a little guy, though because he’s six feet tall, but he’s so frail when he runs. It’s like, “Oh, my God, I hope he doesn’t break!”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So I’m guessing there won’t be a Three Dog Night reunion tour?
Chuck Negron: On, you know what? I’ve tried. I’ve given it such a valiant try. You probably don’t know this, but we toured in the 80s with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. The tour did really well, so when I noticed the Beach Boys were putting that last tour together, I contacted Danny and spoke to his wife. I said, “Listen, this might be an opportunity to get the original Three Dog Night members together for a farewell tour going out and opening for Brian because the Beach Boys are getting together.”
Danny never got back to me, so they just don’t want it. They’re making a nice living out there as Three Dog Night, and they don’t want to jeopardize that or they just don’t want it. So I tried. I thought we’d get some nice publicity and be able to make a tour that might even get bigger, but they didn’t want it. Well, Danny didn’t want it because Cory doesn’t even hear about this stuff. They don’t talk.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Really? They’re touring together.
Chuck Negron: They hate each other. They don’t talk. They don’t ride in the same car. They don’t fly on the same flight. In the hotels, if there is only one elevator, one guy stays on the first floor. They do everything they can not to see one another because they get into fights. Can you imagine two old men hitting each other? It’s comical.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it a personality clash or have they never gotten along?
Chuck Negron: They never got along. They’re unkind to one another, I guess. Cory is terribly disappointed in Danny and how he does business. Danny just dislikes Cory. He really dislikes him. So it’s just one of those things. And they’re out there on stage. They don’t talk to one another. They don’t look at one another. I can’t believe they’re working because I would think the word would be out that it’s just not a very friendly show (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The word may be out now (laughs). Do you still travel on speaking engagements about drug use?
Chuck Negron: I have spoken and traveled all over America, but I have a girl now who’s 12 and since she was 9, I just decided I needed to not make these commitments because they’re just not one day. Each one lasts about a week. I work on the weekends Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so I want to be with her Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday. But I do some work for Cri-Help, which is a mile away from me. I go speak, I take guys out and show them that they can have a life. There’s a program called MAP (Musicians Assistance Program) that I helped start. I’m just not traveling around like I used to because I want to be here for this girl.
I can’t believe she’s 12 years old. She likes being close to her dad. Her sister is 19, and we’re not that close simply because I was working all the time, rebuilding my career and speaking all over the place. I just don’t want that to happen again. She and I love each other, but she has just learned not to depend on me because I wasn’t here. It’s the stuff that happens when parents work too much.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How is your son, who was also involved with drugs?
Chuck Negron: He’s great. He was by here yesterday, and he works for me now. I’m so proud of him. Thank you for asking.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Chuck, do you have new music in the works?
Chuck Negron: I’m in the studio now with a project. It’s called Then and Now. It’s kind of interesting. I own 7 masters of Three Dog Night, the last 7 albums that we made which has “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “The Show Must Go On,” a lot of great stuff. Anyway, on one of the records, there were 3 songs never released … the only 3 songs ever. So I went in and had the tapes baked because they’re a million years old from another galaxy (laughs).
I went in the studio and hired some great guys, and we fixed it, and I’ve got some great records. The record Then and Now is going to be the 3 Three Dog Night songs, stuff that I’ve done in the 80s that has never been released and up to today, a bunch of brand new songs. Hence the title Then and Now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Very cool.
Chuck Negron: I’m going to put out a single on iTunes of one of the Three Dog Night tunes and see what happens. Maybe that will stimulate a reunion … because they can’t do it. I’m singing it, so maybe that will stimulate a little get together. I have 10 short stories. I wrote that book, Three Dog Nightmare. I take pictures as well. I’m working on a bunch of different stuff. But the records have stood the test of time. They were magical.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, they were. Thanks for taking the time today. Three Dog Night was a favorite group of mine.
Chuck Negron: Oh, my pleasure. It was a good band … one of my favorite groups, too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I doubt I could name a favorite song, perhaps “Easy to Be Hard” or “Out in the Country.” But no one can sing that first line of “Joy to the World” like you can.
Chuck Negron: Ah, thank you! Oh, wait a minute; I feel it coming on … “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!”
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