Gary James' Interview With Chuck Negron Of
Three Dog Night
He's the former lead singer of Three Dog Night. His vocals were featured on four, million selling singles, three number one records, five Top 5 hits and seven Top 40 hits. During his time with Three Dog Night, they racked up eighteen consecutive Top 20 hits, twenty-one Top 40 hits, eight Top 10 hits and four Number One hits, not to mention five Top 10 albums and eleven Top 20 albums. They headlined stadiums throughout the U.S. Their opening acts were Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) and a co-headliner gig with Led Zeppelin. In a cover story on the band in 1972, Rolling Stone wrote, "More Gold Than The Stones! Bigger Crowds than Creedence and Fatter Purses Than Elvis!"
The man we are talking about is Mr. Chuck Negron, who just happens to be a part of this year's Happy Together Tour.
Q - Chuck, I've been trying forever and a day to talk to you!
A - (Laughs). Sometimes the right people are running stuff and they kind of pick the people they know.
Q - Just for the record, I tried to talk to you when you published your autobiography and that was some years ago.
A - Oh, wow! That is a long time ago. Actually the third edition was just released with a hundred pictures. St. Martins Press didn't want to spring for any pictures because back then the whole process was very expensive. So, over the last ten years one of the biggest things I get is "If you ever do the book, put more pictures in it." So, at any rate, there's over a hundred pictures.
Q - You're saying St. Martins just put out a new edition?
A - No. Actually I released it. St. Martins, in very corporate like behavior, forgot to re-file their ownership. My agent said, "Hey, they didn't re-file Chuck. Go right in there and file." So, I filed and I own the book. So, I decided to give the fans what they want. I put in over 100 pictures and there's like six or seven new chapters.
Q - You are part of the 2013 version of the Happy Together Tour. This isn't the first time you've been part of that tour, is it?
A - Well, it's the first time I've done the Happy Together Tour. But six or seven years ago I did a tour called Hippie Fest and The Turtles were on that tour along with Joey Molland (Badfinger),
Felix Cavaliere and other artists of that ilk. But it was Howard (Kaylan) and
Mark (Volman) of The Turtles. That tour stimulated The Happy Together Tour. They've been doing it since and now I'm on it and I'm hoping to stay on it for a couple of years.
Q - How much time do you get on stage?
A - A half hour doing six or seven songs. When we play casinos I do four to five songs. The casinos want you in and out. They want the bodies on the machines. (Laughs).
Q - Did it ever occur to them that some people might turn out to see the entertainment?
A - Oh, yeah. They don't care. There's a clock going. When the show is over, they just stop, so you gotta finish.
Q - You don't like that kind of environment, do you?
A - Oh, no. But what we do to combat that is we have the sets down to seconds, so no one is upset, us. We know how long the songs will go. We shorten the solos. We get off at exactly the right time or within a couple of seconds.
Q - We have a casino outside of Syracuse called Turning Stone in Verona New York.
A - Sure. That's one of the good casinos.
Q - A lot of the acts, after their show, will have meet-and-greets where they shake hands, sign autographs and pose for pictures.
A - That's what they all should do. We have meet-and-greets backstage, but they are all high rollers, VIPs. We don't get to meet everybody. But they should because some of these fans have waited a lifetime to not only hear us, but meet us. That's a very nice thing for them (Turning Stone) to do. More casinos should do that.
Q - Do you have your own band that travels with you or is one provided for you for this tour?
A - There is a band that backs up all the acts and they are a great band, an unbelievably solid band. I worked with them back in Hippie Fest seven years ago. So, when I heard they were on the tour, I really felt good. These guys can do my stuff exactly like the way it was done.
Q - What can you do as a solo act that you couldn't do with Three Dog Night?
A - I can expand the styles in which I sang. In Three Dog Night, the whole concept was three lead singers doing three different things. So we always had someone viable on the charts. I did "One", "Easy To Be Hard". Then Cory and Danny and I did "Eli's Coming", which was a whole other sound. So, I was kind of more or less expected to do a certain type of song. Then Danny was expected to do it and then Cory was expected. As a solo artist I can use my voice to its fullest. I can do all sorts of genres and songs. I can pick fast songs, funky songs, R&B songs. So, I'm more viable, pliable I should say. I have the opportunity to do more.
Q - All of the original guys in Three Dog Night are alive, aren't they? Nobody has passed away, have they?
A - Actually, Joe Schermie has. He died of a heart attack about eight or nine years ago* and he was the pulse of the band. He made the band very unique because he was a very Latin-oriented player. He grew up in Phoenix playing with mariachi and all sorts of Mexican dance bands. His sensibility was very funky and very Latin. He was really a driving force of Three Dog Night.
Q - But everyone else is still around, right?
A - Everyone else is still around. I actually just talked to Floyd (Sneed, Three Dog Night drummer) last week. He's going to come in when I'm finished with this tour and play some drums on a couple of songs I have.
Q - I guess there must be some bad blood between Cory Wells, Danny Hutton and yourself? Just imagine if all you guys got together for a tour. That would be one big tour.
A - Yeah, well, you know you would think so. But Danny Hutton says he doesn't think so. He's afraid, that's why he's turned down every offer to get us back together. He says if he takes the original members and it doesn't go, he's losing money because he's out there as Three Dog Night now making a nice living. If he puts it together and splits up the money a couple more ways and it doesn't happen, he's out the money. He doesn't want to try. In spite of all the facts that every act of our ilk that's gotten back together has made millions of dollars, he doesn't want to do it. It has more to do with he's being afraid he'll lose control of the band because in fact he sang two songs.** So, when we get all back together he's going to be back in the background. It's a place he doesn't want to be. So that's why it's not going to happen, because Cory at this point is kind of retired from the business and just goes up and does the shows. He doesn't even talk about a reunion. Danny won't let it happen. It's a shame, but it's not gonna happen because Danny's not gonna let it.
Q - I forget who named the band.
A - Van Dyke Parks.
Q - So, Cory and Danny trademarked the name?
A - Yes. They own the name. I owned it with them, but 21 years ago I got sober and we took them to court. I owned one third and in the midst of it all my father-in-law and I and all the business people I was working with decided to walk away because their thing was so dysfunctional. Danny, back then was drinking. I don't know if he is drinking now. It wasn't a safe place for me. So we walked away and I gave up my rights. I didn't really think I needed them and it proved to be true. I go out, people know my voice. Chuck Negron, formally of Three Dog Night, and I'm fine.
Q - There was a time when you shared the bill with Led Zeppelin. I didn't realize that. By today's standards that would seem a very odd pairing. Who opened for who on the bill?
A - Okay, what it was, was the opening act was James Taylor.
Q - That makes the pairing even stranger.
A - Yeah, but that was the '60s. See, that's what was wonderful about the '60s. Radio was like that. It was eclectic and so were 'live' concerts. Led Zeppelin and Three Dog Night flip-flopped on who went on first and who went on second. That was one gig we did with them and then we had them as guests at a stadium in Tampa that I think we had sold out. Our management wanted to sign Led Zeppelin to do stadiums in the coming years. So, they asked us if we'd have Led Zeppelin as our guests. They'd never played in front of these crowds. So, we said sure. They came on and played and then we did. Then they signed with our management company. In a year or so they did stadiums like we were doing.
Q - The management company was who?
A - Concerts West.
Q - Jerry Weintraub.
A - But that's way before Weintraub was even there. It was Tom Hulett and Terry Bassett.
Q - You actually performed at the New York State Fairgrounds and there was a Syracuse group that opened for you. They had a deal on RCA Records and were called Jukin' Bone.
A - I don't remember that. You know what? Who ever gave them that name should be arrested.
Q - It's such a unique name I thought it would trigger a memory.
A - I wouldn't remember that an hour later. If my jaw and lips have to move too many ways, I don't remember.
Q - How do you remember all the lyrics to the songs you saying?
A - To be honest with you, I can't believe I do. (Laughs).
Q - And if you don't, who in the audience would know?
A - No. They all know.
Q - They do?
A - Oh, yeah. Sometimes I'll start a line and go, "Oh my God, what's the next line?" And they'll all sing it. They know all the words.
Q - That doesn't happen too often, does it?
A - It happens once in awhile.
Q - To the same song or different songs?
A - Different songs. Every once in a while and I'm relaxed and I get up there and I start doing something and my mind isn't in gear and I basically go, "What am I doing?" (Laughs).
Q - I recall seeing a clip on maybe The Food Network, where after a gig, Three Dog Night all piled into a limo and went to a drive-through at McDonald's. That wasn't a common occurrence, was it?
A - It was probably arranged. It was probably "Let's do something different" as opposed to "Let's shoot something backstage." "Let's go to a McDonald's in a limo." That was something that probably some producer thought of.
A - Oh, he's the keyboard player. Oh my God! Is he still with them?
Q - I don't know if he is or not. I interviewed him after his book came out, One Is The Loneliest Number.
A - He's got to be like 80, 90 years old!
Q - That old?
A - (Laughs). I'm kidding.
Q - I asked him that same question and he said probably all the restaurants were closed and that was the only place that was open. But you are saying it was done for a film?
A - This is the thing, if you have got a film crew, they are not following you around going to different restaurants. They have a set agenda and a film it. My theory seems more sound than driving all around, which they would have shown some of the footage going to different restaurants and having them closed. It was probably part of the show. Did you read his book?
Q - I did.
A - I couldn't get through the beginning. It was so long. There was so much stuff about him, and I kind of wanted to read about his view of the band, so I never got through it. If you read his book, he had a lot of problems himself. He was a heroin addict. He kind of tried to stay out of the headlights because he could get fired. He was one of the guys on salary. I think he is clean and sober 25, 26 years. Isn't that amazing?
Q - I'd rather hear that than the opposite.
A - Oh, of course. I think that's just wonderful. God bless him, whatever his name is.
Q - Chuck, help me understand here. How does a guy like yourself, who has everything, turn to drugs? Did you not like what you were doing?
A - That can be a reason, being not happy with your life. Also, you're in the fast lane. The people you are with are doing different drugs and you get into it very innocently, just hanging out with some people, getting loaded, and the next thing you know you're deciding to do something in a hotel room and you don't know it can kill you. The furthest thing from your head is that it can kill you. You don't know. The next thing you know is you're dead.
Q - At the time you were with Three Dog Night, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin...
A - All died.
Q - You didn't learn from that? You didn't say I better back off?
A - You know what? It's not a part of history. This country, being politically correct, has cheated our children. This is a cautionary tale. Why it isn't taught in school, drugs and alcohol... Janis Joplin, you hear about her? Died! Broken nose when she fell. It was ugly. John Belushi. Jim Morrison drank himself to death. Got a heart attack. On and on and on. That's why it's in my book. My book is so powerful because it's so brutally honest about what drugs and alcohol do. It's a shame that this isn't part of the American landscape, that drugs kill our young people. All those people were killed at 27 except John Belushi (who was 33).
Q - For whatever reason, you escaped joining The 27 Club. God was smiling down on you.
A - Yeah, God was. I mean, God wanted me to write this book. It was a bestseller when it came out. Someday this book is going to go viral as they say and young people are going to realize the obscenity of drug addiction.
Q - How different would your life have been had you enjoyed a career as a pro basketball player?
A - It's another road and for me if I would have continued the path I was on, I would have been drug and alcohol free the rest of my life. In that environment I never drank. I never smoked. I never did anything. There were guys getting high in the dorms. I was an athlete. So, I think my life would have been much simpler and much cleaner. I would have been a different person.
Q - When Three Dog Night was put together, was it your intention to become a famous group?
A - Yeah. That's the reason you get together. That's the reason you put three lead singers (together). I was on Columbia Records as a solo artist. Danny and Cory were on MGM. We all had promising solo careers. We pooled our resources. We figured we would make it, the three of us, and in fact it happened.
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*Three Dog Night bassist Joe Schermie died March 26th 2002.
**Danny Hutton sang lead vocals on "Liar" and "Black And White".