Chuck Negron (Ex-Three Dog Night)
The word legendary gets thrown around a lot when talking about bands or musicians. It's not a stretch, however, that Three Dog Night definitely deserves that adjective, as well as many more accolades. There were few bands more popular than the Los Angeles-based outfit between 1969 and 1974. They were definitely the biggest band in America during that period.
That isn't conjecture. Just consider the facts: 21 consecutive Top 40 hits. Three of them went to #1. 12 straight Gold albums. By 1975, they had sold nearly 50 million records. Strings of sold-out concerts. I 'm talking stadiums, people.
Chuck Negron was the first tenor of the band and along with Cory Wells and Danny Hutton were three of the finest voices rock has ever heard. Chuck is legendary for other reasons, namely his incredible battle with, and conquest over, a drug addiction that lasted for many years. However, that black period fails to color a career that is as vibrant today as it was in the early years. His mighty voice still sails strong and his recent recordings rival his best work.
And anyone who listens to the radio regularly….at least classic rock radio….knows his work. Chuck was the voice behind the mega-hits, "One", "Easy to Be Hard", "An Old Fashioned Love Song", "Pieces of April", "The Show Must Go On" and of course, a song that everybody and their grandmother knows…."Joy to the World".
I first heard Three Dog Night in 1969, sneaking some listens to my older sister's copy of Captured Live at the Forum and I was instantly hooked. To this day, the band remains a staple of my mp3 player. It was a completely surreal experience to speak with Chuck Negron recently. Extremely generous with time, he indulged an excited fan with a load of questions. Hopefully in reading this interview you'll get a fraction of the pleasure that I had talking with one of the legendary…there's that word again…figures in rock & roll: Chuck Negron.
antiMusic: I can't tell you what an honor and a privilege it is to speak with you, Chuck.
Chuck: It's very kind of you to say so. Thank you.
antiMusic: Is the Chuck Negron story a cautionary tale of "be careful of what you wish for because you may get it" or is it more of an example of the strength of the human spirit?
Chuck: Well it's not "be careful of what you wish for because you may get it". That is an interesting statement. You know it's not a balance. It sounds good but yeah there are things that you may wish for that you might get, that are not good things. But it does not mean that you shouldn't wish for them, you shouldn't dream. We always should. But at any rate…what was the second part of the question..?
antiMusic: or is it more of an example of the strength of the human spirit?
Chuck: Well that is definitely part of it. But it's not every body. Not everybody fights for their life. You know we lose some. The book is supposed to be a story of someone whose life began in a very difficult way. and then through gifts of athletics and singing, his life was changed, had a wonderful life, had wonderful years in college. And then in the sixties, was a part of a phenomenon of drugs that were being made and LSD and all sorts of things that we were very naïve about. We had no idea that these things were as dangerous as they were. I was a very innocent kid. I had had a couple of beers in my life and that was it. I had never taken any drugs.
It's a real statement, as much as any other statement in there, that some people are predisposed to addiction. In other words when they take drugs or alcohol their brains react differently than many other people. And it immediately creates craving which is only satisfied with another drink or fix. Then it goes into a mental obsession. And then the mental obsession takes you the rest of the way.
At any rate, the book is so many things. It's not just the story about me or a man who changes his life and makes it back. It's about the dangers of living outside the envelope. The dangers of success and of course the dangers of drugs and alcohol. It ruins many lives. I mean I haven't checked the statistics of drunk driving deaths lately or how many people have been affected but it's up there with heart attacks. A lot of people die. So it's a factual thing of what happens to some people's drinking and then the wonders of the field of recovery and how people are saved. Not really of how they save themselves but how others saved them and then how they continue, how I continue helping other people and then having my life be better.
antiMusic: Do you think that your athletic background played a part in you being able to physically withstand the punishment of your drug years?
Chuck: Yeah, I do. actually, (to put it ) in a way a doctor said it: because of your physical strength and body you'll be able to drink and use much longer then a normal body and you'll cause much more damage to yourself than most would because you're just so strong." And in fact that's what happened. It allowed me to use more drugs and recover quicker but it kept me out there much, much longer.
antiMusic: You were born with the ability to be able to sing obviously but tell us about the transition of starting with a band and learning how to be an entertainer who can captivate an audience?
Chuck: Well you know, with Three Dog Night, it was an interesting thing. I had worked with The Rondells, and I had played ball and I really knew how to function well with group-oriented things so I was very comfortable in Three Dog Night as being one of the men --- one of the guys, to fill the role. Like in college I averaged 13 points a game. I could have averaged 30, but the guy who took 21 shots a game and averaged 19 needed to take those shots for us to have him want to play (laughs). He just needed to take those shots. (laughs) If I would have taken 21 shots a game, I would have (laughs) averaged a lot more. But you know we needed him to go and get the rebounds and bah de bah di bah. But now you feel your role.
And in Three Dog Night my role initially was the Third Wheel. And I was very, very comfortable with it. On stage I was able to develop this role of a quieter, shy-- which I was --- man , who didn't really have to take the forefront, like Danny and Cory NEEDED to. They really NEEDED that for themselves. To get up there and sing in front of people and talk to them. I enjoyed the singing. I enjoyed getting better. I enjoyed the gift of my voice, working with them, working with the band, MORE than with the audience. So MY enjoyment was being a part of this thing that was doing well, winning, and people loving it.
I never in my life went out and jammed, like guys do when they go out to clubs and they jam…it's something that isn't attractive to me. I don't need that. I mean I don't WANT that. I want something that's arranged, put together well and presented in a very artistic light. So I was a different animal than them. I learned to perform by filling a role that fit me and the band. Now, when "One" became the first million seller, and then "Easy to Be Hard", and then one million dollar seller after another featuring my voice, the dynamics changed.
Chuck: We'd do Dick Clark or one of many, many TV shows and I'd be the face you'd see. I'd be the one singing so I'd be the one they'd talked to and when we'd do the concerts I was the person they knew. And I didn't know this until events started happening…I would notice Danny and Cory were very upset, actually pissed off at me. And I eventually realized this was a very ego-oriented business. And people weren't only in it to be a success, to be able to work and to do what they were. They wanted to be stars and be noticed. So it became a very painful, hard place for me to be, because the bigger the band got with MY hits, the more dysfunctional the band became. It was a terrible place for me. It was miserable because I thought they were my friends. I didn't get it, you know what I mean? When I came out without Three Dog Night, alone, in the 90s, I had no idea I had this ability to perform by being very natural and being me talking to people. And I found my comfort zone and my area of peace which was the stage. And now I am the most comfortable and most relaxed when I'm on stage. And it makes for a very generous performance and hopefully a very pleasant one for the people.
antiMusic: As performers get older, their voice naturally changes. Well, not always but often. If you listen to recent performances of Tom Jones or Neil Diamond, you can hear the quality of the voice is still there but they don't either have the breath to keep the big notes going or the power to keep the notes intact. With the last few recordings by you, your falsetto is evidently still going strong, as witness by "You Make Me Feel Brand New". I mean, that's crazy. With scarring from black lung and diminished capacity in one of your lungs at one time, how have you managed to retain your range? And have you had to adapt your singing style over the years?
Chuck: Well, I've been able to retain the range basically because I really worked at it. I went to a vocal coach. I stopped for several years, but I started again. My emphysema and my black lung—I have a black lung from pneumonia---scarred lung, I know how to sing and go from my chest to my head voice. And I was blessed with a really huge range in my head voice; I can actually go from a falsetto in my head voice to almost a full head voice which, in "Joy To the World", is some of the screams on it. The scream in "One" is almost a natural voice….the end of "One", but it's falsetto too. Although, I do all the songs in the same key. I actually raised "Mama Told Me Not to Come because I wanted to do it a half step higher. And I lowered the key of "Eli…" and that's the only two changes I made because in "Eli…." there's no chance to breathe anywhere. It was just stupid to do it. We did it in the same key Laura Nyro did it, just to do it type of thing. Because she had these great background singers and I sang all those same notes they did, actually I sang higher notes than those girls did. So it's there. The thing is when you get older if you really don't sing all the time, your voice won't keep up. Tom Jones is a singer. I never looked at Neil Diamond as a singer, although he sang.
antiMusic: Yeah, you're right..
Chuck: I mean he talks as much as he sings, you know…"Cracklin' Rosie..blahblahblah"
Chuck: You know, he's almost talking. But yeah, I don't think he's a guy ---just as an example---who loves singing…I mean not that he hates it. He rolls around and his voice makes him ring…like I sing in subways or anywhere there's an echo because I love the sound not just my voice. But certain registers and echoes. But Tom Jones is a great, great singer. The only thing that may be inhibiting him is he may have to bring down some of the songs, some of the keys. Because what happens is we just don't have the lung capacity but we have the chops. So what we do is we tighten and we thin out the notes and the quality suffers in the sense that it's thinner, but also the power suffers. So a lot of these guys just need to take a week or so with their keyboard players and find better keys. Keys that are right for men in their '70s. You know what I'm saying?
antiMusic: Yeah, yeah.
Chuck: I did 9 shows in 3 days at Disneyworld and I had no problem. Matter of fact, by the last show I was so powerful…but that's the kind of voice I am. I mean the more I sing the bigger I get, the stronger I get because it's just a gift. I'm just a piece of steel. My lungs must have been HUGE, it's just unbelievable, as a kid, you know what I'm saying because there's obviously so much left in spite of all the damage. Now if you can hear me, I'm walking around. You'll start hearing me labor in my breathing. On stage, I don't have that problem because it's just like as if you saw someone on a treadmill, just taking huge breaths. It wouldn't be abnormal. But if you were standing next to that person and just talking and you heard him, you would go "Are you okay?" So on the stage I'm allowed to just take these huge breaths and sing. It's a physical activity so, you know, I just don't run around. I stand and sing.
antiMusic: Following the Biondi tour, you had your first practice with Danny and Cory. What do you remember about it and could you feel the chemistry from the get-go?
Chuck: Well, what I remember about it was, I was very excited. I didn't know the name Cory Wells but when I saw him I knew who he was because I heard him at the Whiskey and I remember going "Oh my god this guy is great." Plus, he was working at the Whiskey A Go Go, which was the biggest club in California. And of course Danny. I met Danny when he had a top 5 record in L.A., "Roses and Rainbows" which made the Top 5 in Los Angeles so he was very well known. And he used me on some background stuff.
But when I went in there and sang, really my radar wasn't up because I probably would have gotten really nervous. My New York radar didn't come up. My hippie radar came up. (laughs) I just thought we were going to sing. I didn't have much pressure. And Cory mentioned a song and I said, "of course I know that song; I'm from the Bronx." And he said, "Oh my god, I'm from Buffalo." He said "You know this group?" and I go "yeah." And I said, "You know who sounds like that group now?" and he said, "Who?" and I said, "The Vanilla Fudge" and he goes (sings) "Set me free, why don't you babe" he just started singing. So I just went right to the harmony and he went "Holy Sh*t!" and Danny came in and he started singing.
And for a while it was just Cory and I because Danny didn't know the songs. Then, Cory said "Do a third!" and you know, we were there doing songs and we were laughing and having a good time. And Danny said "Hey, can I talk to Cory?" and I said, "Sure." And then they went outside, so I was just hanging around. I don't remember being nervous or really aware of what was going on. When then came back they said, "We're putting a band together. Do you want to do it?" and I went, "YEAH". (laughs)
So we started rehearsing every day and then Jimmy Greenspoon would come around with this girl and play piano for 15 minutes and then just leave. And I go, "Who's that?" and Cory says, "Oh, this he's just a young guy, he wants to be in the band." So, I say, "Well we could use him." And so anyway Jimmy started rehearsing with us. It was a really, really, wonderful break for me and I say it in the book, there's no way I would have been vocally ready if I hadn't done that tour.
antiMusic: Right. With Gloria Jones.
Chuck: Yeah. Well Gloria left. She was initially on it but she didn't really do any gig. She quit. She had something else come out. Actually I think she started dating whatshis name…
antiMusic: Marc Bolan.
antiMusic: Hoyt Axton came into the studio and performed "Joy to the World" for you after it had been turned down by Cory and Danny. First of all, what was your first impression of the song, especially when you heard the line "Jeremiah was a Bullfrog" and what was Hoyt's explanation of it?
Chuck: Well at first, Hoyt had pitched the song to them and he had changed some of the lyrics. I don't know which lyrics came first, but the lyrics I heard were: Jeremiah was a prophet". Jeremiah was a prophet? I went, you know, "Hoyt, that's not a record."
Chuck: I mean Jeremiah was a prophet…I mean…Top 40? (laughs) I don't think so…
So he said, "Well, I have this other thing"…You know, some way it worked around to Jeremiah was a bullfrog. And he sang it in a whole totally different way and I changed the chords to the intro and set it up so that since the line…because the way he sang it, he just threw it away, like a folksie thing. (sings in mumble) Jeremiah was a bullfrog." You know, it was like just throwing it away.
I sat down with Michael and said, "Let's try it in…" Let's see…we ended up doing it in G, I guess. What was it? Anyway, I picked a key that I just had to scream it. At first I couldn't even hit the note. So I started working on making a sound and I think that's what's on the record. I mean, I want to let you know, the way it was presented, it was the first line of any other song. It wouldn't have been what it was if I hadn't changed those chords. (sings loudly) Jeremiah was...dat dat dat done. Because that wasn't how the song went. And that's why the guys missed it because all it was, was a weird line that really had no significance, you know? It was just thrown away (sings mumbles a la Hoyt) Jeremiah was a bullfrog. He was a good friend of mine." Anyway....
antiMusic: It doesn't have the same presentation.
Chuck: No, no, no it wasn't a powerful lyric when I heard it. What I heard in the song was the "Joy to the World". When he sang that, I heard Three Dog Night harmony. I knew, oh, we're going to be able to do a nice harmony on this. And I augmented the chords so that we would really be able to belt it out and it worked. But before I did the song I had to make sure I could do something with that opening line. And when everyone, Michael and the guys, heard it, they went "Wow! That's just f*ckin' great. Not Danny and Cory. They weren't there. They didn't even want to do the song. They used to get really pissed off when I picked songs without them. But you know, I was singing them (laughs), I really didn't care what they thought about them. You know, you don't like it? Don't sing it. So at any rate, yeah, we ended up, the four band members and myself, we made that a hit record. We MADE that a hit record.
antiMusic: If your policy was that 2 guys had to approve the song then, what? Did you just present it to Cory and Danny when they came back and then when they heard what you had made it.
Chuck: No, no, no. I just brought my stuff in and said I was going to do it.
antiMusic: (laughs) Ohhh..
Chuck: No they were always just blown away…I found this out years later…with my confidence in songs. They learned that I had an ear and the sh*t that I was picking was hits. You know, they weren't hits. They were good songs. They were just good songs. We'd make them hits. When we would play new songs, they would wait. They'd just sit and wait and go "What d'ya think?" and I'd go "That's great. " I mean I brought "Eli's Coming" in for Cory…
Chuck: and he went, "what is this?" And I said, "It's a hit song. You've just gotta really sound like a nasty black man. So at any rate. Yeah, "Joy to the World" wasn't a hit song when Hoyt had it. We really made that a hit song. Which we really did with a lot of the tunes. Nilsson's "One" was very melancholy, lacked passion. It was a song sang to the beat of a busy signal. That was (sings droopily) "One is a …." We turned that into a rock and roll song. So we were brilliant in what we did with the musicians. What we were able to do with these songs. We really made these songs blossom.
antiMusic: You must have felt vindicated for your initial positive thoughts about "One" when it went gold considering of what went on prior to its release. What do you remember about selecting that song for the first record?
Chuck: Oh, well, when I heard "One", on the playback I started crying. I turned around, and I'll never forget it. They had two unit speakers, but my head was between the two small speakers on the console, and I heard it play back and I just started crying. I turned around and it just happened to be that Joe Schermie was there and I said, "This is a hit." and he said, "Man, what an ego you have." And I said, "Listen man you're really missing it, aren't you?" I don't even know if I said it to him but I went, how could he think that was an ego thing? We all did it together, you know what I mean? THAT's where the competition was.
There was constant… you know what I mean. The guys would just…it was weird. It was just weird. It was not like most basketball teams, or kids from the same neighborhood, or even the orphanage where we watched out for each other. I mean these guys were like a whole other world from me. I mean the band was hired and of course they fully agreed. They went where the power was. They had no vote. So I was in a difficult spot in that band. It wasn't fun. But I knew if I didn't push through and if I hadn't gone, "Okay, you do this and you do that," that the band would have failed because their egos were bigger than their knowledge of a hit record or being successful.
The weird thing was I felt…this is an extreme example…that they were almost more willing to fail than to have someone else in the band be the star. And I knew that if I didn't pick the songs and do them, I mean just go in and do them, that this band wasn't going to make it. There was just too much ego and it happened with "One".
The record company…they got it right. They took "One" as the first single. And then the power of Danny…because it was his band and then Cory who wasn't the brightest bulb in the bunch so he went around with Danny going, "Hey you know it's not about Chuck, it's about us. He's the third guy. He's the first tenor." And they had it cancelled. But what happened was, when I went to Jay (Lasker, Dunhill Records president), we already had "Celebrate" in the can. I think we might have even had the whole album in the can. We worked really fast. So Danny wanted to put out "Celebrate". I didn't know this because HE was the one talking to the record company, HE was the one talking to the manager. Nobody asked me anything. And that was fine with me.
But when we had a meeting, the manager just said, "Well Jay agrees with Danny. "Celebrate" is going to be the new single and they think it's going to be a huge hit." And I always felt it needed an intro. That there was no intro, just a boom…"Slipping away". That really could have been nice with an intro but at any rate I realized these guys didn't even ask me. They didn't even talk to me about it. That's when I realized that these guys are dangerous. They were dangerous not to me but to themselves, to the band.
And that's when I went over to Dunhill and said, could I see Jay and he was like, "What's up man? Are you okay?" I didn't even call and make a meeting, I just said, "Man I just really need to talk to you." and we sat down. We had the meeting in New York. He saw how legitimate I was and he said, "So, what are you worried about?" and I said, "One" is a hit. Don't let them stop it. You guys picked it. You were right." I said, "Why don't you just release it somewhere?"
Because back then, they put us in the northwest. When they put out "Nobody" and "…Tenderness", we'd do Dallas. They'd say, we'll do a big push in Dallas and we went there. That what the tour was so that's where they'd release it. We really did well in the northwest, you know. Seattle and Portland. So he said, okay. And he released it.
The guys were furious because they had to wait. And I got the cold shoulder, like, who the f*ck are you? Going to talk to…the record company manager…every one was upset with me. Until two weeks later. "One" was number one in that market. When they released it, this f*cking thing made the record which was falling off the top 100…into the Top 10! The top 15! The album, not the single. The album was done. So what happened was Jay Lasker went "This guy knows what he's doing and these other two schmucks are trouble." So that was it, they were done. Including my manager. He talked to ME. He called me from that day on. I said "Don't put me in the middle of this!" He would said, "Chuck, I just want your opinion." But you know, you can't win.
We had turned down Laugh-in. We had turned down Carson. And I didn't know the reason. First the reason was given that we turned down Johnny Carson because he wanted Doc Severinsen to play and we wanted our own band. So finally they came back and gave in because we were so big. I mean he was doing Three Dog Night JOKES. Johnny loved Three Dog Night. He was saying stuff in his monologues like "I was in a plane coming back from New York, flying over Ohio, and I look and go, oh my god, Three Dog Night was playing the state of Ohio."
He couldn't BELIEVE the numbers. I mean NO one could believe those numbers. I mean, Frank Sinatra, no one, no one had ever done those numbers. You know, selling out ball parks and sh*t. So at any rate, Jay says, "Laugh-In has never had a musical act. You've got to do it." I said, "of course". Well, (he said) "you turned it down." I didn't even KNOW about."
And the Johnny Carson Show, you keep turning it down." I said, "I'M not turning that down." So, he said, 'Chuck, I've got to get you more involved. The guys don't want to do the Johnny Carson show for this reason and that reason…NOW the reason is Johnny just wants to interview you." Oh. "So I guess you're not even getting this information. So I understand that now. And now the other two guys could sit there but they won't do it because you know, they're just not going to do it. Laugh-In has three skits written for you. One with Ruth Buzzi where she plays the bag lady. They're going to have you in a tux, looking really handsome. You're going to be coming on to her and she's going to start beating you up with her bag, (saying) "Pervert!" and I went, "What? That's fantastic!" and he said, "They won't do it. They're not allowing you to do any skits. So he said, "Look lets do this. Let's get them to tell them we'll do it with the whole band." And I said, "Fine, whatever you want." We did it and they ended up just doing 2 skits because we were doing it with SEVEN people.
And so this is the kind of sh*t that went on that I didn't know about until Jay finally started saying, "Look we gotta do this thing…" He knew I was just a common sense guy, you know what I mean?
And I said this to the band once about a performance to Michael. He said, "You're not the star of this band." And I went, "Where'd this come from, Mike?" and he went, "Well, you know people are throwing their bras and everything at you." And I said, "I'll tell you what Michael, this is what we'll do tonight. You're going to stand in my spot. You can play or not play your guitar. You can pull your c*ck out if you want. I'm going to stand back while you play the guitar and you know who they're going to throw the bras at? They're going to throw them over your head to me." And I said, "I don't make this happen! It happens." You know what I mean? God knows why they pick who they pick. How somebody gets picked. I don't know. But it's not some conspiracy so YOU stand out front. And so he went, "No, that's all right." This is the kind of sh*t that went on. It was like a nightmare. It was a NIGHTmare."
antiMusic: And then you've got to go out every night and look happy and like you're getting along…
Chuck: Well, I WAS. I WAS happy because these people knew where I stood. So I had this inordinate amount of people on the left side of the stage, stage right. So it was very obvious once the people left their seats who they wanted to see. And I had no axe to grind. And we did have fun on stage. And at that point I didn't have any axe to grind. Later on it got really ugly and they did stuff basically in the '80s when I was really sick and dying, they set me up to lose my portion of the band. But I was there. Every one thinks I broke up Three Dog Night. But we had our last three albums left on ABC and were ready to make a hundred million dollar deal with another label. Danny Hutton topped showing up. So we had to fire him and replace him with a guy that had no business being on stage. And what it was, the guy Cory hired…
antiMusic: Jay Gruska.
Chuck: Yeah…the guy was as innocent as a lamb and he just didn't…Cory didn't want any problems. Nice guy and a great writer, a good singer but he had no business being on stage, made us bubble gum. But at any rate, when it counted, Danny crashed and burned. He could not take being insignificant. I mean the label hadn't taken his calls for years, no one even talked to him. No interviewers…he became a drunk over his vision of his band and him becoming least significant, at least as far as the public was concerned. Then he assumed that role and became insignificant and got partying every night.
I was there at the studio. I gave him their first million seller and I gave them their last (chuckles), with "The Show Must Go On". I gave them their first Top 40 song and I gave them their last, "'Til the World Ends". It's mind-boggling because they SAY that I broke up the band. Cuz I didn't; Danny broke up the band.
And then in the 80s, they KNEW, they knew I was dying. Matter of fact, when I set up the meeting, and this is the God's truth, I was in the hospital. I was in the hospital with hepatitis C. I was in quarantine because I was so contagious. And they set this meeting up through my father who they really, really, used. He was just a nice old man. And they said, "We're going to put the band back together. We need your son to sign an agreement, blah blah blah. My father knew all the problems I was having and he just said, "My son's got another chance." Came to the hospital, and basically begged me to take the meeting. I said, "When I get out of the hospital…" He said, "You got to be here tomorrow, or else it's over." I said, "Dad, I can't leave …I'm contagious." And the doctor said, "No, you're no longer contagious but you need to stay here another week."
They took me to the meeting the next day and brought me right back and that's when they made me sign this drug agreement; if I was on drugs I'd lose my rights. And of course I was. So these guys were not nice guys. It was kind of payback for all the good I'd done them (laughs). But people don't know this about bands. Anyway, I've been going on. What other questions do you have?
antiMusic: "Eli's Coming" was one of the first songs I remember hearing from the band and contained one of the things that I loved most about Three Dog Night --- the three part-harmony, especially for that song in particular in the live versions. How did the band go about deciding on the harmony parts for the songs --- just trial and error?
Chuck: Cory was the second tenor and Danny was the baritone so he'd go and sing the tonic note, the melody notes. And then he'd go "Well do a harmony" and I would say, "That note's already THERE Cory." And I remember we would get into it. And he'd say, "Yeah, but that's harmony." I said, "I don't want that…that's common…everyone else would do that." I said, "We've got to pick a note over the melody note and then Danny will go under that and you know we'll have a melody in three different notes. And he said, "I don't know." Then when we did it when I hit that (sings high note). He went "Oh sh*t." He went, "Oh cool." But the thing was, I couldn't do that alone. When we sang together it was unbelievable. And that was the magic of Three Dog Night; that all three voices blended and made this fourth identity that can never be created without the three of us.
antiMusic: I just saw a video the other day, an updated version by them of "Shambala", and that perfectly illustrates what you're saying; there's no high end there. It's missing your voice completely.
Chuck: Yeah, they have no punch. You know Cory was a little older than us. I mean Cory could be 73, 72, I don't know. And Danny and him hate each other. I mean, they don't talk. They fight if they talk. That must be a terrible place to be, because I remember, actually being in the middle of that. Finally they got used to the fact that I was the guy. I had the hits so I was the mediator between them because they hated each other. HATED each other. You know, punch each other in the face, I mean it was unbelievable. Serious. I mean we had to break them up. Oh yeah. Even on the road, if there was only one elevator in a hotel, one guy would stay on the first floor so there was no chance in getting in the elevator. If there were two elevators, the road manager would say "You take the one on the right".
If two of your star players aren't playing, the rest of the guys aren't going to play. So you've got a band who goes, just show up and get paid. They demand nothing. At least when I started kicking ass, they would have to keep up and they're evidently not willing to anymore.
antiMusic: Strange as it sounds, as much as I love all your earlier hits, my favorite song by you is "The Show Must Go On". I love your vocal on that and it just connected with me in a big way
Chuck: Yeah, and you know what? Because it was an anthem to the band. When we did that song…Leo Sayer put it out first.
antiMusic: Yeah, I thought it was so strange for him to write a song like that. It didn't seem like his style.
Chuck: I know. He had a whole persona. He did whiteface. This is interesting…what a groupie Danny was. When you worked with him, he was really exposed at how he really took other people's ideas. When we first started working with him, he would tell us a lot of stuff. And then when we started working with Brian Wilson, then we'd go, Oh, that's where he heard them. And then when we worked with Van Dyke Parks who was one of our producers at Dunhill, the rest of his ideas came out. And then, talk about a stage show. Well, some of his ideas would be fantastic. Then a year later, Al Kooper would be doing these on stage. And I would go, "Did Danny tell you about this?" He would reply, "No, I told Danny about this." So it turned out it was all other people's ideas.
But anyway….when I first heard "The Show Must Go On". I mean "The Show Won't Go On". That was the Leo Sayer version. Did you know that?
Chuck: Yeah, he wrote the song, "The Show Won't Go On" and it died. But in London, Danny took off and left me to finish the album. So did Cory. That's when I wrote "Midnight Runaway" and did "Pieces of April". This is another year that Danny was in London and we were rehearsing already and Danny's not coming home. So we needed some extra songs because, you know…Hutton's not there. So I see a record by this guy and the producer, Jimmy Ienner says, "You know, I have that as one of the things that I was going to play for you but I thought it was just so bizarre I didn't play it." I said, "Let me hear it."
So he plays it and I go, "It's NOT our story. Our story is the show MUST go on." And I changed some words and he said, "Let me run this by Leo and his people." And I said, "No, don't run it by him. I'm not asking for anything. Let's just do it. I'm not asking for any writing….any publishing." Then I found out Leo was pissed off and to this day doesn't talk to me. Well, he actually called my house when he was in LA and he said, "Look, I know you've heard some things and I've said some things. But you've changed my life and given me a hit record." So he was very kind. But even now, we did a show with him and I looked at him and he was embarrassed and looked away. Because he bad-rapped me for changing his lyric.
But at any rate, when Danny came back…it was really funny. I remember him walking back into rehearsal and we were doing "The Show Must Go On". And he said, "Oh man, that's number one in England. You'd be crazy to do that song." And then I found out later that he had actually wanted us to do that song before. Then he started doing whiteface. He had already bought the tights and the whole outfit. So we did that and…listen to those words. Listen to the words that I wrote for "Midnight Runaway". Listen to that song…
"Find my way back home. I don't know if I want to go. All I want to know, can I keep doing all these shows. Haven't got the time to worry over little things. Fightin' for some time to be alone and on my own.
I'll take you for a ride. I'll take you where you want to go. Are you ready for a ride? Make me feel like you want to go. Can't they understand I'm tired of this ruthless game? Gotta get away or I'll go insane."
Totally about what was coming. I was falling apart. And the next verse explains more. And then "The Show Must Go On" was the tipper where it says "Please take me off this stage. Leave me outside my front door. I gotta get away from this masquerade."
So I was pleading to them, "Please help me." And not only me. Help Danny. I wasn't just thinking of myself because I was as strong as a bull. When I was having my problems, I was still making number one, million-selling records. You know what I'm saying? Danny wasn't even showing up singing background!
I mean, the straw that broke the camel's back with Cory was when we were doing Cyan which "Shambala" is on…Danny didn't come to the studio at all. So Cory started calling. Then I got a call from the producer who said "Cory's not coming unless Danny comes." So I called Cory and he said "I'm not coming if he doesn't come." I said, "Come on. We'll do it together." He said, "No." So I said, "OK, go to the studio and I'll meet you there in an hour."
Danny moved into the house that I used to live in. And he put up that barbed wire all the way around his house. I mean, if you would put out your hand, it would cut you. It was all over…and cameras. But I lived there. I mean, it was my house. So I knew that I could climb up the tree on the street and jump right onto the roof and I could walk right into his bedroom. (laughs) And that's what I did. I walked in and I woke him up. And he goes "How the f*ck did you get in here?" I said, "Danny, I used to live here. There's a secret tunnel." And he goes, "F*CK you, really?" (laughs) I wasn't going to tell him how I got in because he'd block me out. So I said, "You've got to come to the studio." So I'd get him dressed and take him to the studio. I'd call the studio and say, "If Cory's still at home waiting, call him and tell him that Danny and I are on our way."
And I'm doing this every F*CKING day. I'd climb up the tree and go in and get him. Then one day he leaves this big thing of cocaine cuz he just thinks --- I didn't know this at the time --- that I'd just steal some and leave. So I go "Danny, I know you're awake. I know you can hear me. I know why the coke is here. I AM going to take some but I'm not going to leave until you come."
So I took the coke and sniffed it, cuz I was doing coke then. He got up and said, "Chuck just let me take a shower and then I'll come, I promise you." So I left. Cory gets to the studio. No Danny. So I said, "I'll go back and get him." Cory says "No, I'll get him." I said, "Cory, there's only one way to get in that house without getting hurt." And I told him how to do it.
Of course, Cory didn't listen to me. He goes in and gets tangled up with the barbed wire and has to get 50 stitches in his arm. Slashed his arm open. So that was the end of him and Danny. And by the way, he didn't care anymore if Danny came. And Danny didn't come. On American Pastime, listen to the one song Danny does. I don't even know the name of it. He was just barely…I mean I can't even believe that the record company kept it on. It's so sad. We didn't want it on and they said, "Well, we need another song." And Cory and I said at that point…."We're done."
We shouldn't have even released that album. It was just the two of us. Cory was angry and I was just tired. We needed a break. Any prudent man would have gone, "We just put out an album four months ago. Let's wait a year. Let's get everybody together and put out another record then." We had been putting out two albums a year for seven-eight YEARS. It was ridiculous. But there wasn't anyone prudent because the money was just coming in. So at any rate, Danny didn't show up for the rest of the album. The next record, Cory says, "Either he's fired or I go." And that's when we had the meeting and they fired Danny.
So it was sad. And I protected Danny. I made sure he had his rights…. Because I knew it wasn't him. I knew it was drugs and alcohol and through all of that, I liked him. It was the weirdest thing. I liked him. I don't like him anymore but I liked him at that time.
antiMusic: Did the band incorporate the circus music that starts it off or was it part of the song when you first heard it.
Chuck: It had it on the original. It didn't have what we had. We really did the whole thing….the big orchestra thing.
antiMusic: The other song that is at the top of the list of favorites by you is "I'm Sorry". What a wicked vocal.
Chuck: Oh, thank you.
antiMusic: The production on that is terrific.
Chuck: Thank you. I did that here in my house. I do all my vocals here. I've got like a $25,000 Sony. Yeah, I did the vocals….all the background vocals are done here.
antiMusic: So "I'm Sorry". It sounds like you're addressing people in your past.
Chuck: Well, the lines are all different. The first line is for my oldest daughter who is 41 and lives with a lot of anger for me and …just a lot of anger, period. She's married and everything but this has affected her life. So the first line is "Do you live with the burden, a survivor's curse of meanness?" She's a survivor but it's made her mean. "So please forgive me."
And it's about my children and the people I've harmed. And I'm sorry. So sorry. And if you hear the vocal, I'm very emotional when I do it. Cuz that's a real vocal. It's wavering a little.
antiMusic: I can hear the waver but you have the natural vibrato in your voice so I couldn't tell if it was emotion or just you.
Chuck: No, no, no, no. It wasn't faltering. It was emotional. Just when you're trying to sing when you're crying, it interrupts. It's a physical thing that interrupts your breathing and everything. So I was very emotional doing that vocal….But thank you. I'm glad you liked that. I'm very happy the way that came out.
I'm doing another song with an orchestra piece on it. It's unbelievable. I can't wait for this thing to come out. I'm really, really excited. There are a couple of songs. Spiritual songs. They're kind of like the new Christian music where it's really pop and it speaks to God but it doesn't put any restrictions on what you need to say or the way you need to say it or any of the dogma connected with it the way so many of these religious people put limits on your ability to worship. It's ridiculous.
antiMusic: One of the biggest regrets in the musical part of my life is that I never got to see Three Dog Night play live. The closest opportunity I had to see you was in about 1973 where you played an Ottawa show with T Rex opening. Unfortunately I had no wheels for the two hour journey. I always thought that was a strange pairing. You with Marc Bolan. Tell us about some of the more noteworthy opening acts you had and how you got on with them.
Chuck: We got along really well with Marc but also Gloria was married to him by then. And Gloria and I were friends. And Marc was a nice guy and Danny was just in love with him. In love with that whole….well actually Danny became a version of Marc Bolan, physically. He grew his hair out and…you'll see some pictures and you'll see it.
At any rate…OK, opening acts --- Chicago, ELO, Aerosmith, Ike & Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper…
antiMusic: One of my favorite bands is The Guess Who and I know they opened for you..
Chuck: Yeah, The Guess Who opened for us. And I'm still friends with Burton. And actually Randy wanted to produce me, back in the day. Back when he had his studio in the barn up in Canada. Actually American Recording, the studio that we recorded in our whole career and later went back to….the board they were using was his board.
antiMusic: Three Dog Night seemed different than a lot of other bands in that Mike, Joe, Floyd and Jimmy seemed as integral to the mix as much as people as well as musicians.
Chuck: They were. They could do anything. How many bands could do Chuck Negron and then do Cory Wells? "Mama Told Me Not To Come", "Never Been To Spain", then "Easy to Be Hard", "Out in the Country", "One Man Band". I mean that's two f*cking bands. We had guys who had never done the stuff that we were doing. They all came from their own one little niches. But they were all experts at their own niches. I'd say, "Do this Michael." And he'd go, "Give me a second." And he would change the key, transpose something on the spot. They were so willing to learn. And we all learned together.
antiMusic: Tell us how the family feeling developed with the band and how important they were to the whole thing.
Chuck: Well, Floyd and Joe were the heart and soul of the band. They were the rhythm. The beat. The heart beat of the band. Without those two, this would have been a white band. I mean, Joe came from a Latin background, playing with Mexicans….with unbelievable feel. And when he started playing with Floyd who had this almost African rhythm, he knew exactly how to cut in half what Floyd was playing. And Jimmy was one of the most melodic men in the world. I mean, this guy has melodies coming out of his butt. And then, put him on a B3 and make it nasty. Wow. And then Michael was more than a lead guitar player. He played great rhythm. A lot of that stuff was lead guitar but also rhythm. But these guys were as important as Danny, Cory and I, no doubt. In the studio and making the records, they were the stars.
antiMusic: The original cover of It Ain't Easy had you guys in orange body suits. Hard Labor had that controversial cover as well. Was the packaging very important to you guys or did you pretty much leave it in the hands of the record company?
Chuck: No, I got involved with the album covers from day one because of looking at certain groups…Chicago is a perfect example. Here's a band that has no face. ELO, a band with no face. And I wanted us to be stars. So we're shooting our first album and I see this picture in Rolling Stone. It's the picture of Jimi Hendrix on his knees with his hands open and his guitar on fire. THE shot. So I start calling people going "Who the hell took this shot?" So I get Ben Fong-Torres from Rolling Stone on the phone. He says "You're not going to believe it. It's this 17 year-old kid who borrowed a camera for the show." So I track him down and he's living with his father. And I go to him, and I say "Do you have any other shots?" And he shows me his stuff. He had just bought his own camera.
So he starts shooting Three Dog Night. He came to a show at the Whiskey and he shows the shots to the guys and they go, "This would be a great cover". Now Danny and Cory could NEVER decide on the group shots. So I told Ed (Caraeff), the kid, "Shoot everybody separately as well as together." So when everybody got their pile….Danny got his, Cory got his and the band got theirs. Boom, we had shots. So we had our first cover.
So the second cover….this guy, his learning curve was huge and he did a more sophisticated job. He said, he wanted close-ups of the three of us…all kinds. I wanted a more handsome picture. I wanted to get the girls because the picture on the first record…you really couldn't tell what we looked like. On the back you could. So we did the individual shots for Suitable For Framing. And he did.
So he was our guy. He lived with his mother sometimes and it was difficult. I told him, "You need to get a place." And I gave him the money to put a down-payment on a house and he did. He became our photographer and of course he became the biggest photographer in the world, in rock & roll. He's had many, many Rolling Stone covers. He's been retired for a while now. He got out of the business because it was crazy. But yeah, that was one of my roles. I did a lot of the work to make sure that Three Dog Night had an image.
antiMusic: The original cover of Suitable for Framing had you posing with the GTOS. How did that come about?
Chuck: That was Ed. He said "Do you know the GTOs?" I said, "Of course I know the GTOs". He said "I want to have a shot with them out in Malibu. There's a river there and we'll sneak in there. We'll all dress up so bring costumes." So we went to Western Costumes and got some stuff. And the GTOs, that's how they dressed (laughs). So we went to Malibu and got some bowls of fruit and did that great, great shot.
antiMusic: That must have been some kind of party afterwards?
Chuck: You know what? I went home. The only one that was really attractive was Pamela and I wasn't interested. You know what I mean? I really didn't spend much time with the groupies because I really got another class of girl. I got the girl that never thought they'd want to f*ck a guy in a rock band. They just went, "Oh, he's nice." I got college girls, lawyers…(laughs). So I really didn't have to mesh with the groupies. And actually I was known for not messing with the groupies.
I remember this interviewer asking Sweet Connie one time in the dressing room…you know Sweet Connie from Little Rock, who was mentioned in the song "American Band?" The interviewer asked, "So have you slept with the whole band?" And she answered, "Not Chuck. He doesn't sleep with any of the groupies." I asked her later, "Where did you get that from?" She said, "Oh everybody knows. They don't even bother to try to get you any more." Well who wants to sleep with a girl that has possibly given six blow jobs (laughs)…that night!
antiMusic: I have Hard Labor on 8 track and don't have the original liner notes (which was one problem with the medium). I see on the wikipedia page that Jimmy Iovine is listed on there. What role did he play on the record?
Chuck: He might have been one of the engineers.
antiMusic: After your initial success, you probably had songwriters coming out of the woodwork looking for you to record their songs. Was there anything that you passed on that later became a hit for someone else or anything that you particularly wanted to do but was voted down?
Chuck: There was one song that the band passed on…I was going to do it…but they talked me out of it and the reason was…the song was a commercial in LA at the time. It was used for a bank. And Sandy Duncan played a bank teller --- this was before she became a star --- actually that's what gave her the first break, and the song they played was "We've Only Just Begun". And when I heard the demo…Paul Williams sent it to us, I said, "This is a hit. It's a number one record. I'm going to do it." And when I played it for the guys, they said, "What are you talking about? This is a commercial, man. We'll get buried for doing this." I said "This is a commercial in LA. It's an LA bank. It's not a world-wide bank." But they put up a good argument and I had a couple of hits already…I knew I had a hit in the can. Who knew that The Carpenters would do it and have a number one record? So when that record came out, the guys never said a WORD about it. Cuz they were wrong! They knew they were wrong.
antiMusic: If you were able to live your life over, would you still go into the music business and go through the same events but be a huge part of music history as you are or would you choose a different path like sports?
Chuck: No, I think the life you're given is the life you choose. It's like the devil you know. The only thing I would change is the effect I had on my family, my children. The pain I brought my parents and anyone who loved me because of my drug addiction. THAT I would change. I would hope that the first time drugs were given to me…I don't know why I said yes. I never did drugs. I didn't like people who did drugs. I wish I had kept my ground and said "I don't do drugs, thanks." And I wish I had never done them. But then I might not have been the person that I am today, who wrote the book I wrote, writing the kind of music I'm writing. There's so much ying and yang…but I would change what the people who loved me had to go through.
antiMusic: I guess just to wrap up, Chuck. What's next for Chuck Negron? Do we have a new record in the not-too-distant future to look forward to? And more touring?
Chuck: Well, you know what? I was working on something but the funding has kind of stalled because of the economy. But I do have some stuff in the can. But the music I've been working on and hopefully they will begin again soon will be…one is called The Soul That Nurtured Me. And that will be songs from the '50s up until the '60s. Some really, really great old tunes and I've got some great arrangements. And "You Make Me Feel Brand New" which is on my website, will be on there, although I'll be keeping the vocal but changing a few things. Did you hear "For the Love of Money". See when I was doing that, it was originally for Warner Brothers. Because they own the publishing for the Philly International Gamble & Huff catalogue.
With the success of the Michael McDonald and Motown, they wanted to put out a similar record with me. So I did the two tunes but Gamble & Huff said no. "Let's just put out another hits record. This is just going to cost a lot of money to record this record." And now everybody's doing it. Seal's last two records have been that. So this was a no-brainer and it was four years ago. They would have done well.
And I'm also doing this spiritual record where it's just new pop that gets played on spiritual radio. I've got several songs actually just waiting to go to a label to see if I can get funding. And I'm working on a book of ten short stories. I've written short stories that have been published and I'm going to put a book together. One of the stories I'm working on now might be the title but it's called Sex, Drugs and Rock &Roll; The Contact Sport. And it starts off talking about how when I was a kid, I had my collarbone broken by a baseball bat. And this and this and all the different events I had growing up in the South Bronx. But then I say, nothing up until then had prepared me for the world of rock & roll (laughs).
I have over 100 scars from stitches on my body just from a lifetime of things that have happened to me. I don't know if you've seen it but there's a famous picture on the cover of Life Magazine about the goalie Terry Sawchuck where they've got scars painted on all the places in the face where he got hit? That's what I'm doing with the book. (laughs)
So yeah, I'm doing stuff. Some creative stuff and I'm all good.
antiMusic: Well thank you for all the time, Chuck. I can't tell you what a highlight in my life this has been.
Chuck: Oh, you're very kind. Thank you, man!!
Morley and antiMusic thank Chuck for taking the time to do this interview.