The Rise and Fall and Rise of A Three Dog Night Singer

[By Paul Freeman; August 2012 Interview]

By the mid-’70s, Three Dog Night had sold in the neighborhood of 60 million records, regularly filling stadiums. Their gold singles included “One,” “Easy To Be Hard” and “Joy To The World.” The lead vocalist on those tracks, Chuck Negron, had every reason to be joyful.

But a few years later, he was broke, living on the streets, weight 126 pounds, 16 teeth left in his mouth. Drug addiction had taken its toll.

Now 21 years clean and sober, Negron is again thrilling fans with his spine-tingling high notes and soulful, four-octave range. His hits have timeless appeal.

Negron, who grew up in the Bronx, began his music career in his teens, as a member of the vocal group The Rondells. A college basketball scholarship brought him to California. But he refocused on music, when Columbia Records dangled a contract.

In 1967, a friend, Danny Hutton, invited Negron to join him and Cory Wells in a new band, Three Dog Night. The concept was unique, teaming three dynamic lead singers. Each could deliver powerhouse lead vocals. Together, their voices entwined in electrifying fashion.

Negron says the musical chemistry came together instantly. So vocally, all was harmony. Personality-wise, not so much. Drugs exacerbated the frictions. The band’s implosion concluded in 1976.

From 1978 to 1991, Negron was in and out of 37 rehabs. On September 17th, 1991, the homeless Negron, guided by his sister-in-law, entered that 37th rehab, North Hollywood’s Cri-Help. He went on to work as a hospital tech for abused and addicted adolescents.

Eventually, years of California drug rehab finally
took hold and helped him get rid of his addiction.

But at a Cri-Help meeting, he met someone connected with “Golden Girls” who asked if he’d like to sing the theme song for the spinoff series “Golden Palace.” An agent for Atlantic City’s Sands Hotel, then saw his name in the credits and offered him a week-long gig, opening for Howie Mandel. That was the beginning of Negron’s comeback. Since have come solo CDs, award-winning DVDs and two autobiographies. He’s working on a third book now.

It’s important to Negron to educate the public about the nature of addiction. Negron also gains satisfaction from the joy his voice gives audiences. He doesn’t waste time on regrets.

We spoke with Negron before his appearance with another iconic ‘70s act, Blood, Sweat and Tears, at Redwood City, California’s Fox Theatre on August 22 []. The artists have appeared together several times over the past few years.

These occasional shows with Blood Sweat & Tears, is that a good fit? A lot of fun for you?

You know what? It’s a great show. It really surprises me, because we came out around the same time. We did different things. But the show is unbelievable. I never realized how much the horn arrangements add to some of my songs. Like the beginning of ‘One.’ There’s this whole really beautiful horn arrangement that starts it. And then at the end, on the outro, there’s this pumpin’ horn rhythm.

And then on ‘Celebrate,’ actually when we originally recorded ‘Celebrate,’ Chicago played horns for us. So there are horns on it. There was a horn arrangement.

And it’s a really great fit. It brings something fresh to the songs. And the audience really enjoy it. So it’s a great package. I was very happy after the first show and now, for the last several years, with how well we work together.

Why do you think the Three Dog Night songs are so timeless? Why do they appeal to multiple generations?

Well, they’re great songs. I started singing at the beginning of this whole thing, the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll. And, in New York, it was urban rock ‘n’ roll and it was doo-wop, vocal group harmonies, that came out of like The Ink Spots and all those older vocal groups of the ‘40s. And then, when rock came, with three chords and all this urban music, I was right there.

I was in a group called The Rondells. And we got some airplay. We played The Apollo and we played college gigs and night clubs. And we were very young. I was 15. At any rate, I found out very early that the difference between my band and the bands I was hearing on radio was the songs. So I found out who wrote the songs.

The difference between a good singer and a great singer is a great song. And if you take a great singer and put him with a great song, you’ve got something that lasts forever. And I’m very proud that I brought most of these songs to Three Dog Night.

And it was actually, out of necessity. It was very hard for us to write together. We each had our own mind. And changing things that we wrote was not easy for us. I brought them all these songs, from all these publishers that I knew. I was a solo artist on Columbia Records, so I got to meet all these great publishers, because Columbia Records was the biggest label in the world, when I was on it.

At any rate, great, great songs. I found Nilsson [“One”]. They hadn’t released anything he wrote. He had a hit record that was written by someone else [Fred Neil’s ‘”Everybody’s Talking”]. Paul Williams had never done a song by himself. He was on writing team. I brought in ‘Old Fashioned Love Song’ and it broke him. I did the first Elton John song, on our second record, the first song anyone ever recorded of Elton John [“Lady Samantha”]. That’s what I did. I sat down and I listened to music. I went to publishers. I went to radio stations and said, ‘What’s the stuff you’re not playing?’ ‘Here, take it!’ And I’d hear all these records. And I found unbelievable artists. Laura Nyro [“Eli’s Coming”] was in a pile. I went ‘I know Laura Nyro, she’s from my neighborhood. I didn’t even know she sang!’

So I was a song hawk. So that’s the very long answer to a simple question [Laughs]. As far as music, the song is the heart of it all. And we had the classics for a reason. Many, many people that write their own music and record, it just sucks. So, at any rate, the good song has served myself and Three Dog Night very well.

As far as having a knack for hearing the great songs, is that a result of analyzing what makes a particular song work? Or is it a gift, that ear?

I think it’s a gift that is born and is nurtured in good taste, being surrounded by various kinds of music. My older cousins, a married couple, listened to Ella Fitzgerald. And they owned a dance studio, so I heard all kinds of things and I’d say, ‘Well, what is that?’ And they’d say, ‘That’s calypso.’ ‘That’s the ‘Nutcracker Suite.’ I would hear the orchestration. So anyway, I knew it was possible in music. And to me, when I heard something, they were either good or bad. So, in that sense, that was a gift. When I heard a song, I went, ‘That’s good’ or ‘That’s bad.’ And the ones that I liked, fortunately, I had a gift to pick good music.

And I think it had to do with the voice I had and the range I had. You know, I had four octaves range. Your brain doesn’t shut down, if you hear a song that is rangy. I mean I’ve heard writers and I say, ‘Can you sing all your songs? They go, ‘Yeah.’ ‘How much range do you have?’ ‘Oh, about an octave-and-a-half.’ I said, ‘Don’t write for yourself. You’re limiting your writing, because you don’t sing.’

So, as a singer, I would hear songs that writers wrote, that weren’t singers, and they could use any notes they wanted, because they weren’t trying to sing along with the song. So the capacity to have the range to hit the notes was a gift. And adding to the ability to pick a good song.

How early did you realize that you did have something special, in terms of the voice?

It was something I knew even before I sang. When I was very young... I have a twin sister... my sister and I were in an orphanage. And she joined the choir. I said, ‘They have a choir?’ And she said, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s this guy Charlie. He’s really good. Everyone really likes him.’ And I never even heard him. But to myself, I said, ‘You can sing better than Charlie.’ And I hadn’t even sung. [Laughs]

But anyway, when I started singing, it was there, a very clear, pretty, nice tone. And in the neighborhoods, when the old guys would sing, they’d ask me to sing harmony. Other people heard my voice and enlisted me to sing in their bands. And that’s how I got on Columbia Records. In college, in chorus, some guys asked me to come to a show and it was a huge show. They were a huge band in the area. And they got me up to sing. Next thing I know, I was working with seven or eight bands. And Columbia Records came around, because I had this huge following in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria and all Central, up and down the coast, because of my voice. But they came to me. It wasn’t like I went looking for bands. So it was like really something that was meant to be. It was, at the beginning, nurtured by other people.

You mentioned the orphanage, once you began getting into music, did that give you a sense of belonging?

No, no, no, I never even joined the choir. I just knew I was better than them [Laughs].

But did the singing eventually give you a sense of belonging?

You know what? I just remember, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ But, no, no, no, that place was a very dark time in my life. There was no music in my life. Actually sports. I was good at sports, so that kind of kept me in a safe place, under the radar, yet respected, because of my ability. But no, music came later, when rock ‘n’ roll was born.

You mentioned The Rondells. Was that a daunting experience to play the Apollo as a white act in those days?

Yeah, it was... for the first bar. Because they didn’t want us there at all. I mean, it was very obvious they held us in low esteem and, ‘What the hell are you doin’ here?’ That place was rockin’ and havin’ a ball... until the curtain opened up on us. Silent. Silent! It was like, ‘Oh, God, are they going to kill us?’ And, thank God, there was a band, because they just started playing the music, because, otherwise, we would have just stood and looked at one another. [Laughs]

But you won them over?

Yeah, we won them over. When they heard the voices and the harmonies... because I had, I still have a very high voice and I can sing the high notes... but back then, I was really singing and they’d lose their minds. Very Frankie Lymon-ish in the range. And it ended up being a great experience. But it went from being a really dark, scary, underbelly of the scene underneath the downstairs, the grown adults were doing stuff, I had no idea what they were doing. But it looked like someone was doing something wrong and I just wanted to get the hell out of there! [Laughs] The lights were broken. And, ‘Okay, come up here.’ And walking through water. ‘Oh, shit. I’m never going to get out of here. They’re going to kill us. They’re going to eat us.’ At any rate, it all changed, the lights came on and, after the first verse, we went into the harmony chorus and they reluctantly, really got into it and gave us our props. And they had a good time. So it ended up being a wonderful, wonderful experience.

And did you have a chance to hang out in the Brill Building in New York during those days?

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We went into every office. One of our managers wrote ‘I Wonder Why’ for Dion & The Belmonts, which was a huge song. That’s the song that goes... [He sings the opening] And it their first big hit. So he got us into a lot of places. And they wrote. I said, ‘I want to meet the publishers.’ And so we’d get into the publishers and they’d go, ‘So sing.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I really want to hear what you have.’ And my manager goes, ‘Don’t say anything.’ [Laughs] And we all sang. We ended up doing demos for the publishers. So yeah, I learned very early, you have to be in a position where someone sees you as an artist, sees you as someone they want to give something to, as opposed to coming in with people that they didn’t think were of the level that they were going to give their tunes to, but yeah, we can use them to sing our demos. At any rate, we never got to the secret vault.

But it was a good learning experience?

It was a great learning experience. I remember once singing a song, this guy goes, ‘Does anyone else sing lead?’ And I remember the whole group, everyone just freezing, because Chuck sings lead and Chuck isn’t going to like this. And the manager went, ‘Yeah, yeah, any of them can sing lead.’ We’d never tried anyone else. I said, ‘You know what? Why don’t we just try getting a better song. You got a better song?’ And that was it. We were out of that office. [Laughs]

How was the concept for Three Dog Night originally broached to you, with three lead singers?

Well, I had just a done a tour of Job Corps camps, all over America. They were really trying to support these kids. I was a kid myself. So they’d bring tours. I was really glad I did it, because my voice was in great shape. When I got home, I had all these messages from Danny Hutton, who had become a friend. And Danny Hutton at the time was a solo artist, had a hit record called ‘Roses and Rainbows.’ And he had become close friends with Brian Wilson and a lot of other people. So, when his solo career just kind of died, because he just went in there, it was the ‘60s, maybe he was partying too much, I don’t know. But the records weren’t there. You could hear it. They weren’t as good as he was. And when your time’s over, the record company is over. So they were done. Cory was also with the same label. Cory Wells.

So anyway, they got together and decided to pool their resources and put a group together. And they thought, ‘You know what? There’s The Righteous Brothers, The Everly Brothers, there’s all these duets. Let’s get a third guy.’ So Danny said, ‘I know a great guy. He’s a tenor.’ So he called me and I went over and we hit it off. When we sang harmony, it was so huge, it was unbelievable. All of us went, ‘Oh, shit!’ It was just huge. It was like, all of a sudden, a baby was born, that we were the parents of. It was amazing, something that we could do together, not alone. So that was the key. We couldn’t stop singing harmony. Everything we did sounded like a hit, just the way I approached my notes and the sound itself, the power of Cory in the middle and the thickness of Danny on the bottom and just three big singers.

What about the sense of competition, is that something that grew after a while? Or was the balancing of egos always an issue?

The only downside for me, of my career in Three Dog Night, was that the egos never really settled in, like most things do. This is just an example. It’s not parallel. It’s a different situation. But can you see Scotty Pippin going, ‘Listen, this Jordan guy’s got to stop shootin’ so much! I’m the star!’?You know what I mean? No one ever got comfortable with the fact that the first million-seller was me singing ‘One’ and then the record company, being the record company, wanted another single with my voice. And I happened to have another one in the can that was a hit, ‘Easy To Be Hard.’ So you know record companies - if they’ve got something that’s not broken, they don’t want to fix it.

So the guys, they were upset, because I was the third guy. I was the guy who was going to sing first tenor. I was doing all the heavy lifting, doing all the high parts, doing all the falsettos. You know what? That’s fine. That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t need anything else. It was great being part of the band. And it happened when it happened. And it was very, very weird. In a sense, I was ostracized. It’s bizarre what happens in a band. And, for the most part, that went away, because, fortunately, Cory came up with ‘Shambala’ and had a big hit with that. And then Danny came up with ‘Black and White,’ a number one record. But then I had some more and, not the fact that I had the hits was the problem, it was the show, because now, I had five number one records. They actually had a portion of the show that I just did, because I had too many songs.

And we’d do TV shows and go, ‘Well, we’ll do this and not that, not that...’ And the producer would go, ‘What are you talking about? Those are number one records, why would you not do that?’ They don’t care about balancing the numbers. They just go, ‘You’re doing ‘Joy To The World,’ I’m sorry.’ And that would be it. So the band stopped doing TV. It was hard. I don’t know what it would be like being on the other side. I never thought I would... I thought we were a vocal band. But I learned that once you have a hit record with a voice, that’s what the record company wants.

And, thankfully, Cory came up with his own hits and has this great voice and it expanded the band. And Danny had ‘Black and White.’ But it hurt the band that the scales weren’t balanced. We had no control over that. I mean, I had no control over that. Neither did they. The only control you had was bringing in the best song you could bring and going in and record it, because we recorded our own stuff. We helped each other, but, like on a lot of my stuff, they weren’t even there. That’s kind of the way it worked out.

So it’s that way with sports. And I’m sure the Olympic team is having some problem with playing time. [Laughs]

So there was a sense of competition in terms of finding the songs, too?

Well, you know what? I don’t get it. Bring in a song and do it. We’d have these listening sessions and they’d go, ‘What do you think?’ And I’d go, ‘I like this. I’m going to do this one.’ Because I knew. I’d brought my own song. and they’d go, ‘Well, what do you think about this?’ I’d go, ‘I don’t know. Do you want to do it?’ Cory went, ‘I want to do this song, ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come.’ And I go, ‘Do it.’ ‘Well, do you like it?’ I said, ‘I’ve got my own songs. If you really want it...’ And it was me being a dick. But, my thing was, if you don’t know if you want to do this song, why are you doing it? So finally, he said, ‘Look, I don’t care if you guys want me to do this song.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? I never told you not to do the song. If you want to do the song, you go in and you record it. I mean, that’s what I do.’

Anyway, he recorded it and had a number one record. So it was weird. Danny barely brought in... actually the only song he brought in... the only hit song he brought in was ‘Black and White.’ I think that’s it, the only song. I mean, he brought in a lot of other songs, and you can look at the stuff he recorded. Out of the 21 hits, he sang on two of them. No beef against Danny. It’s a gift, to find a song. And you have to have the confidence. And the ability to do it. And it wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to pick on the guy, give him a nice shot in the ribs.’ It wasn’t like that. It was, you’re on your own. You bring in your song and you do it. And they’re hoping it dies. [Chuckles]

Finding the great songs, some of these have been covered by other artists and don’t work. So it must be the arrangements. Were they were individually handled, rather than group efforts?

That is the magic of Three Dog Night. And I will give that a 60-40, on the musician-band thing. Sixty goes to the band. These guys were unbelievable. The late Joe Schermie, Floyd Sneed, who still plays with me from time to time, Jimmy Greenspoon, Michael Allsup. And these guys, if they didn’t know something, because I was constantly changing keys, because I thought songs rang in certain keys. That’s why ‘Joy To The World’ sounds the way it does, because I went to a key that finally hurt. Because, I wanted everyone to go, ‘What the hell? Jeremiah - what was that?!’ So these guys learned to transpose on the spot.

And we got to the point... and I remember the track on ‘Easy To Be Hard,’ I got there and they were working on it and I went, ‘Oh, my God, that’s it! You got it!’ I mean, they put the majority of that music together. A lot of the time, we were there and we offered stuff. But we had a band that was in the zone, man. They just had a thing, man. Floyd, the drummer, and Joe Schermie, the bass player, had this unbelievable, unique thing. And Jimmy was just really flowery and a very talented musician. And Michael was just a great, great rhythm and lead guitar player - tasty, not crazy. So as far as putting those records together, that was a group effort. Each individual song, each artist had more to do than the other artists. But the band had more to do than anything.

At the height of all the success, how difficult was that to handle? You’d been in the business for quite a while already, did that help?

No. And I was a business minor. I minored in business. I had 152 I.Q. I wasn’t a dummy. Actually, I was too smart for my own good. [Laughs]. I’ll slow my brain down [slows his speech] with some drugs. Too many ideas.

It was the ‘60s. I write. I’ve written for many publications - Paradigm, which is one I’m doing an article for now, which is actually a medical magazine for psychiatrists. Because these people know nothing about drug addiction. Doctors know nothing about drug addiction. They don’t realize that they are the new dealers and pushers of the world. The candy that they’re giving out is killing our country. Because they don’t know. They don’t know the difference between an addict and a normal person. And there is a difference. When a normal person takes a pill, they throw up and they go, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to go lie down.’ When an addict takes one, they turn around to the first girl and they go, [pseudo-suave voice] ‘Hi, I’m Chuck.’ [Laughs] It’s a whole other f-cking reaction.

At any rate, we were there. We were there with the Owsleys and Learys. We got our LSD free. It was beautiful blue. It was legal. This wonderful new drug. Of course, no one told us they were testing it with people who were jumping out of windows [Laughs]. They were actually testing it with people, trying to scare them, using it in questioning was one of the things, because they thought it was a truth serum.

So anyway, I’d never done a drug in my life. I’d had two or three beers in my whole life. I was an athlete. So, naively, we got into that stuff. And that affected us. It put handcuffs on it. And because of that, things got difficult. And there’s the girls. And you’re looking all over town for the guys, in Boston, because no one came back, to the hotel. And no one has a cell phone. [Laughs] I don’t know how they found us. I don’t know how they found me at this girl’s house. [Shouts] ‘Is Chuck Negron there?’ The girl’s goes, ‘Someone’s yelling at my window.’ How the hell did they find me?

At any rate, pressure got us. We were making so much money that the business end of the people just wanted us to work. And we were making deals like two albums a year. If we turned them in on time, we started off with $100,000 bonus each and it goes up. It went all the way up to a million. And we’re doing two albums a year, touring 210 days a year. And we’re going from guys that look in our twenties to guys that look in our forties [Laughs]. And we were having sex with anything that has a pulse. [Laughs] And not sleeping. Cocaine. Crazy, over-the-line stuff. But at the end of the day, you clean out your system on that stage, two, three hours. And you’re wide awake and ready to go again. So the pressure cooker was always relieved. Because we worked hard. We weren’t a casual, cool band. We left soaking wet.

But the pressure, yeah. People started not doing their jobs. Divorces. Life. When life hits a musician in the face, you get another face [Laughs]. We had a guy that started it all, gave me my break, Danny Hutton. He’s the guy who called, told Cory, ‘I want this guy.’ And luckily, Cory liked me. And Danny and I were friends. We hung around together. And we had just had to fire Joe Schermie for cocaine abuse. We had gone into the Ritz-Carlton in New York. And Joe Schermie was a band member. In other words, he got paid a salary. Three Dog Night was Danny, Cory and I. And they had new cars long before we did, because we were paying the bills. This was a business risk, an investment on our dime.

So, at any rate, Joe got a cocaine problem. At the Ritz-Carlton, he got the suite. We’re all in regular rooms. And he ran into Sly Stone, from Sly & The Family Stone. And Joe said, ‘Can you get me some coke?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ [Laughs] So Joe got the coke and brought it back and when he called our road manager to pay for it, the road manager said, ‘Joe, I’ve been told not to pay any of your bills. I’m sorry. I thought they told you.’ And, at any rate, they went down and attacked the road manager, almost beat him to death.

So anyway, Joe was fired. And this poor man was in the hospital. That was the first real sign that this drug thing was dangerous. Look what it had done to a really good man, not just the guy they beat up, but Joe. So when Danny started falling apart, my partner got mad at him - ‘How could he do this? He saw what happened to Joe.’ Because, he didn’t understand addiction either. Because people don’t, because they’re not taught.’ And there are people today that think that alcoholism and drug addiction is a moral issue. And it’s not. Not the first time.

When you keep going back out and the things you do, when you’re using, can be terrible and unforgivable and definitely moral leper status. But they’re sick people.

But anyway, he wanted to fire Danny. And Danny was dying. And we took him to my father, actually, my father took him to the guy who does all the insurance investigation for my father’s company. And the guy came out and said, ‘He’s jaundiced. His liver is almost gone. This guy needs to be in a hospital.’ So what the management did was get him a nurse. And gave him B-12 shots. And he drank every night. And she was there. And finally, we got him and he was in bed. He couldn’t get out of bed. And they fired him. So Danny was gone. And I was the next one. Cory and I fought. And Cory just quit. He said, ‘F-ck you! I can’t do this. You’re a drug addict, too. And Jimmy’s a dug addict. And that’s it. I’m done.’ And that was it. That was it.

We did our last show at the Greek Theatre, the only original guys from Three Dog Night were Cory, me and Jimmy Greenspoon, from the original seven. lt was surreal. Cory kind of did what he wanted. He did some songs that he wanted to do that I didn’t know that he was going to do. And he brought a dancer out to dance. She actually was sleeping with our road manager. But she wasn’t really a dancer. And what she didn’t realize [Laughs] - this is terrible - they shot her from the back and she was doing all these bumps and grinds. And you could see right through. And it was very sexy... until you saw the bush from hell. It looked like a f-ckin’ amusement park. [Laughs]. It was the last show and he was going to do what he wanted. And I went, ‘Hey, catch the bush.’ He turned around. And he told her to get off the stage [Laughs]. Her boyfriend had already left. So anyway, that was it.

It was over. And millions of dollars. And I went crazy. But the original Three Dog Night ended in, I guess it was 1977, ‘76 or ‘77. That was our last show. Now they tried to make a reunion in ‘81. But by that time, I was a full-blown heroin addict. I was actually in the hospital with hepatitis. I was dying.

But, yeah, the original run, the original band, the original records, 12 or 13, were all done in that period. Actually Three Dog Night has never put out another... They got together... And they’re together now as Three Dog Night, but without Floyd and Joe and me. But at any rate, they have not put an original CD out. So the original band did all the music. Unfortunately, the business, as I like to say, chewed us up and spit us out. Because we let it. And drugs.

I’ll tell you, we were nominated for several Grammys. I was nominated for Vocal of the Year. Back then, they had that category - Best Vocal or Duet. I don’t think they have it anymore. But anyway, I remember going into the bathroom and someone going, ‘Hey, Chuck Negron.’ From under the stall, I hear the president of a company going, ‘Hey, Chuck, you wanna try some of my coke?’ Everyone, and these are big people, the whole room was in there, all the executives taking their last toke of coke before they went in. It was prevalent. Everyone did it. They weren’t hiding. It’s not like the executives were sneaking around. They were like, ‘Hey, let me try yours.’ And then, the real ugly executives, the greedy executives, they always had their own f-cking spoon that literally was a teaspoon [Laughs]. ‘I’m sorry. That won’t fit in my bottle.’ ‘Oh, pour it in. I’ll just pour it in.’ [Laughs]

What was the key to your finally pulling out of the addiction, turning your life around?

I spent 13 years, from 1978 to September 17th, 1991, in and out of 37 different rehabs. It was my career change. I became a drug consultant [Laughs]. No. I went through all the rehabs and the mental obsession, I couldn’t kick it. I’d start kicking the drugs and I’d get sick. But the mental obsession... You have no idea, unless you’re an addict. The mental obsession was relentless. And it will haunt you. It will come up with a new plan every second. Actually plans that rocket scientists come up with - how to get out, how to score. And it’s so relentless that a lot of these people end up talking to themselves on the street.

So September 17th, 1991, I went into my 37th place, because I was homeless. I weighed 126 pounds and had 16 teeth. And my sister-in-law, my sister had thrown me out. My sister-in-law said, ‘I’m going to help you, if you go into this place. The doctor will take you in. I have an interview set up for tomorrow.’ And I went in the place and a miracle happened. They treated me like a drug addict, as opposed to a celebrity.

And I got very, very sick. But they kept me so busy, sweeping leaves that weren’t there. ‘Go, go. I want all the leaves gone.’ ‘There are no leaves there.’ ‘Sweep the goddamn thing. There’s a leaf. There's a leaf.’ Keep you busy. Wash these windows. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And I complained. But you know what? My mind stopped talking. And they saved my life, Cri-Help. North Hollywood, California. There’s a lot of celebrities have been there. It’s not a celebrity place. It’s a place that people from prisons go. When I went there, they had a prison contract. They had an HIV contract. And they had a Youth Authority. So they had, literally, gangbangers in there. They stopped that, because these kids were just going there to get out of county or juvenile time. We’re talking about kids who kill people. So, when I went there, it was pretty rough. Now it’s a multi-million dollar facility. And the demographic and the different lifestyles are there. So it’s a more balanced place. But still, 60 percent of their beds are free. There are no such places in the world.

Are you still involved with the organization, helping out?

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I go there every Monday. I sponsor kids, I take them out. I take them for their first meal. A lot times guys have told me, ‘You don’t have no money.’ I go,’ Yeah, I know. But it’s for Cri-Help.’ That’s why I don’t even have a watch. [Laughs]

And it was your sister-in-law who got you in there?

No, my sister-in-law asked around, found the doctor, a very well known doctor. And he had helped me before. And she met him, because he had actually done a home detox at my wife’s house, her sister’s house. So she knew the doctor and the doctor, after the home detox, said ‘I’ll never do that again. This guy goes crazy.’ At any rate, she called the doctor and he said, ‘You bring him here and he needs to go directly to Cri-Help. And, by the way, don’t tell him. Cri-Help, you kick cold turkey. There is no medication.’ So she made it very attractive to me. I was on the streets. She got me a motel room for two nights. The meeting wasn’t until the next day. I said, ‘Well, I have to have drugs.’ She gave me the money. I went and got the drugs. The next day I did the meeting. Going into Cri-Help the next day. This was, in my mind, a hustle. She gave me enough money to get drugs, to get me through that night. And then a couple of hours later, someone showed up at my door, these guys, and said, ‘Come on, come with us.’ And they took me out to the beach and they said, ‘We know you’re going to be sick tomorrow morning, but we’re taking you to Cri-Help. And that’s it.’

And in the morning, this one guy took me to Cri-Help. And I tried to jump out of the car. And he sped up. I went, ‘You’ll kill me, if you speed up!’ And he went, ‘You’re trying to jump out of the car on the freeway and you’re talking about me killing you?’ [Laughs] He died last year. He was a friend all this time. He died with 26 years clean and sober.

So anyway, a miracle happened, Cri-Help. I stayed there for a year. I ended up getting a job, working in a hospital as a tech for abused and addicted adolescents. And I was going to do that for the rest of my life.

And did it seem like a second life after that?

It was a second life. And it was like being in the orphanage, but now I was the guy that was going to help these kids, as opposed to those assholes... and pedophiles, that were there. Because they were there. That’s where they went in the ‘40s and ‘50s. It was unbelievable. So anyway, I helped these kids. And it was my calling. I would have done it the rest of my life.

When I went back to Cri-Help, I was at a meeting, and there was this woman there, who knew my wife. She said, ‘He looks... Is he in Cri-Help?’ They said, ‘Oh, no, he’s been out for over a year.’ And she went, ‘You know what? I’m the producer of ‘Golden Girls.’ The TV show with the old ladies? And we’re doing a spin-off called ‘Golden Palace.’ I’d love him to do the music.’ I ended up doing it and, on the credits, you can see Chuck Negron. An agent for the Sands in Atlantic City hears my voice, says, ‘That’s Chuck Negron.’ Sees the name. Contacts my ex-brother-in-law. Finally gets back to me. Calls me up. Says, ‘I’ve got a gig for you, opening for Howie Mandel. So I said, ‘Hey, I don’t even have a band.’ He said, ‘I’ll send you to the Plaza. Put a band together. Just for the show. It’s a week.’ So I did. And it was fantastic. That led to another gig. There it was again. It came to me. It was meant to be. Because I would have stayed in the hospital. One thing led to another. I got a budget to do this CD, ‘Am I Still In Your Heart?’ I’ve done five altogether, two DVDs, award-winning DVDs, won the prison award for socially conscious message in TV, movies, and it’s a big thing in our industry. It’s a very prestigious award, because it’s a humanitarian award. ‘L.A. Law’ wins a lot, as far as the TV stuff.

I was there when the Johnny Cash story won and the director came up and spoke. It was very interesting. This guy, he was an actor in the old days. And he came up and said, ‘I want to make it very clear that Johnny Cash wasn’t like the rock stars, with the drugs. Here’s a guy who made a movie all about drugs and stuff. He didn’t have a clue. Johnny Cash was exactly like us. He was a drug addict. So there are people that just don’t understand that this is a disease.

At any rate, so life’s been good. I have an 18-year-old from Robin, that’s the lady I spoke of. And my sister-in-law died. She passed away. And I have an 11-year-old. Both of them have performed with me. One at the Hollywood Bowl. And one two months ago in Las Vegas. And my son, Barry, who is 37, is in my band. And my other kids, I’ve got seven grandkids. I’ve got a great life. And I’ve got all my hair. [Laughs] And the kick for me is, one of the guys in Three Dog Night doesn’t.

Coming back into the music, did you have a different perspective?

These are very good questions. I was born... a part of my brain was born, when I started recording in this other atmosphere, this atmosphere of any idea I had was okay to throw out. And I literally got smarter, grew more than I had in 20 years of music. And it was the most unbelievable learning, spiritual experience I had had for a very,very long time. And I realized what a blessing this was, to learn, for the first time, what a gift art is, what a special present I’ve been given. I’m in here creating my songs, working on other people’s songs. I’m in here, defining what my soul is and what my words are. And I’m getting to do it.

So it was a miracle. It was a miracle. And I went, ‘How did you miss that?’ And that’s what you miss in the business. It all starts off, you’re either too young or too naive to know it, because you’re too excited, to settle down and go, ‘Oh, my God, I feel good.’

And then, the next record was a Christmas record. And at the time, there were kind of attacks on the Christians. Because Christians were the only targets, because you couldn’t say anything about anyone else. It was like, ’Let’s get the Christians!’ [Chuckles] So, at any rate, I did an album with pretty traditional Christmas songs. A lot of them have very Christian verses. So I did that. It did very well. I did it for Best Buy. It did very well for them. I did an independent thing with them. At that time, they sold one-third of the records in the country. So that worked out great.

And the next record, was for my book, ‘A Three Dog Nightmare.’ I wanted to do the first soundtrack to a book. So I wrote the music for the book. So you could experience both. Unfortunately, the book company did not want any part of working with a record company. It was like the stupidest thing. They would have had the money. It was Universal, by the way, the biggest record company in the world. They would have had that budget to work with. And it’s just amazing how stupid people are. But it was their baby. They didn’t want anyone else involved. And that idea, I think, would really have flown. So we put the record out without the book and I’m talking about a subject that’s pretty personal. So, at any rate, that’s called ‘The Long Road Back.’ And then I did my live, two-CD set. And then I did ‘The Best Of.’ I’m working.

And I’m working on a new project right now, which is really lighting me up. I’m doing my third book, 10 short stories. And I know they’re going to want this one as the cover - and I’m hoping they don’t, but I know they will - there’s one story that’s ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll: A Contact Sport.’ And I basically, talk about, with all my experiences in the Bronx. I’ve had my collarbone broken by a stickball bat in a fight. Had my jaw broken. Ba-ba-ba-ba... nothing prepared me for the world of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll.

I remember a cover of Life, Terry Sawchuck, a goalie, he’s on the cover and they had a makeup person accentuate his scars. Six hundred stitches in his face. Before masks. So I have a hundred, from falls, car accidents, broken bones, I have dents in my head. And my father, I mean I’m almost dead, it’s just the way my family is, a denial thing, and he’s so proud of his handsome boy, as he has called me, his handsome son. He sees me in the hospital and I go, ‘Oh, Dad, I’ve got a hole in my head.’ He said, ‘You know, it makes you look better. [Laughs] ‘You know, that’s a good scar. Character-building.’

So I have a hundred. I have two-centimeter dents in my head and my cheekbones were broken. So it’s scary as f-ckin’ hell. It’s going to be my message to kids. And this article is great. I’m very happy, because I actually do get to give them an education about drug addiction. So I’m working on trying to finish up that book, which has stories that have to do with everything. That’s the only drug story in it. But I know it’s the one they’re going to use, because it has sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll. But I’m hoping they just do something subtle like ‘Ten Short Stories of Chuck Negron’s.’

With all you’ve been through, you must feel there’s a reason why you’ve been able to survive.

I believe that God has saved me as an example to resilience and faith and that there is something else working, because, I have one lung, I have emphysema, and I sing like I have 10 lungs. I’ve taken so many shots to the head - through cars, beaten with a baseball bat twice in my life, actually. And then, in South Central L.A., stabbed. I’m meant to be here. As my father said, again, he said, ‘You know what? You look great. I think God knows that people don’t like ugly, so he’s keeping you good, so they’ll listen to you.’ [Laughs]

And the other thing is keeping the voice. How have you managed that?

I have to say, I did go to a voice coach, who helped Bonnie Raitt, when she decided to come back 30 years ago. And I went to him 20 years ago. I haven’t gone in five. But I’m back now. I’m singing all the songs in the same key, but sometimes I don’t like the sound. They’re not as round, the notes, because they’re high and I’m tight. So I’m warming up and doing a lot more stuff, so I can get the full sound. It’s a gift from God, because, like I said, I knew I could sing before I ever sang. So it was in there. I’m very blessed.

I’ve got stuff. I’ve got family issues. I’ve got physical issues. Nothing that stops me. I had a show two weeks ago with The Spinners and Joan Jett and K.C. and the Sunshine Band. And two hours before the show, I fell and broke my rib. And I couldn’t even breathe. I couldn’t move. But I didn’t want to tell anybody, because what are they going to do? Wrap it? So I got one of my people and I said, ‘Go to CVS or whatever and get a wrap or if they have an abdominal thing, get that’ and they did and I just put it up around my chest. I did the show. Actually, I did a two-hour show. Paid for it later that night. But nothing I couldn’t handle. Did a show two days later. Then did a show two days after that. And then finally have been home for a week to heal and now I’m fine.

But I’m not a hero. There’s just something going on. It’s just meant to be. It’s just meant to be. And as I keep doing stuff, maybe it’s this next project, this book, but it’s got to get out there. There has to be information in schools. It’s part of life. You have to understand it. There are addicts and there are normal people. And if you’re an addict, you need to understand the signs, because if you drink or use and you are, you’re rolling the dice with your life.

Do you know why it’s qualified as a disease? The reason is, they found out that, when alcoholics take a drink of alcohol, when they’re 10 years old, whenever, their first drink, an immediate physical craving, like a food allergy, starts. It’s an allergic reaction, that manifests itself in a craving. That craving cannot be satisfied, except by one thing - another drink. And it stops the craving. You go to sleep. You wake up. You’re fine. And you will be fine until you take the next drink. And then that craving will start again. Now, the dangerous thing is, where you’re satisfying the craving all the time. And constantly drink, drink, drink, drink. Eventually what will happen is stage two of the disease, the mental obsession. There is actually a place in your brain - this is what they found - that it will start a mental obsession. You will now wake up with your mind going, ‘You need a drink.’ And it stimulates the craving. So you’re in a physical and mental dilemma. And, without the skills, you can’t fight your brain. Your brain’s telling you, you need a drink. And putting it off makes you anxious. And anyhow, it’s a terrible disease. And some people have to learn, they just can’t drink. Just don’t drink. If you’re taking drinks as a kid, just to be social, and you’re finding yourself waking up in the morning with a sheep in your bed, stop drinking!

Basically, do you tend to look back not at the regrets, but at the good fortune?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I’m happy guy. I’m a blessed guy. The farther away I stay from the years that are gone, the better I am. The more I live in the day, and even in the moment, especially when the moment is precious, the better I am. The less I look back, the less I look ahead, the more I stay where I am, I’m good. I’m not just saying that. I work on that. I’m happy.

I just took my girl to her mom’s. Took the hamster. Took the two dogs. It’s quiet here. I’ve got my air-conditioning on. I’m walking around nude. [Laughs] My life is good. And this music has done nothing but make my life good.

I’m so grateful for my voice. So grateful for the guys in Three Dog Night and the music that we did. I thank the guys in Three Dog Night every night in my show. I mention them by name. And I thank them for the opportunity that they gave me to work with them. I told you all the stuff I told you, but the bottom line is, I’m a part of something that was wonderful and special. I mean, by 1976, we had almost 90 million records sold. I mean, to date, they’re arguing that, since we weren’t paid for 90 million, they’re saying it was 60. But we did something that had never been done. And the music was great. So, no, I’m good with it.

Is there a song or two that means more to you personally, amongst all those hits?

Yeah. The first one. ‘One.’ Because it was our first million-seller. And the band fought not to let it be released. They said, ‘No, this is a band. We want the three voices. And the record company put out ‘Nobody.’ And they put out other records that just didn’t make it. And they were going on to the next album. And I went, ‘There’s a hit here, man!’ So they put it out. And it was. And then ‘Easy To Be Hard,’ because I did that in one take. And I went, ‘Oh, my God, I can do this. I’m getting better.’ And when I heard the playback, I went, ‘I’m getting better.’ And it was like, ‘Oh, yes!’ And so, for those reasons.

Other songs for other reasons. I liked ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come,’ because I was so glad that Cory decided to do something that he had wanted to do for years. And that it paid off for him. I was really excited for him. And so that record is special to me. ‘Liar,’ that Danny did, I think was great and it was when he was in the game. And, if he had kept making that kind of rock record, he would have had a lot more hits. And everyone was trying to be me. Once I had those hits, all of a sudden, everyone’s bringing in ballads. I go, ‘Hey, that’s not the idea of the band. The idea is for you to come up with stuff that’s totally different.’ And that’s when Cory came up with ‘Mama.’ It made us so big, because the R&B charts put it on. They went, ‘That’s the same guys that did ‘One’ and ‘Easy To Be Hard’?’ It was like really big stuff.

Did you have the opportunity to rejoin them with this current edition of Three Dog Night?

Well, you know what? We made an effort. My father-in-law is a very, very successful businessman. Very wealthy, very successful businessman. And he would come to me and he’d say, ‘Chuck, I just talked with the producer, manager, ba-ba-ba. I’m trying to get you with the best people. And every one of them says the same thing.’ I say, ‘What?’ I knew what it was. ‘Rejoin Three Dog Night.’ I said, ‘You know what? These people are brilliant.’ I mean, who would have thought of that?

So, he said, ‘I have an interview with the president of CAA,’ the biggest agency in the world. So we go in and my father-in-law and him map out a plan. He said, ‘First of all, get those guys off the road. They’re ruining the name. For at least a year.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s the end of that.’ He goes, ‘Ozzie?’ And Ozzie [Negron’s father-in-law Ozzie Silna] goes, ‘‘Well, this is my plan. They bring in this amount of money a year. That’s what they take home. I am going to double it for them to stay home.’ He’s a businessman. That’s what he does - money. He says, ‘I’m going to double it. You guys are going to spend a year rehearsing, writing, putting an unbelievable show together. We’re going to get you a producer. We’ll put a production together. You’ll come out of the box like... ‘ And I went, ‘Wow! That’s fantastic.’ We had CAA on board. Major agents.

Ozzie drafted a contract. Talked to their accountant, who was the only one that would talk to us. We went and had a meeting. And Danny said ‘No. No, this is not for sale. And we’re not stopping. We’re not going to stop touring and we’re not going to record anything new. We don’t need to. And here’s our offer - if you want to come in the band, we will pay you $4,000 a week and you’ll be on salary with a three-year probation period. At the end of three years, if you’re not doing well, we can let you go.’ And that was totally Three Dog Night. You give them the sky. You offer them the great opportunity. And they just stir the shit. Because they didn’t want what happened before to happen again. Actually, it was one guy. The other guy was like an abused old man. [old man voice] ‘I don’t want any trouble!’

Danny doesn’t have the heart to take the back seat again. But the thing was, we could have done more new music. He could have sang a lot of the songs. We were always a group. We always did group songs, ‘Celebrate,’ ‘Family of Man.’ They were all group songs. So that kind of shut the door. And every once in a while, it gets opened a little. And their accountant, who was my accountant back then, was dying. He did die. He said, ‘Look, there’s word on the street that The Beach Boys are doing a reunion.

I called Danny. After all the years. His wife answered the phone. I said, ‘Hi, it’s Chuck.’ Because we’re still friends. I run into her in the market. Anyway, I said, ‘Look, I want to talk to Danny, but I know him, so you can do what you do, repeat what I say [Laughs] ‘Okay.’ ‘I think this is a wonderful opportunity for Three Dog Night to get together to open for The Beach Boys. We’ll make a fortune. We’ll give all the fans what they want. And then that’s it.’ And then she repeats it. So I said, ‘Can I speak to Danny?’ She said, ‘Sure.’ And there’s a muffle over the phone. ‘Oh, he’s in the shower.’ So he wouldn’t even speak to me.

Well, at least you all have the reward of knowing how much your music means to the audience.

Oh, yeah. Listen, I get fans all the time, Chuck Negron fans. And the bottom line is, they want to see Three Dog Night. In their heart of hearts, they’re happy for me, but they want to see Three Dog Night. Because that would lift them up. And you know what, when this Beach Boys thing came up, that would have been a great package, Three Dog Night and The Beach Boys. So I saw that as our last opportunity, because everyone’s getting older. But, at any rate, that’s what we have.

But the Three Dog Night music lives on.

Oh, yeah, that Three Dog Night sound is alive, that high voice, that harmony, that tone, it’s what separated us from other bands, the ranges and the notes that the tenor hit, which happened to be me, but it was unique. Now, I can’t sound like Three Dog Night, because I’m not Cory and Danny. But I can make people believe that they’re listening to Three Dog Night, whereas Danny singing ‘One,’ or Cory singing ‘Easy To Be Hard,’ can’t do it. The second I open my mouth, they recognize the voice. And it brings them back. So that’s good for me. [Laughs].

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