When Chuck Negron comes to the Stafford Centre tonight at part of the "Happy Together" '60s-music package tour, he says it will remind him of his Houston connection and how important the state of Texas was to the success of his former band, Three Dog Night.
"We broke out in Texas," recalls Negron. "Our version of 'Try a Little Tenderness' broke in Dallas and then Houston [in 1969]. And Texas was the first spot we got to tour and play big places.
"The first stadium we ever played and sold out was the Cotton Bowl, so Texas holds a very dear place in my heart," he adds. "We felt like stars in Texas, and then we went home and to other places where we hadn't had any big success yet."
Closer to the Bayou City, Negron says he used to visit his mother who worked as a secretary to the Vice President of the Arabian Oil Company based in Houston.
"I went out once to meet her in Houston...in August...and I said, 'I'll never come back here again!'" Negron laughs about his experience with the climate. "But she lived there for three years."
The band that was to become Three Dog Night was formed in 1967 by vocalists Danny Hutton and Cory Wells, who then invited Negron to join. The three then hired a four-man backing group and between the late '60s and mid-'70s racked up 21 Top 40 hits, 13 gold albums, and played to massive audiences.
The hits included "Joy to the World," "One," "An Old Fashioned Love Song," "Try a Little Tenderness," "Black & White," "Celebrate," "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)," "Pieces of April," "Easy to Be Hard," and many more. All are collected on the CD The Complete Hit Singles.
Three Dog Night was one of the most commercially successful rock acts of the '70s, and yet because the members didn't write their own material, was looked down upon by the rock cognoscenti.
But no one could argue with their choice of material. Whether covers of songs done by other artists or unreleased tracks, they introduced audiences to the work of songwriters like Randy Newman, Paul Williams, Laura Nyro, Leo Sayer, Hoyt Axton and even Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
The band reunited in 1981, but Negron was fired four years later due to severe drug problems. He cleaned up for good in 1991 and wrote a book, 1999's Three Dog Nightmare, but -- despite singing lead on a good chunk of their hits -- has never been asked to rejoin the successfully touring Three Dog Night helmed by Hutton and Wells.
"That book cost me my marriage to the woman that saved my life," Negron says today. "The anger that I had prayed and gotten rid of many years ago -- anger at the guys, anger at myself -- resurfaced. She said that she liked me better on heroin."
Outside of music, Negron keeps busy with the Los Angeles drug and treatment center Cri-Help, to which he credits with his own recovery success. He also works as a speaker to groups and personal counselor, sometimes to other rock stars.
As he recounted last year on record producer Dino Maddalone's TV show Ask Dino, he visited Rick James in his last days. The funk master, near the end and breathing with the help of a mask, told Negron he still felt "luckier than him" because he "hadn't lost his houses."
Negron also said that a planned meeting with Kurt Cobain was scuttled as the last minute when the Nirvana front man got nervous and a second attempt was made moot when Cobain killed himself a few days later.
As for his continued exclusion from Three Dog Night, Negron posits the main obstacle is that Hutton -- who runs the band business today but sang lead on only a few hits -- doesn't want to be the "third wheel" onstage again.
Negron told Maddalone that he tried to make a reunion happen, with hopes of the band opening for the Beach Boys on their hugely successful 50th anniversary tour last year, but that Hutton wouldn't even come to the phone when Negron reached him at home.
"How many years do we have left to do this, really?" Negron offers. "It would be a huge tour, and we need to do it for the fans, and for Floyd [Sneed] I would love to sing harmony with those guys for one more time. I miss that. But Danny won't put himself in a position to be pushed to the back. Cory hates him, but I don't. He just doesn't want to lose his spot."
And while a full performing reunion of the classic seven man lineup is impossible -- Joe Schermie died in 2002 and Sneed is battling lymphoma cancer -- Negron holds out hope, even as he prepares a new CD, Then and Now, featuring covers of songs that inspired him and his take on some unreleased Three Dog Night material.
"They only way it could happen is of something special happened that forces Danny to where he can't say no, and I don't know what that is," Negron says. "I have something in the mix right now, though. It would be a huge tour. Huge."
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