"JEREMIAH WAS A BULLFROG!"
That odd, simple and urgent declarative sentence from Three Dog Night's "Joy to the World" is one of the most famous classic-rock song openings of all time. But the man who sang it both then and now, Chuck Negron, says that what became the group's most recognizable hit almost never even made it to vinyl.
"Some of the other guys in the band didn't want to record it or put it out because they thought it wasn't 'hip' enough. But they love it now... especially when they get that royalty check twice a year!" laughs Negron, who turned 71 the 70-year-old Negron laughs. "There's something so positive about it. You can say to someone 'Hey, I want you to have joy to the world! I want joy to the goddamn fishes in the deep blue sea!"
Released as a single in 1971 and written by singer/songwriter Hoyt Axton, "Joy to the World" eventually ascended to the top of the Billboard singles chart and stayed there for six weeks. It was just one of an amazing string of 21 Top 40 hits for the group, which included three vocalists (Negron, Cory Wells, Danny Hutton) and four musicians (Michael Allsup, Floyd Sneed, Jimmy Greenspoon and Joe Schermie).
But it wasn't until fairly recently when Negron heard the song performed at his grandkids' various school recitals that he grasped its greater significance. "I thought 'We've made it! We've finally arrived! We're in the school system!" he chortles. "It gave me a warm fuzzy. And it's had a life of its own, way beyond our version."
Negron still performs the song, along with many other Three Dog Night hits that he sang lead on ("One," "Easy to Be Hard," "Pieces of April," "Just an Old Fashioned Love Song," "The Show Must Go On"), but as a solo artist and not with the other two lead Dogs. Hutton and Wells still tour as Three Dog Night with a band that includes Allsup and Greenspoon. Under his own name, he's part of the "Happy Together" '60s package tour, that stops at the Stafford Centre Tuesday (tomorrow) along with the Turtles, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and Mark Lindsay, former lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders.
While he is used to performing 75-90 minute shows with his current road band, Negron says these types of tours are a different animal.
"You only have half an hour, and you have to get right to it and be in the audience's face with all the hits," he says. You can't create a mood and bring them up and down like with a longer show. It's almost harder in a way."
And though he's sung those familiar hits hundreds (maybe thousands) of times over the past four and a half decades, Negron says he never sleepwalks through the performance, cognizant that a large portion of every audience is seeing him for the first and perhaps only time.
"Some artists say 'Oh, I've got to do this song again,' and I say 'I hope I can do this again!'" he offers. "Every time I sing those songs, it's a new challenge, and I'm not bullshitting you. It's a new chance to do the song the best I can do."
"With 'One,' I've got to go from a power voice to soft falsetto," continues Negron. "And except for 'Eli's Coming,' I do all the songs in the original key I did them in from the records. I mean, I'm tucking my underwear up, whatever I need to do!"
In fact, Negron is happy to even be alive to be able to perform today. While in the grip of a 25-year heroin addiction, he was close so, so many times to joining the list of Dead Rock Star casualties. He chronicled his struggles, along with his music career, in the truly harrowing book Three Dog Nightmare.
Negron's numerous attempts to get clean proved fruitless and damaged his career and relations with just about everyone in his life. But after 13 years in 37 separate rehabs, he has been drug-free since 1991.
So this begs the question: Why is Chuck Negron not back with the very actively touring Three Dog Night?
"It's because of those guys. And I refer to them as 'those guys' because I can't even relate," he says, answering the inevitable question he'll get with every interview. But he does hold out hope for something in the near future that will put all the Dogs back in the same pen again...
Coming up in Part II: Three Dog Night's history and Negron's rocky relationships with them, how his book cost him his marriage, his attempt to help an ailing Kurt Cobain, and a long-lost Houston connection.
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Chuck Negron and the other acts of the "Happy Together 2013" tour play the Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash Rd. in Stafford, Tuesday, June 11. Doors open at 8 p.m.