A little over a year ago, former Three Dog Night vocalist Chuck Negron stood onstage at the Stafford Centre at the finale of the "Happy Together" tour stop, belting out numbers while shoulder to shoulder with The Turtles, Gary Lewis, Gary Puckett and former Paul Revere and the Raiders vocalist Mark Lindsay.
Nearly three hours long, the show was an all-killer-no-filler time travel through well-known radio and chart hits of the '60s and '70s. Negron proffered signature hits like "Joy to the World," "One," "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song," and "Celebrate" to the gray-haired audience whose years melted away from their faces as they sang familiar choruses.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the "Happy Together" tour returns to the Stafford Centre tonight with Negron, the Turtles, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and new additions Mitch Ryder the Detroit Wheels and former Grand Funk Railroad singer/guitarist Mark Farner.
So the first question to Negron, naturally, is this: Between the two Marks, who would win in a fistfight? Lindsay has the height and the reach, but Farner's got the muscle...
"Ha! I have no idea! But that's a good question!" Negron laughs. "But I think Farner's a lot younger, so he might have the edge!" (For the record, Farner is 65 and Lindsay 72.)
Negron has toured mostly as a solo act in the past few decades, having been fired from Three Dog Night twice for drug issues. And though he has been clean and sober since 1991 and has always expressed a desire to reunite, Two Dogs Danny Hutton and Cory Wells continue to tour under the band name and aren't interested in hooking back up at all.
When he spoke with Rocks Off last year, Negron was hopeful that would change, and said he had even made overtures to Hutton with an idea that a reunited Three Dog Night could open for the Beach Boys on that band's recent 50th anniversary tour.
After reaching Hutton's wife on the phone and being told that Danny was in the room, she suddenly said he wasn't there. And that was the end of that.
"It doesn't look like it's going to happen for any reason -- financial or otherwise -- and I'm fine with that," Negron notes. "I don't even know if they are up to doing it!
"They tour now, but I'm talking about a real tour where you've really got to sing and be ready every night," he continues. "I don't think that's somewhere they are right now. I think they get up and go through the paces. And Danny doesn't want to be relegated to being a backup singer again, since Cory and I sang [lead] on most of the songs. I don't know if it would be fun for me to work with them."
Instead, Negron takes much joy (to the world and otherwise) from the reception he and the rest of the Happy Together musicians have received on the tour.
"It is very rewarding to be part of something like this, because we've touched people's lives with our songs," he says, adding that this year's lineup is "more energetic and heavier" with the addition of Ryder and Farner.
Story continues on the next page.
In their heyday, Three Dog Night racked up 21 consecutive Top 20 hits, and Negron knows that here -- unlike a solo show -- he has less stage time and so must pack in as many hits as possible into his half-hour set. But when asked if he could include a deeper cut just for him, Negron points to "Cowboy," from 1970's It Ain't Easy record as a "fun song to do."
That song, like most of the band's catalogue, was not penned by the group members. Instead, the band relied on covers and outsiders for their material, and gave early exposure to writers like Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, Paul Williams and Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
As a result, the band -- which in addition to the three vocalists, included four musicians -- has always gotten a critical rap from rock critics not extended to, say, solo performers or soul groups who have done the same.
"We wrote together in the beginning, but it just didn't work," Negron says. "It was leading to the destruction of the band, and we just didn't have the gift of collaboration in songwriting.
"And the stigma has stayed with us," he continues. "I mean, half of the acts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame didn't write their own material. And at least we chose the songs. Groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops were just told what to record."
After the current Happy Together tour wraps up, Negron will put the finishing touches on a new CD he's been recording with his two daughters, ages 13 and 20. It will feature a mix of originals and covers, and he plans to shop the final masters around to various companies. Though he says it will be available on iTunes and Amazon "and wherever else people get their music these days."
As mentioned, Negron has been clean and sober for more than two decades after many harrowing years with drug and alcohol abuse he later chronicled in the book Three Dog Nightmare (now in its third, revised printing). The tome made sections of Motley Crue's The Dirt look like a kid's Golden Book by comparison.
In the ensuing years, Negron has maintained a busy schedule in his second job -- which takes up almost as much of his time as performing -- as a substance-abuse counselor and speaker, working with organizations that minister to recovering addicts.
So in a "What If" scenario with tantalizing possibilities, Negron was contacted to try and speak with a then-struggling Kurt Cobain near the end of his life, though two attempted meetings never occurred. When asked what he would have said to the fragile Nirvana front man that might have saved him, Negron details what his approach would have been.
"I would have probably listened to him more than anything else," he says. "He stopped our first meeting because he was insecure, and it wasn't easy for him to reach out to someone like me. The second time we tried to meet, he climbed out the window [of the rehab center] and went back home.
"And we all know what happened after that," Negron adds. "Whatever is said to him would have been a play on what he said to me. I wouldn't have had stock advice for him."
The "Happy Together" Tour pulls into Stafford Centre, 10505 Cash Rd., tonight at 8 p.m.
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.