When former Three Dog Night singer Chuck Negron stands before an audience and belts out songs like “One,” “Joy To The World” and “Easy To Be Hard,” he feels like one of the luckiest men in the world.
Not just lucky to be performing his favorite songs at age 62. Lucky to be alive.
Many of America’s rock stars have crazy stories to tell about drug abuse and the hedonistic lives they lived, but Negron’s story is truly harrowing. For well over 20 years, his life was defined by his severe addiction to heroin and other drugs. During those years, he lived for his next shot of heroin. His addiction drove away his family, his bandmates and destroyed his musical career.
At one point in the 1980s, the man who once sold out stadiums and sang No. 1 records was so strung out, he occasionally slept in a big cardboard box that one of his fellow addicts used as his home. His love for drugs put Negron in one dangerous situation after another.
“I should be dead,” Negron wrote at the beginning of his best-seller autobiography, aptly called “Three Dog Nightmare.”
Negron, happily, did not die. Clean and sober since 1990, he still performs about 70 times a year including a concert at 8 p.m. Friday in the Bear’s Den showroom at the Seneca Niagara Casino.
Fighting off his addiction in a detox program after dozens of trips to the hospital saved his life, Negron said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Studio City, Calif. He believes God intervened and saved him.
“Things are so much simpler now,” said the rocker, who is three times married and divorced and a father of five. “I’m glad that I’m able to be there for my kids and myself.”
Negron’s life story could make quite a movie. He grew up in the Bronx in New York City, where his Puerto Rican parents split up and temporarily put him into an orphanage. As a teenager, he developed two amazing talents – singing doo-wop music with a band called the Rondells, and playing basketball. A high-scoring guard, he became one of the best high school hoopsters in New York, and had several basketball scholarship offers.
At age 18, Negron decided his life’s work would be music. He traveled out to Los Angeles, where he eventually hooked up with two other talented singers, Danny Hutton and Buffalo nativ) Cory Wells. In the late ’60s, they formed Three Dog Night, and for about a decade, it was one of the biggest rock acts in America.
With three soulful lead singers sharing all the vocals, the band was a real rarity, but the formula worked. Between 1967 and 1975, they had 21 hit songs. They had 12 gold records and sold more than 50 million recordings.
Those were exciting days, Negron recalls. Groupies and drugs were everywhere. He hung out at LA’s Rainbow Bar and Grill, where on any given night, rock stars like Led Zeppelin, the Who and even a guy named Elvis would show up. Negron got to know a lot of superstars.
He remembered one night when he and a lady friend were sitting in an Italian restaurant. Singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson walked in with former Beatle George Harrison and record producer Richard Perry. At the time, Three Dog Night’s first No. 1 song – “One,” which was written by Nilsson – was dominating the record charts.
“Harry Nilsson walked up to me and said, ‘I like my verson of ‘One’ better than your version,’ ” Negron said. “I told him, ‘Maybe so, but I’m the guy who is making you some money.’”
Even the acerbic Nilsson could not disagree with that. “He just laughed,” Negron said.
Drugs, alcohol and band disagreements took their toll on Three Dog Night. The band broke up more than once. Negron has not performed with Hutton and Wells since 1985. He said he hasn’t spoken to either of them “in many years.”
Hutton and Wells still perform as “Three Dog Night” and Negron does his own tours with his own band. Sadly, he said he cannot imagine ever working with Hutton or Wells ever again.
“We tried to put together a reunion in the ’90s, had some meetings,” Negron said. “But I just realized that the relationships were just too strained. Too many things had happened between us over the years. I just didn’t want to put myself back into that situation. I realized I was better off on my own. We’re rival entities now. I am sure they look at me as someone who cuts into their business.”
Negron said he is proud of his own band, and he’s excitedly working on a solo album featuring backup vocals from two of his daughters – Charlotte Rose Negron, 21, and Annabelle Quinn Negron, 14. He said they are the only kids Negron has who have only known him as a clean and sober man.
He’s also proud of the audience reactions he gets to beloved Three Dog Night hits that featured him on lead vocals, including “Easy To Be Hard,” “Out In The Country,” “Old-Fashioned Long Song” and “Pieces of April.”
And despite their soured relationships, he is proud of the music he created with Hutton, Wells and the rest of Three Dog Night.
“Those are some great songs, really great pieces of art,” Negron said. “We made some great records.”
Who: Chuck Negron
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Bear’s Den, Seneca Niagara Casino
Tickets: $45 and up