GOLDMINE: Congratulations to you and Ami on your recent marriage. My wife Donna and I look forward to you both coming back to Daytona Beach with the Happy Together Tour in June.
CHUCK NEGRON: Thank you. I hope so. After skipping a year due to the pandemic, it will be great to be back on that tour.
GM: I have quite a few favorite Three Dog Night flip sides, going back to your 1969 debut, but let’s highlight your final single on the Dunhill label, “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues),” with your tender and powerful approach to Lighthouse’s “I’d Be So Happy” as the flip side.
CN: Cory Wells sang and arranged the A side and did a great job, and Jimmy Ienner, who produced Lighthouse, also produced our Hard Labor album and he introduced us to “I’d Be So Happy,” the flip side.
Three Dog Night
Flip side: I’d Be So Happy
A side: Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)
Top 100 debut: September 28, 1974
Peak position: No. 33
GM: Jimmy also produced acts from my hometown of Cleveland, The Raspberries and then Eric Carmen. Growing up on the Great Lakes coast, my best friend John and I would also listen to Canadian music, like Lighthouse and Domenic Troiano, and two of his compositions are also flip sides of your hit singles, “I Can Hear You Calling” as the flip side of “Joy to the World” and “The Writings on the Wall” as the flip side of “Pieces of April.”
CN: With Domenic Troiano, that was before Jimmy Ienner was producing us, and there was a connection with our management group, with Domenic’s group opening for us. I found out later that this was a business thing, where our management group received publishing income for this, which we never received as a group, so they wanted songs that they had publishing rights to on the flip sides. This was probably the case with Jimmy with “I’d Be So Happy,” with his publishing rights for that song.
GM: When the Happy Together Tour 2017 came to Daytona Beach, our daughter Brianna was with us, and heard for the first time, and fell in love with, “Eli’s Coming.” She was so impressed with your delivery of that complex song.
CN: Great. I am glad that Brianna loved it. That’s a good choice, ha ha. Laura Nyro, who wrote that song, was from the Bronx, not that far from where I lived. Like me, she loved early doo-wop. A few years after “Eli’s Coming” she recorded a doo-wop and soul album with Patti Labelle and The Blue Belles, who later became the trio Labelle, called Gonna Take a Miracle. Going back to her second album with Columbia, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, I heard “Eli’s Coming.” Our manager told us that we needed a “come see me” hit. “One” was mid-tempo. “Easy to Be Hard” was a ballad. I brought in “Eli’s Coming” for Cory to sing. Cory loved it and thought it was perfect and exciting. It had three slots for all three vocalists, Cory, me, and Danny Hutton. I was really impressed with Laura’s compositions and how far she had come and what an eclectic writer she was. Fortunately, it did so well for us.
GM: You mentioned “Easy to Be Hard.” In 1969 you, The Cowsills, The 5th Dimension, and Oliver all had songs from the musical Hair in The Top 40.
CN: That was an interesting phenomenon. To this day there are people who don’t know that “Easy to Be Hard” is from Hair. I heard it in the show. I thought the timing in the phrasing was a bit off. We changed the phrasing and it became a hit.
GM: I also mentioned “Pieces of April” earlier. That is another beautiful ballad, written by Dave Loggins, who I know from his song “Please Come to Boston.”
CN: Dave also wrote a lot of country hits and he wrote “Til the World Ends” for us. He is such a talented writer. “Pieces of April” is our only hit with just one of us singing on it. Cory and Danny were on vacation and I got a call that they needed a couple more songs for our Seven Separate Fools album, and that was one of those final songs for the record.
GM: In addition to the hit “Joy to the World,” my friend Rick introduced me to your Christmas version.
CN: I had some great resources when I did the Christmas album as a special product for Best Buy. They provided a gospel choir and a children’s choir for the project. I changed the arrangement to use the holiday “Joy to the World” and our “Joy to the World.” I then found out that Mariah Carey had done that too, with an incredible arrangement. It was so much fun. I changed the harmony and some of the melody. We’ve had great response.
GM: Another song on that album that I love is one I had only heard females sing, so hearing your voice on it made it stand out more, “Grown Up Christmas List.”
CN: That is one of my favorite performances on a ballad level. Thank you for mentioning that one. I fell in love with that song. I heard the original version by Amy Grant and I said that I had to record this song. Other people like Natalie Cole had the same idea. I was very happy on how that turned out. Sam Ward produced that album and I think it is the best solo album I have made.
GM: I also love the cover photo of you as a boy on it. Now let’s move from that holiday celebration to Three Dog Night’s “Celebrate.” It is such a fun song, written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, the same guys who wrote “Happy Together.”
CN: Yes. We were friends with Alan. Danny introduced me to him. He would pitch songs all the time. We didn’t know that “Celebrate” had been pitched to The Turtles. Fortunately, Mark and Howard turned it down because it had no chorus. The original version was just a string of verses. We created the huge chorus of “Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music,” which was not on the original song. I always wished that we would have also put an introduction on it too, because with radio, to start the song right off the bat while the DJs are still talking, you won’t be popular with DJs without giving them some room to do their job, but it worked. Now when I do it live, I actually add a little piano introduction, so that people can see what is coming versus clapping over my voice, but that stuff you learn.
GM: Three Dog Night reached No. 1 multiple times, with “Joy to the World” being your biggest hit, spending six weeks at the top of the chart.
CN: In 1971, Wolfman Jack called me to be on his radio show and asked me if we had anything new. I told him that we were working on a new song. I loved Wolfman and was so pleased to see him get a break a couple of years later in the film American Graffiti, because I thought he was truly part of Americana. I shared what we had so far with “Joy to the World” and he said, “Man, you have to put an introduction onto it. It is too short. There is no time to speak,” which is what I mentioned earlier about “Celebrate.” Jimmy Greenspoon, from the band, added the keyboard introduction after that and he was brilliant. With “Joy to the World,” the song’s composer Hoyt Axton had been working on songs for a television cartoon and the show fell through. One of the characters was a frog. When the song was brought in, Danny said no, and they didn’t even think of me doing it because I had never done anything like that. My musical area was different from that type of song. Later, I was working on some music and Hoyt walked in and asked if I had heard his song that the guys turned down. I said, “No, I hadn’t.” He sat down and played me a new demo, and at that point Jeremiah was a prophet. I said that wouldn’t work. Hoyt originally had Jeremiah as a bullfrog, but had just changed it. I knew that if I could just scream that line from the rooftops, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” I could make it a hit, plus “joy to the world, all the boys and girls,” is just a wonderful sentiment. I said that I would do it and Danny and Cory were not happy because they had turned it down and thought that I should have agreed with them. There was a little friction for a while because I had broken the rules, but it was lucky that I did, ha ha, because everyone became happy when it became a hit.
GM: “An Old Fashioned Love Song” became your next gold single that year.
CN: That was the first tune that Paul Williams wrote all by himself. I heard him sing it and I told Paul I would record that song, because I knew I could make it the romantic ballad that he wanted. Then I was at a Three Dog Night listening session and the publishing company sent the song in, unbeknownst to Paul. I just listened and neither Danny or Cory said a word, which would mean no. I said, “I’ll do it,” and they said, “Oh, okay.” We had faith in one another. I was worried that one of them was going to say that they wanted to do it, when I already promised Paul that I would sing it. Everything would usually go smoothly with us, unless more than one of us wanted to sing lead on the same song.
GM: Three Dog Night achieved 21 Top 40 hits. Even with that many hits, do you feel that there were other songs overlooked?
CN: Our Cyan album opened with “Happy Song,” which our guitarist Michael Allsup wrote, and I feel should have been a single. It really shows off the band and all three vocalists. It is such a positive song with harmonies. It is such a shame that we weren’t secure enough about releasing something that we had written.
GM: Michael’s softer composition “Storybook Feeling” did make it as the flip side of “Let Me Serenade You” from that album. You certainly have serenaded us on the Happy Together Tour. The most recent time I saw you was in 2019 in Jacksonville. Brianna and I spent a little time with Susan Cowsill and The Buckinghams, before and after the show, while you and Ami dealt with your equipment. Ami shared a wonderful tribute about you, “My husband has lung disease and oxygen therapy allows him to safely continue to live his life to the fullest despite this debilitating disease. Oxygen therapy allows him to take the stage and continue to bring joy to the world. Those tubes are his lifeline and he wears them proudly and encourages others with lung disease to do the same. My husband is a true rock star both on stage and off. He has beaten the odds in more ways than one and is a true warrior.” We agree. Brianna and I were amazed how great you sounded that night.
CN: Thank you. It is amazing. As you go through life, there are different things that you need to help you get by. Some kids need braces, some kids need glasses, and at this point in my life, I need this machine. With this machine I am as good as anyone else. It is going great. I can’t run around the stage, but I can sing. We all have handicaps as we get older. Ami takes great care of me and makes this journey so much easier. Ami and the machine are a part of my life.
GM: Ron Dante has replaced Howard Kaylan on stage for The Turtles. Ami sells Ron’s merchandise, your items and those from other Happy Together Tour acts on her Rock N Pop Shop website. The Mark Lindsay artwork on her site is beautiful. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
CN: I hope so. People will need to verify the schedule as the dates get closer. We are very excited. It is a great tour. The band is great, and the audiences are always great. Thank you and your family so much all your years of listening to my music and our time together.