A Conversation with Chuck Negron
HULICK: I read you’ve been in the music business for 50 years! Does it seem that long?
NEGRON: No, not at all. Actually, this stage of my career, say for the last 19 years, has been like a rebirth. I’ve found a whole new passion and feel good karma and I’m really having fun.
HULICK: That’s great! You have four solo albums to your credit. Are you working on anything new right now?
NEGRON: Yes, I’m working on a couple of things. I’m doing an album on the sound of Philly, which includes songs like “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “I’ll Be Around.” I’m also writing a Christian album. So we’ll see what happens.
HULICK: Going back to the start of your career at age 15, you recorded your first single and performed at the famous Apollo Theater. You’ve said that performance showed you the power of music. Did you really get the full scope of that at age 15?
NEGRON: Well, that specific night, what I experienced was when we got on stage the entire crowd went silent because we were the only white people in the building. They didn’t seem to want to give us a chance, but by the second verse they were cheering us on. So music broke down a big barrier. Music is very powerful; it heals and it breaks down those barriers that most things can’t. Sports do in some sense, but nothing does it like music.
HULICK: Three Dog Night was known for putting on big extravaganzas in arenas and ballparks all over the world.
NEGRON: Yes...we did just about every ballpark in America, as well as around the world.
HULICK: The stats Three Dog Night has to their name are incredible: 18 consecutive Top 20 hits, four number one hits, five Top 10 albums and 11 Top 20 albums. That’s an amazing career.
NEGRON: Yes, it’s something we were very proud of. And the music was great.
HULICK: You, personally, had a gift to choose hits to record like “Old Fashioned Love Song” and “One.” Did everyone agree on the songs that were chosen?
NEGRON: There were a few songs you could see that some of the group was uncomfortable with. They outright said “Joy to the World” was a joke and they didn’t want to do it. I said that’s exactly why I wanted to do it. They were just too serious about themselves; I told them we have to have a little fun. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” is arguably part of Americana. At any rate, they thought some songs weren’t right, but when they became hits they started thinking maybe this guy knows what he’s doing. I have to say that Cory Wells had a good ear, though.
HULICK: “Joy to the World” is one of those songs that when you hear the first chord you know immediately what it is.
NEGRON: That’s true.
HULICK: Would you say that song was the biggest surprise hit for you guys?
NEGRON: Yes, because it went on to become record of the year and sold 12 million copies in a period of a year.
HULICK: One of the things I find very interesting about you is that you still do vocal training. Johnny Mathis, even at the stage he’s at in his career, still takes vocal lessons.
NEGRON: Wow! How old is he now?
HULICK: I believe he is in his 70s.
NEGRON: No way! I saw him at an airport recently. I didn’t go up to him, but he looks 50 years old!
HULICK: He looks remarkable! He’s one of the most terrific people you would ever want to know. I’ve interviewed him six times now and every time I talk to him he sings a little something to me at the end of the conversation. It’s a tradition we have.
NEGRON: (Laughs) Oh, wow! That’s really nice. Yes, I do vocal training, because there are a couple things happening in my voice that I want to correct.
HULICK: You have an incredible four-octave range.
NEGRON: Yes, and that’s the problem of having a high range. It’s getting real dirty, very funky, which is nice when you’re doing a funky song, but I like to have it be clear and then move into the song.
HULICK: You guys called it quits in 1976. How tough was it to make the decision to hang it up after all of the huge success you were having?
NEGRON: Well it was an event of circumstances. We got to the point where Joe Schermie had left three or four albums before; actually we had to let him go because of his drug problem. Danny Hutton was so sick he had to hire a nurse and the nurse toured with us. Then with my drug problems, I’d get really sick on the road and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
HULICK: You guys had a hell of a ride and you paid a hefty price for it with the addictions, which you chronicle in your two published books. All of that makes up the person you are today. Would you do anything differently, if given the chance?
NEGRON: I think show business itself can teach you a lot and I probably would have learned more if I would have been sober and didn’t do things to my body that I have to live with today. Although what happened to me makes me who I am, like you said. I have information and a real faith in that you can turn around anything, and that wouldn’t have happened if not for all I went through, which I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
HULICK: You had many attempts at sobriety. What was it about the final attempt that was different, which kept you on your feet? You said it was the miracle that saved your life, on Sept. 17, 1991.
NEGRON: I had gone through a 13-year journey in 37 different rehab programs. Finally Cri-Help, which was a long-term program, which I had never tried, turned it around. They were very strict. They didn’t have a “patient’s bill of rights” because they weren’t a hospital. They did what they wanted to you. It was like they were building you from the ground up. I stayed there for about a year and became one of the Cri-Help alumni, which I wanted. That in itself was a miracle. So I have a whole new life. I’ve been clean for 19 years now. It’s been a wonderful gift to have my two youngest daughters, who haven’t seen anything but a dad who is very loving and there for them.
HULICK: You’re loving life!
NEGRON: Yes! I’m loving life!