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Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron On His Big Hit, ‘One’

Chuck Negron has led quite a life, both the ups and the downs. As a founding member and lead singer with the popular classic rock group Three Dog Night, he helped produce a stunning 21 Billboard Top-40 hits from 1969 to 1975, including “One,” “Eli’s Coming,” “Easy To Be Hard,” “Just An Old-Fashioned Love Song,” and, oh yes let’s not forget, “Joy To The World.” On the lower end, Negron battled heroin addiction for more than a decade, finally kicking the habit in 1991 and detailing it in his honest autobiography, “Three Dog Nightmare.” At 79, Negron still is very much in the music business, having toured as recently as 2019. But the Covid-19 pandemic has pretty much bottled him up since. In fact, Negron recently backed out of this year’s U.S. tour for fear of contracting Covid. We caught up with the rocker recently to discuss all things music, including why he thinks the band is not in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame (we’ll address that in a future installment), what made the tune “Joy To The World” the mega-hit that it was, how he kicked his heroin habit, how he got hooked up with Doors drummer John Densmore’s ex-wife, and much more. Following are edited excerpts from Part 1 of our phone conversation.

Jim Clash: Of your many hits, my personal favorite is “One,” a late-60s tune on which you sing lead vocal. Tell me a little about how that song was made.

Chuck Negron: I was like 22 or 23 at the time. When Three Dog Night got together, we needed songs so we could start rehearsing. I went to some publishers in the famous Brill Building in New York. One of them told me that they had a guy, Harry Nilsson, with a hit, but his album wasn’t really doing anything. The song was, “Everybody’s Talking.” They played me Harry’s whole album, and right away when I heard “One” I knew it could be a hit. I brought that one to the band. Once we recorded it, rocked it up a bit to make it more contemporary, it indeed became a hit. In fact, Harry’s record label started pushing him more. Our version really helped his career. Here’s a funny story. I was on a date in a Beachwood Canyon restaurant, and in walks George Harrison, Harry Nilsson and Richard Perry, the producer. Harry makes a B-line to my table. I hadn’t met him yet, but he immediately told me that his version of, “One,” was better. I replied, “Yeah, but yours isn’t a hit, and mine is [laughs].” The moment Harry said that, I knew he could be kind of a bully. We started jousting, though, and became friends. I guess that’s what he liked to do, have a couple of drinks and joust.

Clash: Do you remember recording “One” in the studio?

Negron: This is what I remember. When I heard the first playback, I said, “Oh my God, I think we have a hit.” But I wanted to fix the ending because I was off a bit. The producer said no, that’s real. I said, “Yea, it’s real, I’m off [laughs].” He never let me fix the ending, which really annoys me because I could have gotten it perfect.

Clash: How about the first time you heard “One” on the air waves?

Negron: I couldn’t believe that we were on the radio. We were driving from Detroit to the Miami Pop Festival. When we pulled in to Miami at a stoplight, there were these girls in a convertible next to us. The radio disc jockey says suddenly, “This week number one is Three Dog Night,” and he started playing,”One.” I yelled to the girls, “That’s us, that’s us!” They looked over and said, “Sure it is.” A week later we got a telegram from Jay Lasker saying we had sold a million copies, our first gold record. Now it’s only 500,000 records for gold, but ours sure was exciting.

Clash: When you tour now and have to play all of your hits, is “One” among your favorite?

Negron: “One” is in my top 3 because it’s challenging. I do it in the same original key. I like, “Easy To Be Hard,” too, because it’s so hard being that pretty at my age. And, “Joy To The World” is a physical challenge. It’s just balls to the wall. Luckily, I still have the chops. It’s not technique with that song, it’s just power. When you hear the crowd singing along with you on any of them, it brings a smile, sometimes a tear. I’m a part of these people’s lives. I don’t know them, but they know me. Thank you, God, for giving this to me. It’s a blessing.

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