Chuck Negron Live Again!
Interview By Steve Escobar
Live albums..you love em’ or you hate em’. Personally, if they’re done in a way that makes me feel like I’m there, then I love em’! I can only think of a handful of live records that do that for me: “Johnny Rivers Live at the Whiskey A Go Go” “Sinatra at the Sands”, ‘Three Dog Night Captured Live at the Forum”, “Joe & Eddie Live in Hollywood”, “The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl”, to name a few. And when I popped in an advance copy of Chuck Negron’s new live album, that’s the vibe I got sitting there listening…I was there!
After an opening vamp, Chuck & the band go straight into Three Dog Night’s arrangement of the Lennon and McCartney tune “It’s for You”… a tough enough song to tackle in a multi-track studio I’m sure, let alone done live and un-touched up. Oh, didn’t I mention that this is a straight live recording? No touch-up’s, no overdubs, no enhancements of any kind? This is something that even the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac didn’t have the guts to do. If there is a clam, or a clinker, it’s left alone. Happy hunting!
There’s a constant high energy all throughout both discs!
Now I challenge anyone to find a more tight ass purist than myself. I would be the first to throw my fist in the air screaming foul if I should ever hear Paul McCartney singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Yet, I must admit that Chuck did a superb job not only singing all of his best known hits with Three Dog Night, but also having no problem handling the lead vocals on the hits originally sung by his former partners. The more I listened, the more I thought that this is not a re-creation of Three Dog Night. If anything it’s Chuck Negron’s own personal tribute to a great band, and to a wonderful moment in time for us as well as for Chuck. This is clearly another example of Chuck Negron going all out to give his fans what they want. Now I know that there are going to be cynics out there who hear this album and say, “ Well now he’s putting this out because of the mixed reviews he got for ‘The Long Road Back’”. Let us nip this one in the bud right now. “The Long Road Back” was an intense and personal album originally put together to be listened to while reading Chuck’s book “Three Dog Nightmare”. So what if “The Long Road Back” sounded nothing like “ Am I still in Your Heart”. Shall we cut to the chase now? Remember, “The White Album” sounded nothing like “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and “Revolver” sounded nothing like “Rubber Soul”. You follow? I think he knows exactly what he’s doing folks. If you want a band that offers the same thing every album, I would suggest following AC/DC.
There are plenty of musical surprises on this 2-CD set. One for me was hearing Floyd Sneed on percussion and singing duet with Chuck on “Black and White”. At the close of disc two there is a special treat for any Negron fan, and it’s so cool I’m not even gonna’ say anything more about it!
And one more thing as a personal request from me…when you get a copy of this new live album, please refrain from bringing it into your car… Please! I fear for my life on the road enough as it is with all these people driving while on their damn cell phones. Now I have to live in fear of you all dancing while driving too?
SE: So this is the third live album you’ve done…
CN: Yes it is.
SE: In the past… what?…
CN: Well let’s see. I did my first live album in 1969 “Three Dog Night Captured Live At The Forum” And actually we were the supporting act for Steppenwolf who was the headliner of that show. “One” had finally been released and it was just making Three Dog Night a household name. So Steppenwolf was still bigger than us because they had several hits “Born To Be Wild” etc. But when we hit that stage we just… we wore that audience out man! We did a great, great show!
SE: It sounds like it.
CN: When Steppenwolf came out… I’m serious… Half the place left. (Laughs) It was kind of sad. It was similar to the last time I was at the forum when I went to see David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails. And this is… I don’t know… three or four years ago. And after Nine Inch Nails half the place left and I thought “Wow! God that must be hard for David Bowie.”
CN: The guys an icon and I really love his stuff ,but he was a pro man. He did a great show.
SE: Then you guys did a double live album in 1973 or 74?
CN: Yeah, I guess it was right in there..’73. We had a world tour and we recorded in Australia, Japan, all over Europe. Basically a world tour. We recorded… I mean there was a lot of recording done (Laughs) We recorded every show. And that’s a difficult process in itself…
SE: Yeah, I’m sure!
CN: Just listening to all of that stuff! Because it’s different than today. Today you can listen to all that stuff and take sections and just go “Wow! This one’s from this show.” and put it in ProTools.. just line it up if there’s some time problems… Well, plus you know… a lot of the live shows… everything’s metered now so you can cut and splice so to speak. And back then to take a section you had to cut it out of the tape. So you really had to have a complete track and that was good as far as the basic tracks go. All of the tracks were recorded. We still basically boiled down to a couple of shows that were exceptional. A lot of recording! And when you’re out there doing a long tour and you’re in interesting parts of the world like Japan and London, and all over Europe and you have new fans and new interests… you know we got pretty out of it! (Laughs)
CN: We partied pretty much every night… not all of us but the majority of the band. And… some of those shows were a little rough! (Laughs)
SE: I was listening to those two live albums today and I noticed that the first one sounded like you guys rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed and you did the show just like the rehearsal.
SE: And the second live album sounded like boom, boom, boom, twice as fast! The songs really cooked! Not sloppy at all! The band sounded so well seasoned, well rehearsed.
CN: Well, what it was is that the tunes after awhile got faster and faster because the energy of the show got faster and the cocaine got more plentiful. (Laughing) I remember once doing “Easy To Be Hard” and I went (singing slowly) “How easy” (Laughs singing faster) “How-can-people-be-so-hard-how-can-people-be-so-cold” I had time to go…(slowly singing) “How easy” I’m lookin’ at Floyd and he goes “What’re you on?” (Laughing) But the general thing is that the shows got a little quicker. It was really to just attack the audience. It was a thing that worked for us. Although, to make a record of that… they’re two different things a live show and a record so, it wasn’t as good for the recording as it was for the live show. It’s great for the live show, but then you hear it in your living room and you go, “What are these guys, little mice?” (Laughs) So sometimes different mediums work just in their area. And especially if you change it the way we did. I mean we really sped up… we went for the throat! We’re just gonna get you, we’re gonna wear you out! We’re gonna give you a show and when we’re finished you’re gonna go home and go “Wow that was great!” (Laughs) Like sex you know? “ Okay, I’ve had enough!”
SE: (Laughs) Did you ever have to go in and touch some things up ?
CN: Well on the first live album… we did primarily because the recording …they had two mics taped to one another, so just the sound of grabbing them, the moving… the quality, primarily because of the quality…the quality wasn’t in some senses good enough. The band who went direct sounded great. Matter of fact it’s pretty intimidating how good they sounded compared to the three of us. And they did a great job. And we just had to fix some of our things, but then you know.. then you have three guys doin’ a physical fuckin thing. I mean we’re out there kickin’ ass. We’re soaking wet by the third number. Just like today.. the artists that do it today…they lip sync and they dance because they know they can’t do both. Back then you did it, so there’s a lot of “(mumbles and heavy breathing)” and , so we went in and touched up some of the songs, actually some of them so you can hear the vocals.. because sometimes there’s so much bleeding from the band who were evidently deaf.. playing so loud. We had it back then….it just blared right through our mics and mostly what you heard was band. So on some things we just had to fix it so the quality of the record was good. Cause that first album was…we did a good job. We were ready for it and we did a good job. More than anything it was technical. I mean there were mistakes and probably we shouldn‘t have fixed them to make it authentic. But when you‘re in there and you‘re an artist and your fixing up something cause technically you have to and then you hear the next line and …ooh that‘s a little flat.. you fix it. So that was one story. The second album, live album, was a whole other story. I mean, we had problems. I think “Liar“ or “Black and White“.
SE: “Black and White“ .
CN: “Black and White“ We couldn’t find any tracks that didn’t have Danny’s voice leaking through. It was so.., there were problems. We actually had to go back to the original track from the album “7 Separate Fools“, and this is embarrassing, we used the original track on the live album and Danny came in and sang it.
SE: Yeah, I listened to “Black and White“ and I went,” You know, man, these guys are damn good. They sound just like the record on the radio.
CN: I wasn’t sure if it was “Liar” or “Black and White“ ..
SE: You know to be honest it might be both.
CN: It was a…we were out there having a good time and…
SE: Actually I think it was just “Black and White“ cause “Liar” is played a little faster.
CN: OK. Then it is “Black and White“ because you can hear it in the tempo.. I mean, it was just…We didn’t have any vocal that we could really use so we had to go back into the studio and Ritchie and Bill did an unbelievable job, Ritchie Podolor and Bill Cooper, really downgrading it to more of a live sound.
SE: That must have been tough to go through probably eighty five hours of tape.
CN: No, the thing is though…how do I put this? No matter if there were a hundred tracks you end up picking from three or four shows so there wasn’t all that much that we could pick from. You couldn’t use shows from many different evenings because you could hear the difference in the room sound and other technical problems. So in the end you’re working with only a couple of the very best performances. Back then there was only so much you could do with EQ and matching up sounds. If you started changing evenings you really could hear the difference in the room so, you really had to get a couple of things that worked all the way around.. the sounds, everything. Because back then you only had so much you could do with EQ and stuff…some stuff you just couldn’t change. So, anyway he didn’t have as many shots at a great performance. There were nights he did it great.
CN: But the shows that we just happened to rely on were the nights that… after we were in Munich and Danny and the band partied till daylight. Unfortunately for Danny the next musical tracks came out great and we ended up using them. Unfortunately for us after we picked that track and spent hours working on it we found out that Danny’s vocal had leaked through the majority of the track and we couldn’t use it ..hence deciding to use the original track and have Danny come in and sing a new lead.
CN: And you know, I had my share too.
SE: Yeah. I’ll tell ya, to be honest, I was listening to you do “Old Fashioned Love Song” and I couldn’t tell if it was the mic…or if it was you that just had a bad head cold.
CN: No, what it is.. I had some nights that I really just didn’t sound very good.
SE: No, your singing was fine, but your voice kind of sounded like you had something up your nose or you had to blow it or something. You know what I mean?
CN: I probably should have been blowin’ it, but I was inhaling. (laughs)
SE: (laughs) But the vocal track I mean it sounds fine. It was just…
CN: Yeah, I’m trying to think.. I had to fix some of mine, but I don’t remember what it was. But it would be a verse, part of a verse or something like that and… But we didn’t do what a lot of the people did and that’s just go in the studio and record the whole thing.
SE: You mean like “Get Ready” by Rare Earth?
CN: (laughs) I mean, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know when live albums stopped being live albums. I mean, I grew up with real live albums, a lot of jazz albums. And in that sense it was a little easier because the format was in a sense so serendipitous and you only had four musicians.. I guess some of ’em did have big bands, but um .. there just wasn’t that much noise in volume and it was easier to record. And these guys were great musicians. That’s probably what frustrated a lot of these jazz guys when people like Sly and The Family Stone came along. And I can remember actually uh…Miles Davis.. you could see when he was influenced by Sly Stone.
CN: Oh, yeah you can see it. He started wearing different glasses.. more than that his music started to change. But he must have been very frustrated because he was a great musician. I mean, he was a musician. He did everything a musician can do.. writing and music.. and Sly was a new kind of musician. From a whole new generation that didn’t read, write music…I mean he might of a little, but it was all coming from the soul. It was all this whole new thing and Rock ‘n Roll…Rock ‘n Roll.
SE: That’s right.
CN: And that’s the wonderful thing about Rock ‘n Roll.. it actually has room for people that are not musicians. People that are just passionate or have a moment in time.. some of these guys actually suck! But, there is a place in Rock ‘n Roll because if it’s honest and it’s real, you’re gonna touch the kids. And to be quite honest, kids…don’t know very much about music. They just know what they understand. They know what touches them. They know what they feel and they don’t care if it’s classically sound or musically sound. They want to be related to and relate to the music. So, that’s the wonderful thing about Rock ‘n Roll and why different things keep coming up like punk.
CN: I mean probably the worst musicians ever in Rock ‘n Roll, but exciting and whew! It’s fresh and new.. Rock ‘n Roll.. great!
SE: Full of energy.
CN: Yeah, full of energy.. Not my thing, but I understand why it works. Because it’s real. And in Rock ‘n Roll you can be really bad..(laughs)..and still have a life.
SE: Oh yes. Look at Chuck Berry..
CN: Ha Ha. Well, I won’t go near that one. I mean hey. Chuck Berry came up with something fresh and new…I was a kid from the inner city.. I was an urban kid.. a kid from the Bronx. Chuck Berry was like a country singer to me so, I didn’t listen to Chuck Berry. And I mean it. I know some of my friends were, but most weren’t into that. But you start going across the country and into the Midwest and the South and people heard the guitar. And you go to Europe and you hear the influence of Chuck Berry.. the guitar! I never heard the guitar. I never related to that until years later when I heard some.. to me were some special musicians.. Hendrix and well ..just a lot a Townsend who I thought was more of a conceptual guitar player more that a technician. I mean he had sounds and … I’m sure there are guys who play classical guitar in their house that play better guitar than him. But exciting and fresh and music and lyrics. So that’s when I started getting into guitar, but not from Chuck Berry. I had the opportunity to work with him and was excited until I met him.(Laughs)
CN: He was opening for us and he wouldn’t go onstage unless he was given more money. Because he didn’t realize the Detroit Dome was as big as it was and it was sold out. We had coordinated a bunch of concerts after NBA games.. and this was in the eighties of course.. So after the game they closed off the basketball court and opened the rest of the place for the concert. It was great… great crowd. He held up the promoter which was the NBA…wouldn’t go on.(Laughs) They gave in and paid him extra money so he decided to perform. The next problem was that he had no band! So the Three Dog Night musicians offered to help him, but they wanted to be paid. He agreed, did the show then split without paying the band.
SE: Oh, man.
CN: They made a deal and he left without paying them.(Laughs) So here’s a guy that for whatever reason felt robbed, cheated and taken advantage of and obviously felt that he had something coming. He’s had some problems with taxes and spent some time in jail and more recently had more trouble with the police when he was caught video taping women in a women’s bathroom through a peephole…but here’s a guy that I feel has probably never come to terms with his part in his problems and has never moved on and lived a happy life. It’s kind of a shame.
SE: Yeah, it is.
CN: I don’t know how much he’s lost, but I know he’s been given a lot. How many people get to perform for fifty years and make a great living on something they did five decades ago? In my opinion, very few. I find that with most musicians. They get a lot for having very little. I mean, in an artistic sense. But what they give people and what they’ve given me is far beyond.. even explanation.
SE: So, that live album, the foreign one I think was probably one of the first rock live albums, period… because prior to that, everyone who attempted to record a live album couldn’t do it. It just didn’t work out. Usually because the crowd was too loud for the mics or because the blend didn’t work or because you know…
CN: Well, yeah. I don’t know… I think Crosby, Stills and Nash.. I don’t know if they had one before us or after us…I think it was after us.
SE: After. 1971.
CN: It was.. I mean it was a real live album. It was really weak. I mean and these are guys ..their blend is very important. Because they’re not big voices.. they’re small voices and it’s all a beautiful blend.. except for Stephen who can push it out there a little. But, it had to be a great mix and unfortunately live…it was tough to achieve. So, their album really wasn’t very good. But I thought they were very brave putting it out. (laughs)
CN: In my opinion live concerts are an event, an experience and sometimes it doesn’t necessarily translate to an artistic experience. Rock and Roll can get away with being an evening of passion, excitement, heat and sweat and you can’t put that on tape. All you get on tape are the notes and the musical portion of the show and sometimes the notes just aren’t there, but it still can be a great performance live. . That was profound…(laughs)
SE: Yes it was.
SE: But I think prior to that, I think the only live album that came out was maybe The Stones “Got Live If You Want It”.
CN: No and also a very big hit record.. Joey Dee and The Starlighters.
SE: Right. I forgot about that one.
CN: But, here was a club band who did this show every night for years. And they had it down! And they went in and recorded in a little club and put out an album that did very, very well for them.
SE: Yeah, that’s right. It was probably recorded much like say “Darin at the Copa”.. and all the other ones that were in a small room.
CN: Exactly. Exactly.
SE: And they didn’t blare and they didn’t have that big of a crowd, but the Stones one I was talking about, I always thought it was a live record until I heard the mono mix and then I heard the stereo album and the vocal track was different.. completely different vocal tracks.
CN: Yeah, so they fixed it.
SE: Yeah. So it sounded just like they were playing really sloppy in the studio to copy what they did onstage and then just overdubbed you know, a crowd.
CN: You know what.. you know because you make a deal with the record company that you’re gonna put out a live album. It’s a conceptual idea.. Boom, it goes down on paper. Now you owe ‘em one.. now you’ve gotta get it done technically.
SE: Yeah. Your new record.. this new live album is basically just.. live.
CN: Yeah, this is a real album.
SE: It’s not done in the.. I don’t know if they call it the orthodox way to do live albums nowadays.. It’s just recorded live.
CN: Yeah. What I did was I used the technology that there is today and I think it was the only thing stopping a lot of people years ago from doing live albums…and to be quite honest I was not interested in making a live album that wasn’t live. If I’m gonna use the studio I might as well really use it to the best of its capabilities. So, with digital machines and D87s and we got a bunch of them and a 42 track board.. really had everything we needed to technically produce a live album. All that was left was performing a good concert. I also did not want to record ten shows. I wanted it to be one night for best or worst. I knew I wouldn’t do the worst show I’d ever done and chances were I probably wouldn’t do the best show, but hopefully it would be somewhere in the middle where it would be representative of what I did. And that’s exactly how it came out and it’s real. We did a show in the afternoon to get sound checks and EQs and to make sure everything was working. And we actually did a two hour show…took an hour in between and then did it again with an audience. And the second show with the audience is what the entire live CD is.
CN: Hey , I’m very proud that as a musician I’m capable of doing that and not just sitting down and playing, but doin a show and gettin it on tape so it sounds like what your doing. Moving around and talking and working with the band.. and having a show that’s real and live and.. I’m very proud of it because I’ve never done it before. You know in all my years and my third live album.. this is the first real live album.
SE: The sound of this album kind of reminds me of why bootlegs are so much in demand… more so than a live album because the bootleg sounds raw just like the band sounds live.
SE: It doesn’t have any special gates on the drums and little echoes here and there and little touched up things that make it sterile, ya know?
CN: Yeah. It’s all there.. the mistakes…Our drummer is pretty sound. He probably had the least mistakes of everybody and Floyd of course he did a solid job on drums and percussion. And I actually..I think it’s in “Celebrate”.. I actually forget a line and I’m going, “Zubba dabba.. sittin on a pillow..” I mean, all the mental mistakes that happen in a performance and… Anyway, so uh, no it’s real and I’m very, very excited about it. The record’s got a lot of energy. It’s recorded at Southern Methodist University. It was in a beautiful theater.. one of those theaters from the forties.. really gorgeous and great sound. You could just stand on the stage and sing and the whole place would hear it.
SE: Now you’ve been singing these songs. I wouldn’t say all the songs on the live album, but the majority of the Three Dog Night songs…you’ve been singing those for a lot of years. To do this knowing in your mind that you’re recording a live album here… not that you’re just doing another gig because you’re used to that, you do that every other day… but did it feel kind of odd to you or feel kind of weird or did you get a little spook about recording a live album singing these songs and having a completely different group on the stage?
CN: No. I actually was excited about bringing these songs into the twenty first century…for whatever reason and probably most of the reason would be that the songs lasted. That this material was solid stuff and is in movies every year, over and over, and the young kids know it and that because of that I had the opportunity to record it again.. because people will come to the show to see it! So, it was very exciting and of course you know, I did it my way. I rearranged stuff and I made medleys of songs that wove into one another in an interesting fashion.. and so it became exciting to change the things around so much that I had to think about them. So it wasn’t just going by rote and off the top of my head. We changed a lot of things.
SE: I was just thinking it must feel weird to not have the other two singers that you were used to recording the same songs with.. it’s not like you’re just doing a gig, this time you really have to seriously get in there and listen to it in the studio over and over and …it’s like, “God this is weird. This is different.” you know?”
CN: Well, I think if we went back twenty years it would be probably frightening and I probably wouldn’t even have done it, to do these songs without those two guys and without the four musicians. I probably wouldn’t even attempt it. But, it’s a long time since the original band has been together. The guys that I’ve heard that continue to do the Three Dog Night music, it doesn’t sound like the Three Dog Night music anyway cause I’m not in the band and the original musicians aren’t there so, I wasn’t as frightened to give my interpretation. They have theirs and they have a great following. And I have mine and I actually was pretty confident that mine was fresh and different and represented Chuck Negron…not Three Dog Night.
SE: Right. I was listening to that second live album today and I was noticing that some of the songs you did …songs like “Pieces of April” and even “Old Fashioned Love Song”.. it’s mainly all you. I’m looking for the other guys. I can’t…I don’t hear ‘em till the last verse or something.
CN: Well that was kind of the fun thing about the band.. actually the most fun was the three of us singing together for me. I really loved that. But on a solo level, if you brought in a song like I did “One” and “Easy To Be Hard”,” Old Fashioned Love Song” and “Joy to the World” whatever, you’ve got to work on it. You’ve got to put it together and I would get in there and I have a habit of.. when I’d be singing ..if I heard a harmony part, I’d sing it right there. And they knew don’t stop me cause I was just laying a framework so I could go from a melody to a harmony and of course the producers by this time knew,” Oh, Chuck is laying out where the harmonies are going to be.” So the next thing you know I’m laying down all the harmonies on my songs. So it was a lot of fun. I really got to grow and be an artist that really understood the studio because the band kind of allowed it on your solo stuff.
SE: What’s the update as to where does Three Dog Night and Chuck Negron stand today?
CN: Well, it’s really a shame. We do not talk. Of course I talk to Floyd Sneed and Joe Schermie, but they no longer work within the Three Dog Night structure. But the guys that do work with the remaining members.. Danny, Cory, Michael and Jimmy.. we really don’t talk because there’s just been four years of litigation that just has come to an end and it really made it impossible for us to be friends. And I wanna say, I would have no problem speaking to any of them. It was a process that we went through in the courts, but they from what I hear, they will never talk to me again. And basically we had to have lawyers and judges lay out the ground rules of who could do what and what was fair and what wasn’t fair and it ended up being a very, very ugly thing. Let me see if I can find something. I’ll read it to you. This is from the judge. This is the transcript.. this is part of the transcript from the final day and this is when he’s getting to tell me what I can do and what I can’t do and he’s actually a very fair man but he says, ”First, it needs to be emphasized that Mr. Negron is an extremely talented performer who may very well have been responsible for the initial success of Three Dog Night group when they were all together. So, Mr. Negron you are extremely talented and I think that it is the reason for the problem that we have here. Namely, that you are so very talented that people want to hear you sing, but there is less name recognition, that is so people don’t know who you are. There are people.. probably people everywhere who are familiar with your voice. I can’t speak for the world but I am certain that most people if they heard you sing would recognize your voice. Most people have heard of Three Dog Night, or whatever is left of Three Dog Night after you left. The new Three Dog Night or whatever it’s called, is less than it would be if you where still there and because there is recognition that you have this, people want to hear you, you have the power to take away persons who might want to see Three Dog Night perform.” So he basically was saying this problem is because I’m back. And these guys are afraid that they will not make as good a living now that I’m back so they’re trying to do everything they can to stop me from performing the Three Dog Night songs. So the judge has tried to protect them and protect me.. there was a lot of interference and stuff going on because they were so frightened about their livelihood. So, it was resolved and hopefully we both can live on this planet as friends. But it was very disheartening when there are people like Three Dogs Night out there and they’re doing well…and I wanna tell you something, Cory Wells is one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard and man, I would sing with him any day of the week. I learned a lot from him and ,God bless him, he’s out there doing the songs he did. And then there’s someone else doing the songs that I did. I don’t know why they’re so upset that I’m out there doing the songs I made famous as well as my solo album work. And the fact they did everything they could to try and stop me from performing and that’s why we had the problem. So we came to an agreement where I had to bend a lot and basically, hopefully we’re all gonna be happy. All I’m out there doing is my musical history. I mean I have three, well four solo albums out now and I’m doing stuff from that and my old Three Dog Night stuff. It’s my musical legacy. And for them to try to stop me from doing what I’ve done is kind of embarrassing for them. But I understand. They look at me as a threat to their livelihood and I guess they feel they’re protecting themselves but, kind of odd.
SE: Yeah it is kind of odd. You’ve got four solo albums and a lot of original and new material and …
CN: And a best selling book. And I’ve got a documentary ready to come out. I mean, I’ve been working.
SE: And they haven’t really produced anything since you left the band.
CN: Three Dog Night, hasn’t. Exactly. No, since I left Three Dog Night they have never recorded again in almost twenty years. And if they have they haven’t done anything that they feel is good enough to put out. So no, they have not done anything and that’s probably another thing that bothers them. That I can come out and do new material and move on. And since they’ve done nothing new they’re stuck trying to duplicate my voice and the sound that I brought to Three Dog Night. And that causes a dilemma for them because people can come and see me and not someone trying to imitate me. Personally I wouldn’t do it. If I were Three Dog Night I would reinvent myself and record brand new music that would separate them from the past. But they’re trying just basically rehashing the same stuff.
SE: So do you get a feeling that they’re going out there doing tours and doing shows is basically the only way that they have to make a living. And they’re only going to get as far as that gig is gonna take them.. that’s it. But as far as you’re concerned, you’re out there doing your solo songs plus you reminisce a bit and you go back and do some of the hits you sang with Three Dog Night and it’s just sort of like, ”Hey, let’s tip the hat to this band then and let’s do a few of their songs and now let’s get back to my stuff.”
CN: Yeah well, I’ll be honest. They could get out of that boat so to speak if they did new stuff. Then they wouldn’t be tied to the past but, yeah until they reinvent themselves in the sense of a new musical legacy their careers are just as long as people want to hear their version of Three Dog Night. And now that I’m out there they have in a sense another choice. So, if I were them I would do something new because that’s a big name.. Three Dog Night and even though it’s not the original band I’m sure someone would sign them and put out a nice album.
CN: So. but, I’ll tell ya… I went through a period where because of the law suit and all the ugliness.. you get in this fighting mode and shame on me but, I ended up.. because they were telling me I couldn’t do Three Dog Night stuff… I ended up doing more. And I ended up doing stuff that I didn’t even want to do! Just to prove that I could do it! And all of a sudden I said, “Chuck, you’re endin up with a show that has more Three Dog Night songs than you ever wanted!” And so I backtracked and actually this week we’re rehearsing and we’re learning two new songs of mine. So, it’s amazing. You can get so turned around just because of, you know, resentments and confusion and not being clear with your feelings…actually not being at peace and being in the fighting mode. Which I’d never want to go there again. I was fighting for something I’d already achieved and no matter what they did they could not have taken that away from me. And I guess that’s what I was afraid of.. they were trying to rewrite history. They were trying to write me out and you know what? No one has the power to do that. But anyway, I’m glad it’s over now and I wish them the best you know. I mean, I know these guys kids.. more than that I know them and we shared some wonderful years…the band, Michael Allsup on guitar. I mean, God he did some wonderful things. And Floyd was the most unique drummer I’ve ever seen. Joe Schermie really was the foundation of that whole rhythm section, he kept it all tied down and Jimmy Greenspoon with that beautiful… flowery just one hook after another. And Cory Wells …”Never Been To Spain”, “Mama Told Me Not To Come”. I mean this guy was great and I loved singing with him. And I had my share and ….and then of course singing three part harmony was great.
SE: Oh, yeah. That was one unique sound. Like Cory said one time, it sounded like four guys.
CN: Yeah, it was big.. it was big. Well what I did was I mean we all had our thing but, my notes were in the stratosphere…I just stretched and stretched and actually on our first album there are probably a lot of flat notes because I wanted to sing full voice not falsetto. And everyone they’ve gotten since then since I left, sings falsetto. So if you’re gonna sing falsetto on those notes you’re not gonna sound like Three Dog Night.. (Laughs)”Nobody, Tell me you don’t love me babe…(in bad falsetto). That little light falsetto…no, you’ve got to belt it out full voice. And that was the difference. We were singing in keys that no one sang in natural voice. And so, it was huge.
SE: I can’t remember hearing a song in the car today from the second live album…but there was one note at the end when you guys all sang harmony and it was just this powerful note…
SE: I don’t know if it’s “Woman”.
CN: Cause it’s powerful.
SE: But the last note, your doing one that’s so high.. it’s just like, “Fuck!” How do you do that and not have your nuts fall on the stage?
CN: Well, who says they didn’t? Well, actually they don’t go on the stage, they go the other way.
SE:(laughs) You stand in front of em.
CN: No, they disappear.
SE: (Laughs)But I was listening to that today and I was saying man that’s a powerful note. And if today they’re singing falsetto it’s got to sound like Three Dog Night with special guest Tiny Tim.
CN: No, it’s just a whole other thing . Like “Eli’s Coming”.. ”Hide it.. hide it…(in falsetto again)”
CN: I’m serious. It isn’t.. well, it is what it is. And when I got guys.. picked guys for my singers they had to have the range to be able to sing it. And that’s why it limited me in who I could get and how much I had to pay.(Laughs) Cause I had to have some good guys. And I’ve lost some of my great singers…one guy. John Mayan went with Elton John. Elton John hired him. Another guy is with Fleetwood Mac, now he’s on the Stevie Nicks tour. I mean, I had some good guys and you know you lose ’em to the big bands cause they hear ’em and they go, “Fuck, this guy’s great.” And you know what, God bless ’em. I wouldn’t hold anyone back. The chances for making a nice living are tough in this business.
SE: You’d never know there were ever any problems from listening to you singing, but how’s your health been doing?
CN: You look at me and I look like a million dollars! (Laughs)
SE: Yeah you do.
CN: It’s like fuckin amazing. (laughs)
SE: Now the songs ….well music in the 60’s in general you know, alot of it got to be so huge and so popular and all American Pie and all that stuff because back then with what was going on in the world people just hung onto the music for security and just to get away from it all and feel good for awhile…
SE: And a lot of the Three Dog Night songs were from that period and they really did mirror what was going on in the news at night…Now today we seem to be going through a whole technically new refurbished rerun of that period. Now do those songs still feel to you like, these songs are never gonna die because here we are again and it’s like they mean the same things they did then?
CN: Well, one thing you can always count on is change. That’s the one thing you can count on and I think that’s been the unique thing about the 60s to mid 70s of Rock ‘n Roll. It has lasted longer than any music in the sense of up front popularity.. I mean we have Mozart and Beethoven, but you’re not hearing them on the radio (Laughs)…So, well you are on some stations… but this music represented a generation. More than just music that they enjoyed hearing, it was about them. It was about all of us. And it’s unique in the sense that we were speaking about everything that bothered us. We were speaking about war. We were speaking about prejudice. We were speaking about sex. You know, we were speaking about drugs.. We were literally covering the airwaves with our thoughts, our feelings, our needs and you’ve got a whole generation that are still here! So the music has lasted plus it’s such an interesting period of time, not only musically but everything that was going on and our songs are in movies that have nothing to do with the 60s and 70s. I mean,(Laughs) over and over again. It just takes you to a place. Like you know if you have a war movie and even if the war movie is right now you put “Mama Told Me” or one of those on… and Boom.. you know you’re in the war.
I don’t know if we’ve talked about this but, you know I tried to get out of the Vietnam war. I not only did not believe in it, I did not believe in me getting shot. I did not believe in the career that I’d worked so long on that was still just starting…it sounds very unpatriotic, but we weren’t very patriotic for this war.
CN: It was very obvious to us that America had become bullies and we were just forcing us down the throats of everybody.. representing other people.
You know, other people’s needs. So I wasn’t about to go. But, you grow up and ..there was some shame attached to the fact that I did get out.. cause I acted like a mad man ..well, I took twenty buttons of peyote and I went into the test and they asked me to leave..(laughs)
CN: “Can we get you a cab?” I’ll never forget that. But anyway, you know what God gave for me was to have one Vietnam guy after another come up to me and say, ”Thank you. I was in a foxhole or in tunnel in Vietnam waiting for them to come and get me and I could remember that song that I just heard back at the base, “One” and you know, saying it is the loneliest number…” But just, the songs meant something to them. How can it be “Easy To Be Hard” and you know and then the up stuff…they said,” Thank you for giving us a piece of America through your music. It’s what kept us alive.” And I realized that God…that was my job during the war. That was his plan for me.. was music to help our guys. At least that’s where I came to terms with the fact that I didn’t go.. that I actually did provide a service.
SE: But do you ever feel now or does it jump in your head when you’re singing these songs today that “My God, with what’s going on now, I’m singing to the parents of the kids that are over there in the Middle East now”… that are going through the same…
CN: No I haven’t thought of that, but I bet if they hear one of my songs, especially a mom or a wife who had a husband, it will bring them back to that time. But no.. It’s an interesting thought. No, I never thought of that. I mean, these young guys have their own music over there now. But the parents. the parents might reflect…
SE: It might make them feel better for a minute.
CN: Yeah, unless they heard the song and got a message that someone they know had died. That’s a terrible thought. But that Vietnam war was atrocious. I mean we lost… more men than any other war?
SE: And still there was really no winner in the end.
CN: No, no, no. Actually we blew up their country, but we couldn’t stop them.
SE: Now, with what’s going on today….
CN: It’s a scary time and I’m a person that really… for the hell I’ve been through and the insane life … being homeless and in jail and all the craziness that I know can happen.. I’m not a guy that really worries that they’re gonna bomb me. I worry about my kids and I don’t want any of my kids to get sick from this stuff, but I really believe that God has brought me so far that we’re gonna make it. And I think that America…just like the 60s, Americans became Americans again. Just like the 60s. We love our country. We respect what it is and we’re coming together. Just like the 60s…all those young kids. That’s what we had in common. We loved this country and we weren’t gonna let the people who ran it fuck it up anymore. And make the world hate us anymore.. because we didn’t hate them! We had people representing us, sending out a picture to everybody of what we were.. and we weren’t that!
CN: So, now we’re… people are back together. I just got pictures from my friend in New York who bought pictures from the actual site.. from photographers and they’re doing donations. It’s frightening, frightening! So , you think about it. Music and live albums..(Laughs) it really is insignificant in the scheme of things but, not in America. Because in America we go on with what we enjoy. We go to the baseball games. God bless, they’re sellin ’em out. We go..we buy our records and we live our lives the best quality of life we can and I’m glad to be a part of that end of it…”Oh, say can you see..(sings like opera singer)”(Laughs)
SE: Very good. (Laughs) You should’ve added that on the CD.
SE: Speaking of the new album… you’ve got some surprise bonus tracks…
CN: Yeah, besides the twenty plus live songs, I went in and recorded some new stuff, “Catch Me When I’m Down”.. that’s a new cut and then there’s “Easy To Be Hard” unplugged…a very interesting, fresh, new version totally different from the way people are familiar with it.. and then “Dream”, a song I did on my last album, I do again acapella. And then I have a treat from the past….
SE: Yeah, I wanna talk about that.
CN: The Rondells!
SE: The Rondells! Tell us all about the Rondells track. What made you pull that out of your closet and….
CN: Well, you know. it started with the documentary on my life and I started contacting some of the guys to see if they had any footage, any tracks…We started getting back together.. talking…and then I did a show in New York at Jones Beach and a couple of them showed up! So we just started talkin about it and started thinking about the song and I just decided it might be a treat if I went in and did some work on that song and then finally just put it on the CD.
SE: Yeah. It has a realness.. you know, 50s or early 60s sound to it..
CN: Yeah, it’s a song that Phil Namanworth and I wrote in.. let me see probably ‘57..1957.
CN: And that’s the way we originally did it onstage and at the Apollo. Matter of fact, that’s the song we sang at the Apollo.
SE: And it sounds like you recorded with the same gear you first recorded it with back in 1957.
CN: Yeah, there’s a lot of antique old gear there that’s for sure! Old mics… you can’t… today everything is digital and it’s a whole other sound. I mean there’s a warmth to tube mics and also when you attack it it squashes a little… it’s just great stuff what it does.
SE: And that track was recoded live in the studio?
CN: It was recoded live in the studio. We all went in and we just did it because that’s the way it was done. I mean you didn’t do what people do today. (Laughs) Record a song and sing it fifty times and then have a Pro Tools guy dissect it… move it around and then have someone do some fantastic background vocals and then piece it together. I mean that’s the way it’s done today. But no, no, back then you had to play and sing at the same time. You had to be able to do it. And there was a realness to it and that was what Rock and Roll was about. (Laughs) Back then you didn’t have the rawness taken out because you went in and did it and that was it! That’s why a lot of these guys today… I mean they’re hard pressed to do a live show because they don’t have anything! And then you’ve got the big stars who are going out there and lip syncing because really… they don’t have it! But then you watch Madonna in the last show that she just did and she’s awesome! I mean, what a great show! She’s not someone I thought that I’d ever be enjoying. But she’s a pro. She sings, she dances, and she’s not a kid anymore. Not that she’s old.. she’s still a young lady compared to me but she’s showing these young kids how it’s done. It’s kind of a shame that people out there like Janet Jackson… I mean, her voice is probably so small that they’ve gotta double it or (Laughs) but anyway. There’s people out there that just lip sync. They really just can’t do it. And forget about singing live and on television. A lot of these people… now the Grammys must be insisting that they sing live because The Chili Peppers did a live thing… (Laughs) I mean this guy wasn’t even in the quarter note to the note he was supposed to be singing. I felt so bad for him. I figured he couldn’t hear a thing..Anthony..he’s a nice guy, but I went “Whoo, Anthony. Never sing live on television.”(Laughing) Because he had not a clue even what key the song was in.
CN: It’s tough.. it’s just a different thing. But then again it’s Rock ‘n Roll and you’ve got the Chili Peppers as a perfect example ..what an exciting, interesting act to watch and of course their records are fixed and you know what I mean…everything’s pitched and all that stuff. But the live performance was the same as Three Dog Night in a sense…it’s an exciting event and it’s not about notes. It’s about the experience. Well, it’s about notes, but not primarily.
SE: Yeah. So is this live album sort of a taste of what’s yet to come out of Negron World?
CN: Well, in a sense I would like to record…I wanna see what happens with this.. but, I would like to record at least one.. actually it makes no sense to do one. If you’re out there you might as well do a couple, but a couple of new things on my next album.. brand new songs that I’m recording live and you know brand new songs recorded live…(Laughs) it’s before you have them committed to memory where you’re doin ‘em.. you know what I’m saying…it’s exciting. And plus it gives the person another look at a new tune…and maybe even the growth of it and then record it again in the studio at a later date. So yeah, so I’m writing and trying to keep my health together.
SE: You don’t sound or look like you ever went through that drug period..
CN: Yeah, well God’s been very good to me.
SE: Do you think there will ever be a Three Dog Night Behind the Music?
CN: The shame of that is… you know I was doing work with VH1 when that series came to pass. I did “Dying In Vein” an hour special… got a relationship with them… and then “The Bad Boys Of Rock And Roll” and later “The List“… anyway, we were one of the first bands they approached to do Behind The Music and the Three Dog Night people nixed it feeling it would help me more than it would help them.
SE: That’s odd, why?
CN: Well, because it would bring to light that I was out there too and no longer in Three Dog Night. As one of the settlements of the arbitration they agreed to give their best efforts to do “Behind The Music” but Danny Hutton had many demands before he would agree to do the show. Some of the demands were, I could not perform any Three Dog Night songs on the show, I would only perform music from my solo career and I wouldn’t be able to mention the Three Dog Night name in connection with mine. And in spite of the absurdities of these demands I agreed feeling that doing Behind The Music was more important for my career and the Three Dog Night catalog. Since it had been proven that Behind The Music has generated new sales, it would help us all to do the show. I mean, I gave up something so they would do Behind The Music.. So I lost something so something artistic could happen and that’s what I’m interested in, but they never did the show in spite of agreeing that they would. So they never did it and then I heard that they told VH1 that they would do it when the suit was over and the suit is over and they haven’t called em. Because I actually just recently spoke to the producer and he said, “No, we haven’t heard from them and every time we call them they tell me they don’t wanna do it.”
SE: Isn’t it proven that that show sells more records for artists today..
CN: Oh, it helps the catalog.. it helps everybody. But these are people that… if it’s going to help me they don’t care if it helps them… they just won’t do it. They knew in the past three years while we were trying to get Behind The Music done that I could come on and promote my various solo CD’s that have come out during this period, a best selling book “Three Dog Nightmare” that I would have promoted, as well as the movie to the book, and a documentary that is almost completed. And for them they haven’t done anything new in twenty years so I have heard they felt that it was more beneficial to me than it was to them… so they have yet to do the show. If we do it and our catalog goes up and we sell a lot more records that’s great… but they’re not losing anything if they don‘t do the show because the catalog will still sell the way it has been for years. So it’s just a risk that is gonna keep me more in the forefront and bring light to the fact that not all of the original members are there specifically me and Floyd Sneed and Joe Schermie who pretty much besides Cory are the backbone of the band.
SE: It’s great that you wrote a book about your life before during and after Three Dog Night.
CN: I came clean about my life because I had to face what my life had become. It was a healing process. But hey, everyone doesn’t need to go down that road… especially if you’re not finished! (Laughs)
SE: (Laughs) Thanks again for a great interview!
CN: Okay man, Thank you I appreciate it.
Be sure to check out www.negron.com for more info on Chuck.