Monday, April 15, 2019

Karaoke Night at the Dog Pound

Karaoke Night at the Dog Pound

Teamwork and Survival

Over the last several years, I found myself fondly recalling and writing about what I refer to as “the good years,” sharing the neighborhood experience with friends and acquaintances in the Bronx. I affectionately recall the importance of sports, respect, fair and honest competition, and winning or losing with humility. 

I also became aware of a morality, or code of conduct, to which I adhered even though it might be seen as unacceptable to some in the neighborhood. My friends and I were in our early teens. At a movie theater, a few of us were getting loud which prompted a man to turn around and politely ask us to quiet down. He was with his girlfriend, or wife, and in his late 20s or early 30s. One thing led to another, stimulated by rude and unnecessary behavior by my friends, leading to a fist fight. The boys from my block jumped over the seats onto the man and a small riot ensued as bystanders came to his aid. I found myself so upset with my friends’ actions that I refused to become part of it. One of my friends had his nose broken. My lack of involvement didn’t go unnoticed. I was perceived, by people I respected, as weak, as a coward. My penance—my friend’s parents had me take their son to the doctor throughout his rehabilitation. I learned you are accountable for your actions, or lack thereof, and that I had broken a basic rule whereas you always cover your friend’s back, no matter what! It was confusing choosing not to do what was seen as the correct action by my closest friends, but not by me.

The years moved by at a comfortable pace for me, but the day did come when I understood we all would desire and need unconditional support from someone who had our back—no matter what!

Friends for Life

During my years of competitive sports, especially in college, I found most teammates became friends who supported one another. We understood the common goal was to compete as a team and win or lose—as a team. 

Recently, my college teammates from 1961-64 reunited at Hancock College for a few days of fellowship, exaggerated facts and stories bordering on fantasy, and wonderful memories of an undefeated League Championship and the birthplace of lifetime friendships! Our time together reinforced my belief in the gift and blessing of what true friendship is! 

Over these many years, my closest friends from this group have supported my career and attended my concerts all over the world, visiting with me in my home, inviting me into their homes, rescuing me from a world that, can at times, be lonely as they provided me with a reprieve from hotel food and strangers. 

These times are more than a wonderful pardon from the tedium of the road, but a renewal of my spirit which I have always cherished!

Searching for a Song

To give you some background regarding my respect and love of perfectly crafted songs, and how it affected Three Dog Night, I go back to 1958 when I discovered many of the Rock & Roll hits I loved and sang were being written about 40 minutes away from my apartment in The Bronx. My heroes—Goffin & King, Mann & Weil, Leiber & Stoller, Bacharach & David, Barry & Greenwich, and many others—were creating hits just a subway ride away in Manhattan at The Brill Building and 1650 Broadway. 

The Rondells, the group I sang with, took the subway every week to seek out these writers, and possibly a hit song! We sang a cappella for one publisher after another in hopes of meeting their famous writers and recording one of their songs. We were hired to record demonstration records for some of these publishers, better known as demos, at some of the best studios in New York City. Eventually, The Rondells were selected to record a new song, “Oh Baby,” by Ricardo Weeks and Gloria Negron (no relation!) Mr. Weeks had written “I Wonder Why” for Dion & The Belmonts. We also did an original song, “Bells of My Heart,”  written by second tenor Phil Namanworth. Mr. Weeks and Ms. Negron became our first managers. We all needed our parents’ signatures on the contracts as we were still minors!

When Bobby Pittari, with whom I recorded my first record, and I appeared on Alan Freed’s Big Beat TV Show, I closely watched and listened to Jackie Wilson, Bobby Darin, and Johnny Maestro and The Crests. Alan Freed was originally a disc jockey from Cleveland who has been credited with coining the term Rock & Roll as well as helping to plan the first Rock & Roll concert—the Moondog Coronation Ball! 

I was moved by the beauty and emotional impact of their performances. Their talent and stage presence mesmerized me as did their stylish, flamboyant wardrobes. Despite the broad scope of musical genres and vocal styles, it became very clear to me that after all was said and done, it all came down to the song! Your star will rise or fall based on THE SONG! 

I brought this mentality to TDN! 

1957-1965—Pre-Dog Night

I began learning my craft in my teens by honing my skills performing in subway stations, on street corners, at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, high school/college dances, and night clubs. In 1959, I performed with The Rondells at the world-famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem which led to my appearances on Cousin Bruce Morrow’s Palisades Park Concerts with Gene McDaniels, Freddy Cannon, The Kalin Twins, and The Ronettes and on The Clay Cole TV program with Tommy Roe where I not only sang, but I did a comedy skit with Chuck McCann.

Cory and his groups, which included The Fidelitones, Vibratos, and others, performed at every club in Buffalo and nearby areas. While serving his country from 1959-62, Cory, then known as Airman First Class Emil Lewandowski, toured Air Force bases with The Satellites performing for servicemen and women until his release in 1962. In the mid-60s, his group, Cory Wells and The Enemys, acquired a residency at the world-famous Whisky a Go Go on The Sunset Strip. This high-profile gig made them celebrity favorites landing them roles on TV shows and movies including “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Burke’s Law,”  “Riot on Sunset Strip,” and “Harper” with Paul Newman.

Danny lacked this background or apprenticeship in groups and live performances for his career had only spanned four years, primarily in the recording studio, before getting together with Cory and I in 1967.  In 1965, he did his first live performances as part of The Sonny & Cher Tour, in which he played his Billboard-charted record, ”Roses and Rainbows.” He also appeared on “Shivaree” and “Hollywood A Go-Go,” two of several Rock music programs of the day where guest artists would lip sync their current record. It was on one of these shows where he met June Fairchild, a dancer. Initially, Danny was uncomfortable with being on stage, but eventually, the stage became a second home to him. Danny’s strength came from working in the recording studio that helped increase TDN’s recording IQ! 

“No Work, Find a Venue, Sing for Free”

When there wasn’t any work, you found a way to perform—not only because you loved it, but more importantly to keep your voice, your instrument, ready for any opportunity that might present itself! Dick Biondi, a renowned DJ at WLS in Chicago, was in Los Angeles at KRLA. He was putting together a show with several acts that would tour and perform for two weeks for the young men and women participating in The Job Corps Camp program in the Pacific Northwest. No money, but certainly a wealth of experience and good karma!

It wasn’t until I signed a deal with Columbia Records—the biggest label in the record business, got a Beverly Hills manager, and moved to Hollywood that I experienced a collaborative relationship with individuals who would undermine their colleagues to divert attention from their shortcomings, insecurities, and lack of character. I learned it's hard to know what character is, but you certainly know what it isn't!

The survival instinct of these people, along with their willingness to go to any lengths to protect themselves, swiftly becomes apparent when they transform into sharks in a feeding frenzy, devouring the innocent hopes and dreams of their victims. You must learn quickly that it takes so much more than talent to remain in the entertainment business! An almost spiritual resilience must reside within you, guiding you through the crap you will inevitably be involved in if you’re lucky enough to stay around. Regrettably, our “lowlife radar” rarely works with people we admire.

The most fulfilling recompense for those who take more than they give is your personal success. Hopefully, you get a chance to flaunt it! As they say, “Revenge is best served hot, cold, wet, dry—I don't care, as long as it’s on the menu!” NO BAD VIBES HERE, MAN!

The importance of being in a group or a band at some point in your musical development is paramount. Without that foundation, you might not appreciate the importance of relying on and respecting those with whom you are not just creating with and learning from, but to whom you are also responsible.

There is a social etiquette, a creative rhythm, and a synchronicity necessary to flourish in a band. Entering a group setting after spending your entire career as a solo artist can be challenging. 

Three Dog Night (TDN) came at a time in my life when I was beginning to be concerned. I was older than some of my peers and other up and coming artists of my day. It had been ten years since I had recorded my first record and started performing. When Danny, Cory, and I began TDN, I felt comfortable for Danny and I were 25-years-old with Cory being 26. 

Cory Wells was the real deal. He was the best singer and front man with whom I had ever worked. Watching him helped me define my role and develop a new persona on stage. To this day, considering all I’ve worked with, Cory Wells is still THE BEST SINGER AND FRONT MAN! 

Danny Hutton was one of the most creative musicians I had worked with. He was charismatic and always fun to be with. I was proud to be his friend. I will admit, being my friend was not always easy for I was moody, had a temper, and the girls usually went for me—SORRY ABOUT THAT!

As perfect as anything can be, with success came competition creating an uncomfortable atmosphere when the singers recorded together. "IT'S FOR YOU!" was a signature Danny Hutton concept. We should have dedicated more time to that direction, but doing so would have required many hours of intense work together, which was increasingly becoming more awkward. 

Expanding Social Norms

The Sixties were an extremely unique adventure in that all social norms were not only being challenged, but also being turned upside down! The puritanical views of sex and drug use were no longer a moral issue, but instead, socially acceptable and an encouraged experience.

Na├»ve, and potentially dangerous, drug experimentation frustrated Cory who neither drank nor used drugs. To add insult to injury, the Band would humorously and playfully make light of Cory’s drug- and alcohol-free life. After all, it was the Sixties—almost everyone tried one drug or another!

It appeared that Danny felt drug experimentation was an experience that should be shared. He artlessly pursued turning on as many people as possible as if drugs were the equivalent of a great book, movie, or music; however, there were unknown risks involved. Some he encouraged to indulge were not stable enough to withstand the experience, or were predisposed to becoming addicted. Many, like Cory, simply weren't interested!

It was common knowledge that Hutton had parties at his home that included celebrities and peers such as John Lennon, Harry Nilsson, Ringo Starr, Jackson Browne, Brian Wilson, and Lowell George to mention a few. Anyone who was anyone frequented these gatherings which often went on for days! The cast was always changing as people would make their way in and out, night and day, making it impossible for Danny to make it to the studio.

Two Good Men Gone!

In 2015, I was devastated when we lost both Jimmy Greenspoon and Cory Wells to cancer for we had been estranged for years. I was fortunate enough to speak to Jimmy before he passed and tell him how much I loved and missed him! Cory and I had made our amends via email. 

Their loss, however, seemed to stimulate one unfeeling and hypocritical remark after another from Danny Hutton. He is no longer tethered to the truth since there is almost no one left who knows the truth, not even his immediate family! 

Rewriting History

In recent interviews, Danny has consistently avoided facts in hopes of rewriting history to the point of being insensitive stating that with Cory gone, he's been able to "cut the fat out of the live show.” In a phone interview with The Grand Island Independent, Danny stated, “I basically kind of had to right the ship.” He didn’t want to compromise when Cory wanted to add some blues songs to the live set. Now he does it his way with the show being “exactly what I always dreamed of.”

The Grand Island Independent found this to be “a surprising conclusion, since one of the other Three Dog Night founders, Cory Wells, passed away in 2015.”

To be candid, “Joy to the World” has been responsible for some of TDN’s great success, but it also hindered the band’s cache amongst the press and the musical elite. The overwhelming success of this one song altered the view of some who never delved into our eclectic musical skills in the art of choosing great songs and creating unique records. To truly understand and see TDN, you must look at its entire body of work which includes 21 consecutive Top 40 hits, album cuts, and overwhelming success when touring!

TDN created individual pieces of art and each picture was unique unto itself. A tranquil Monet landscape depicting “Out in the Country,” an aggressive Jackson Pollock portrayed in “Women,” or a love song, “Pieces of April,” as would be depicted in Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss along with the soulful art of Ernie Barnes representing TDN’s R & B charted record—“Mama Told Me Not to Come.” No band before nor since has successfully maneuvered through so many different genres as did TDN! 

June Wilson Fairchild 

Looking back at our beginnings, I came to realize Hutton’s manipulation and disingenuous demeanor began at the very start! For years, Hutton sold the narrative that his girlfriend, June Fairchild, came up with the name Three Dog Night. This is not true! (Why he did this, I just don’t know?)

June, who was beloved by all members of TDN, admitted Danny had asked her to present an article in Mankind magazine, given to them by Van Dyke Parks, to Cory and me. This article was about aborigines who referred to extremely cold nights as a “Three Dog Night” for they slept with their dogs to stay warm. Danny had June imply that this article was her inspiration for the name, Three Dog Night, when it was Van Dyke who was responsible and thoughtful enough to turn us on to this great name! 

I felt no need to embarrass her and never mentioned it. She passed away several years ago, but I still felt no desire to bring it up until reading some of the following comments from Van Dyke Parks.

“I formed the band and I was the guy…”

There is truth in the latter quotes by Hutton, but they must be taken in context. WE ALL FORMED THE BAND! Both Cory and Danny claim credit for starting the band. Eventually, they decided they wanted a third voice and Danny suggested me. The three of us found and selected the four musicians; hence, TDN was born. 

As for staying up for days mixing, it’s true, but those cocaine-laced marathons rarely, if ever, yielded anything usable!

Hutton’s actions and words are in keeping with a trend in America to erase the past by eliminating all historical evidence in hopes of altering reality to fit their narrative. Historical reminders of disgraceful behavior associated with ones’ past should be banned since these individuals cannot embrace the truth for it reveals a legacy not even they can abide.

Honesty is at a minimum these days. Winning is the new truth. 
Facts become spin and spin become facts.

A Band of Seven, A Band of Three, Solo Artists, or All of the Above?

Although a group, we were often treated as separate artists.

If one of the singers brought in a song, it became their project AND their success or failure! This mindset of the singers being responsible for the success of their songs instead of the group established an unhealthy, competitive environment that was stifling and inhibiting to some. For example, on two separate albums, Danny agreed to record a song both Cory and I felt was strong. Danny rehearsed with the musicians, but at the last minute, he decided against recording them. He passed on "All Right Now” by an unknown band, Free, as well as "Fire and Rain” by a new artist, James Taylor. The pressure to not make a mistake on your song selection led to indecision and doubt. It was a full year before Free and Taylor released the aforementioned reinforcing my belief that these were hit songs.

Jay Laska, President of ABC/Dunhill Records, was interested in the decision-making process TDN employed in picking songs and who would sing lead. Bill Utley, our manager, had me explain the process to Mr. Laska who proceeded to compile a makeshift list consisting of those responsible for the selection of a hit and who sang it. The purpose was similar to a chart used by coaches to keep pertinent data on each player. The very fact there was now a list on us reinforced my understanding that the label viewed Cory, Danny, and I as separate entities, and possibly competitors.

Using the following, (W) Cory, (N) Chuck, (H) Danny, and (G) Group Choice, here is The List:

1.     Nobody (N)
2.     Tenderness (W)
3.     One (N)
4.     Easy to Be Hard (N)
5.     Eli's Coming (N)
6.     Celebrate (H)
7.     Mama Told Me Not to Come (W)
8.     Out in the Country (G)
9.     One Man Band (G)
10.  Joy to the World (N)
11.  Liar (Greenspoon)
12.  Old Fashioned Love Song (N)
13.  Spain (W)
14.  Family of Man (G)
15.  Black and White (H)
16.  Pieces of April (N)
17.  Shambala (W)
18.  Let Me Serenade You (W)
19.  The Show Must Go On (N)
20.  Play Something Sweet (W)
21.  ‘Til the World Ends (N)

Cory Wells believed in a song written by a comparatively new writer, Randy Newman. He believed in Randy enough to have already recorded one of his songs on our first album in 1968, even though Randy had not yet achieved any notoriety and wouldn’t appear on the Billboard Charts until 1971. Cory believed in him, but due to the mild reception Cory received from Danny for his latest selection, he waited two more albums before recording it. Cory was correct about "Mama Told Me Not to Come” for it became a Number One record for Cory, and for TDN! We all knew the importance of selecting great songs and, at times, we let some get away, or simply avoided taking chances when we weren’t sure.

I liked a song a local bank was using in their commercial. Danny was totally against recording it since it was already associated with a commercial even though I felt I could make it another “Easy to Be Hard.” I passed on it fearing Hutton was right. The Carpenters not only took “We’ve Only Just Begun" to Number One on the charts, but also won a Grammy beating out TDN’s “Joy to the World” in the category for Best Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group!

Cory and I were able to choose almost 90% of TDN’s hits and introduced some of the greatest, and previously unheralded, writers of our time to the music world. Of TDN’s first five singles, I submitted four and Cory submitted the fifth. Of the 21 Top Forty hits compiled by TDN, Danny was responsible for submitting only 2—“Celebrate” and “Black & White”—and was also involved in the selection process with Cory and I on three group songs.

In August, 1971, it all changed. It appeared that the original concept of three vocalists performing three different styles of music was being realized when a song Jimmy Greenspoon brought to Danny was released. “Liar” became Danny’s first hit single reaching the Top Ten on three different charts! It was exciting to see his passion when he chose to do a complete remix of the album version of "Liar." It was a piece of art and one of my favorite TDN singles! 

We all hoped the success of "Liar" would invigorate him and stimulate more exceptional work, but the opposite happened. He became inconsistent on stage, even though he only performed 2 solo songs in a two hour plus concert. He also stopped coming to the studio on a regular basis. 

Eventually, our concerns morphed into disdain when we were forced to spend hundreds of extra hours in the recording studio attempting to make up for his absence, one album after another.

TDN Lost Its Harmony

Considering the band believed our harmony separated us from many of our peers, and was also the spiritual glue and lifeline the three singers shared, it was devastating when he stopped showing up!

Initially, we did not understand the degree to which his absence would erode the foundation of the band causing dissension and resentment. It divided the members into two groups—those who wanted him gone and those who hoped he would straighten up. I was part of the latter group. I ran cover for him and fought for him. Several times, I even climbed over his barbed wire fence and up a tree to the second story of his home in hopes of taking him to the studio because it was imperative that he be there. 

One afternoon at the recording studio, Cory became so frustrated that Danny hadn’t shown up that he went to his home determined to bring him to the studio. While attempting to navigate the barbed wire, Cory’s arm was sliced open requiring many stitches. I now had to step aside and let the inevitable happen to Danny.

Sadness prevailed when it became obvious that we could no longer justify his worth, a painful surrender for me to embrace for he was my friend. The added pressure from management and the record company to replace him sealed his fate. Once he was gone, TDN was never the same for me. He ended what we had worked for and dreamed of our entire musical lives. He made it impossible to recreate that which had held us together—three-part harmony.  

Those Who Can, Do! Those Who Can’t, Karaoke!

A more daunting scenario, and one of the reasons for this piece, is now taking place over forty years later as only one original TDN member, Danny Hutton, performed at a recent concert. To see him perform is to understand his involvement in fraud every time he presents his karaoke band of Three Dog Night impersonators. TDN is gone, and the original members deserve a proper eulogy, not a soliloquy during Karaoke Night at the Dog Pound!

It’s ironic that Danny Hutton is now at the helm of this once prolific musical juggernaut that has remained impotent on his watch. Obviously, he was a founding member and has every right to be in the position he finds himself. It’s only fitting this man has the opportunity to perform this great music. I just ask that he honors it and the Original Seven who made it possible.

It is my heartfelt wish that Mr. Hutton curtail his fabrications which disrespect the Original Seven and the four men who passed away, as they were responsible for the work and success for which he now takes bows. I would think a man endowed with an annuity for something he neglected, and offered the least to, would be grateful to those whom accorded him this gift and simply say, THANK YOU!

Thank You for All You Gave Us!

Only God knows when all our pathetic excuses, resentments, and perceived injustices will be buried with us, leaving only more regret for those left behind! I can never tell Cory Wells, Jimmy Greenspoon, Joe Schermie, or Jack Ryland in how many ways they made my life better and how I wish we could have been closer after the band disbanded. I am forever grateful for their musical contributions that have allowed me to have a blessed career!

Post Script:

Since my departure from TDN over 35 years ago, I have had the freedom to pursue my heartfelt wish to write and record new music. I am grateful to have released six albums as a solo artist and a seventh with The Negron Band, which includes my daughters Charlie and Annabelle. I produced my eighth release consisting of original TDN master recordings I own of live, in concert performances from the 1970s which was released on Shout Factory Records entitled Three Dog Night Greatest Hits Live.

I’ve been blessed having written my best-selling book, Three Dog Nightmare,which has been incorporated into the course of studies in many drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities across America. I released my PRISM Award-winning DVD, "The Chuck Negron Story: Biography of An Entertainer," written articles published in medical journals and music business publications, and released eight albums and five singles these past years. 

I did all these with the guidance, love, and support of more people than you can imagine. Thank God for all of you that loved me back to health!