Three Dog Night earned 12 gold albums and recorded 21 consecutive Billboard Top 40 hits, 7 of which went gold. Their first gold record was “One” (number 5 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and spent three weeks at number 2 on the Cash Box Top 100), which had been written and recorded by Harry Nilsson. Nilsson wrote the song after calling someone and getting a busy signal. He stayed on the line listening to the “beep, beep, beep, beep…” tone, writing the song. The busy signal became the opening notes of the song. Nilsson released his original version in 1968, one year before “Three Dog Night” released their cover.
The song was also released by Al Kooper on his “I Stand Alone” album in February 1969. His version added orchestration which made it stand apart from other covers.
Three Dog Night made its official debut in 1968 at the Whiskey a Go Go, at a 5 p.m. press party hosted by Dunhill Records. They were still in the process of making their first album “Three Dog Night” when they heard the favorable reactions from the hypercritical audience. The album “Three Dog Night” was a success with its hit songs “One” and “Nobody” and helped the band gain recognition and become one of the top drawing concert acts of their time.
“Three Dog Night” was based around the vocal skills of Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron and Cory Wells. In 1967, Hutton conceived the idea of a three-vocalist group, and he and Wells enlisted mutual friend Negron.
Cory Wells (born Emil Lewandowski) came from a musical family and began playing in Buffalo, New York-area bands in his teens. His biological father, who was married to someone other than his mother, died when Cory was a small child, leaving his mother to struggle financially until she eventually remarried. She gave Cory her maiden last name although Cory eventually changed his surname to Wells (which is a shortened version of his birth father’s last name, Wellsley). Wells joined the United States Air Force directly out of high school. While in the Air Force, he formed a band inspired by his boyhood love of a similar popular band called The Del-Vikings. Following his military tour of duty, Wells returned to Buffalo and was asked to join a band named the “Vibratos”. Gene Jacobs, the brother-in-law of the “Vibratos” guitar player, Mike Lustan, suggested to him that the “Vibratos” travel to California if they were serious about making it in music. They took his advice and changed the name of the band to “The Enemys.” They soon began working the clubs in Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Sacramento, and they became the house band at the Whisky a Go Go.
While at the Whisky a Go Go, Cher asked the band to tour with Sonny & Cher. It was on this tour that Wells met Danny Hutton. Hutton was a songwriter and singer for Hanna Barbera Records from 1965–66. Hutton had a modest national hit, “Roses and Rainbows” during his tenure as a recording artist for Hanna-Barbera Records. Hutton and Wells officially formed “Three Dog Night” in 1968. They found a third lead singer in Chuck Negron, whom Hutton had met at a Hollywood party. Hutton, Wells, and Negron met The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and they recorded demos under the name “Redwood” with Wilson as producer. The sessions produced a potential single, “Time to Get Alone,” but Beach Boy member Mike Love wanted to save the song for the next Beach Boys album. Having perfected their three-part harmony sound, Wells, Hutton and Negron added a four-piece backing group consisting of guitarist Michael Allsup, organist Jimmy Greenspoon, bassist Joe Schermie, and drummer Floyd Sneed.
Charles “Chuck” Negron II was born in Manhattan to Charles Negron and Elizabeth Rooke. At 5 years old, his father, a nightclub singer, and his mother divorced. Negron and his twin sister, Nancy, were placed in an orphanage by their mother. Two years later, she took them back. Negron grew up in The Bronx, where he sang in local doo-wop groups and played basketball both in schoolyard pick-up games and at William Howard Taft High School. The latter talent led to his being recruited to play basketball at Allan Hancock College, a small community college in Santa Maria, California; later, he played at California State University, Los Angeles. The rock and roll lifestyle took its toll on Negron, and by the time “Three Dog Night” disbanded in 1976, Negron had a serious heroin addiction which began in the early 1970s. In July 1975, the British music magazine, NME, reported that Negron had been arrested for cocaine possession in Kentucky. He overcame his addiction in September 1991 and embarked on a solo career.
As for how they got their name, the official commentary included in the CD set “Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story, 1964–1975”, and their own website, states that vocalist Danny Hutton’s girlfriend, actress June Fairchild (best known as the “Ajax Lady” from the Cheech and Chong movie “Up In Smoke”) suggested the name after reading a magazine article about indigenous Australians, in which it was explained that on cold nights they would customarily sleep in a hole in the ground while embracing a dingo, a native species of feral dog. On colder nights they would sleep with two dogs and, if the night were freezing, it was a “three dog night”.
As its members wrote just a handful of songs on the albums, most songs “Three Dog Night” recorded were written by outside songwriters. Notable hits by outside writers include Harry Nilsson’s “One” (US #5), the Gerome Ragni-James Rado-Galt MacDermot composition “Easy to Be Hard” (US #4) from the musical “Hair”, Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Comin'” (US #10), Randy Newman’s “Mama Told Me Not to Come” (US #1), Paul Williams’ “Out in the Country” (US #15), “The Family Of Man” (US #12), and “An Old Fashioned Love Song” (US #4), Hoyt Axton’s “Joy to the World” (US #1) and “Never Been to Spain” (US #5), Arkin & Robinson’s “Black and White” (US #1), Argent’s Russ Ballard’s “Liar” (US #7), Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Lady Samantha” and “Your Song”, Daniel Moore’s “Shambala” (#3), Leo Sayer’s “The Show Must Go On” (US #4), John Hiatt’s “Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here” (US #16), Bush’s “I Can Hear You Calling”, and Allen Toussaint’s “Play Something Sweet” (US #33).
Even with all that success, by 1976, internal dissent arose in the group and “Three Dog Night” officially disbanded a year later. There was a reunion in the early ’80s, but by December 1985, after a relapse into his drug habit, Negron was let go, and the group continued with Wells and Hutton fronting the band and Paul Kingery was brought back on guitar to cover Chuck’s vocal harmonies.
Hutton and Wells have since taken “Three Dog Night” out on the international touring circuit. They continued to tour over the next few years, though Cory Wells eventually left the group in September 2015 due to medical complications. Just one month later he succumbed to myeloma, a form of blood cancer.
With Danny Hutton fronting a new line-up now, as they mark more than 40 years on the road, “Three Dog Night” continue to grow their fan base and develop new ways of doing business. In 2014 they are pursuing an extensive schedule of concerts at theatres, performing arts centers, fairs, festivals, corporate events, and casinos. Since 1986, they have performed over 2,200 shows including two Super Bowls.