For longtime fans of Three Dog Night, the band that took the 1970s by storm with numerous chart-topping hits, the three men who came to define the sound of Three Dog Night are indelibly etched in the collective and sonic memory.
Each singer brought their own unique sound to the mix. Chuck Negron’s distinctive vocals on “Joy to the World,” Danny Hutton’s staccato perfection on “Black & White,” and Cory Wells’s smooth take on “Never Been to Spain” gave the band a huge punch, a trio of voices which kept their songs from soundly exactly like each other. Although there were others in the band, a handful of players who provided the perfect backup, Three Dog Night were largely defined by the three men who fronted the band.
Bringing in the songs
But those fans also know that Negron has been absent from the group for decades. Although several band members, including Hutton, struggled with drug issues, Negron’s addictions became more than the band could overcome, leading to his departure in 1985. He has since moved beyond those issues and is still active musically, visiting Fort Wayne just two years ago at the Foellinger Theatre’s Happy Together concert. Since the mid-’80s, Three Dog Night continued on, some jokingly calling them Two Dog Night. Wells and Hutton were stalwarts, helping to maintain the look and sound of a group whose music was a soundtrack for a generation.
As a band who looked outside of its musicians for most of its music, Three Dog Night made many songwriters (Hoyt Axton, Paul Williams, and Randy Newman to name a few) more money than they made themselves.
“We had a system in which we brought songs in that we thought had potential or songs that we really liked,” Wells said in 2014. “So I would bring in songs and Danny would bring in songs and we’d sort out what we thought had potential to become a big hit single and then we’d strip that down and start with the basic track and build up the song from there. We were part of the entire process.
“Because our success happened so quickly and was so fast and we were very young and naïve,” he added. “We didn’t realize the extent of what we were doing. We wanted to just get the work done and make it the best that it could be. We had an attitude that it didn’t matter who or whom the songs came from. We didn’t realize that others would be getting all the credit for our work..”
In an era where bands often go years between albums, it’s easy to forget that 50 years ago, when Three Dog Night were starting out, albums were expected yearly if not more often. (Just count how many the Beatles released in six years for further evidence.) It was a grueling schedule, but the band members didn’t entirely realize the extent of their schedule at the time as Hutton said in that same 2014 interview.
“Looking back, we worked straight through those years almost without any time off,” he said. “To give you an idea of just how fast the pace was back then, the first album was completed in a manner of days. Then, the second album took a month and that was only because we had to go out and find new songs. We were always working.”
The Wells/Hutton partnership continued for three decades, longer than their original partnership with Negron. They continued to tour the world and visited Fort Wayne on several occasions, sharing their timeless catalog including “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” “One,” “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Liar,” “Eli’s Coming,” “Shambala,” “Easy To Be Hard,” and “The Family of Man.”
Then Wells, who was suffering from cancer, died in 2015. Now left to carry the torch for the band he cofounded in 1967, Hutton said in a 2017 interview that he misses the partner with whom he worked for decades, but there have been advantages to being the sole leader of the group now.
“It was such a shock when that happened,” Hutton said. “I basically had to kind of right the ship.”
Nothing dark and gloomy
But Wells, who had grown more weary of the jukebox nature of playing oldies for devout fans, occasionally wanted to branch out, to provide something different.
“That’s not my mentality,” Hutton said. “My mentality is someone’s seeing us maybe for the first time ever or they haven’t seen us in 15 years. They want to hear the songs that bring back memories. And you’ve got to perform it really well.”
Hutton, who now seems to keep the band on the road more than ever, has brought back one other original Three Dog Night member, guitarist Mike Allsup. He regularly promises fans the exact show they’d hope to see from Three Dog Night, whether it was in 1970 or today.
“We just want everyone to come out,” he said in 2018. “And believe me, you will leave with a smile on your face. We’re not there to lecture or to speak about politics or do dark and gloomy, and there is nothing at all wrong with that, but it is just not what we do. For an hour or two, just escape all of the pressures, all of the stuff. Get away from the news, and just forget your troubles and have a good time.”
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