Chuck Negron Biography
From a humble Bronx, New York apartment to success and wealth far beyond anything he could imagine to homelessness and jail. The Chuck Negron story is an amazing saga. Even more so when you realize it resolves in a wonderful triumph. For what could have ended on a deadly downbeat is today a story that gives us all hope and faith that miracles do happen.
Rock-n-Roll first made a difference in Chuck’s life in the late 1950’s. At age 15, he recorded his first record with a friend. The recording session was unique and a powerful learning experience. There was no tape recorder or tape. The music went directly to disc, so any mistakes or flaws in their performance could not be fixed. Chuck learned to strive to make his performances as natural and error free as possible. At age 16, Chuck sang lead in a vocal group The Rondells and they performed at the world famous Apollo Theater. A stone cold dead silence ensued as the curtain rose on The Rondells. “We were not just the only white group on the bill,” Negron recalls, “We were the only white people in the building. But by our second verse something magical happened. The audience started to cheer us on.” That night Negron learned an important lesson, that music transcends all barriers and differences that people might have. “That’s the power of music.” Soon after his Apollo triumph the teenage Chuck Negron and the Rondells began haunting Manhattan’s famous Brill Building. “I came to believe that the difference between a good singer and a great singer was the songs they sang. I looked to see who was writing the great hits of the early rock-n-roll years. The same names came up over and over again. Leiber and Stoller, Goffan and King, Mann and Weil, Bacharach and David among others.” They would go from office to office in hopes of meeting some of these great writers to sing for them. They performed 10 to 20 times a day for publishers as well as record companies.
COLLEGE OR MUSIC
By 1961 it was decision time for his future. Chuck had received several scholarships to play college basketball. In addition, he had a desire to pursue a music career. Chuck decided to do both. Chuck accepted an athletic scholarship from Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California, which was a few hours from Hollywood. Bill Sharman, a coach at Cal State Los Angeles, a “stones throw” from Hollywood and the recording industry, later recruited Chuck. Now in California, attending college and playing basketball, obtaining a recording contract was next on Chuck’s agenda. Columbia Records came calling after Chuck and the Sorenson Brothers had radio success in central California with two single releases, “Sharon Lee” on the Marlinda label and “I Dream of An Angel” on the Heart Van label. In 1965, Columbia Records signed Chuck Negron/Rondell to a recording contract. With his hoop life now behind him, Negron arrived in Hollywood to make a reputation as a recording artist and performer. “I learned a great deal while on Columbia. The producers and A&R people had total control. They picked all my songs, the arrangements and ultimately how the world would see me. I learned you must be more than just a singer. You must be able to define yourself in some special way. A unique vocal style, image or presence, through your song writing, or ability to pick great songs, arrange and produce them.”
REACHING BACK TO HIS ROOTS
In 1967, Chuck Negron became a founding member of Three Dog Night. A vocal trio whose roots would be in R&B, rock-n-roll and urban doo-wop. But, whose music would be totally new and unique. Chuck felt one thing might be missing. Great songs! Chuck went back to the publishers who represented the great writers he loved as a teenager. These publishers would also introduce Chuck to new, up and coming writers. Chuck brought Harry Nielsen’s “One” (Is the Loneliest Number) to TDN, Paul Williams’ “Old Fashioned Love Song” and “Out In The Country,” Laura Nyro’s “Eli’s Coming,” David Loggins’ “Pieces Of April” and Hoxt Axton’s “Joy To The World” as well as new writers such as Elton John, Tim Hardin and Leo Sayers, to mention a few. Built around the pop soul vocals of Negron and Wells, great songs and a powerful three-part harmony, few bands were as daringly electric or consistently popular as Three Dog Night. In an era when the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones were storming the charts, TDN had, by 1975, sold 50 million albums. 90 million to date.
A STAR WITHIN A STAR
Driven by Chuck Negron’s lead vocal on 4 million selling singles, 1 number 1 single, that topped the charts for six weeks, 5 top 5 hits and 7 top 40 hits, his souring, soulful 4 octave range and unique vocal styling became a part of the American landscape. The world was introduced to Chuck Negron and Three Dog Night in 1969 by the breakthrough, and band’s first million seller “One.” His gut wrenching performance on the band’s follow up hit “Easy To Be Hard,” is now a pop classic, as is his beautiful and smooth vocal on “Old Fashioned Love Song.” Chuck’s unmistakable voice proclaiming to the world “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog” on the multi-Grammy nominated and 1971 Record Of The Year, “Joy To The World” is today a part of Americana. Securing a place for Chuck Negron as one of the greatest singers in rock and pop.
SUCCESS ALMOST UNEQUALED
While Chuck was with TDN, they had a phenomenal 18 consecutive top 20 hits, 21 top 40 hits, 8 top 10 hits and 3 #1 hits. Not to mention 5 top 10 albums. “We were a self-contained band who performed all the music on our records,” Negron explained, “We picked all the songs, arranged them and were totally involved in production. We never had an AR person or any record company interference. The band contractually had artistic control.” Few bands were as popular in concert. They pioneered stadium extravaganzas prompting Rolling Stone Magazine in its 1972 cover story to exclaim, “More Gold Than The Stones, Bigger Crowds Than Credence, Fatter Purses than Elvis.” Some of their opening acts were the likes of Rod Stewart, Aerosmith, ELO and co-headlining billing with Led Zepplin.
FROM THE SPOTLIGHT TO DARKNESS
But, by the mid-70’s the sex, drugs, rock-n-roll existence was taking its toll. By 1975, two original members, Joe Schermie and Danny Hutton, were unable to continue and had to be replaced. The band’s magical “Shambala” existence was under intense inter-personal stress. Negron admits rock star arrogance and drug use had a lot to do with it. Soldiering on after their last million selling top 10 single, again featuring a song Chuck brought to the band and sang lead on, ironically entitled “The Show Must Go On,” the band called it quits in 1977. Of the original 7 musicians, only Negron, Wells and Greenspoon performed for the final performance. 6 of the original 7 members of the band briefly reunited in the 1980’s. Chuck departed in 1985 and since his departure, the remaining two TDN members have not released another recording in over 20 years.
No longer recording or touring, his voracious appetite for self-indulgence was leading to his destruction. Chuck Negron forged a new career for himself as a hard-core drug addict. This pursuit would drag him down to a depth of existence few of us ever encounter, as chronicled in his best-selling biography “Three Dog Nightmare.” In 5 years all the money was gone. Squandered on drugs, lawyers who were paid to keep him out of jail, and ex-wives who could no longer standby and watch him die. A small fortune was spent on Robert Shapiro, lead attorney in the infamous O.J. Simpson trial; he was Chuck’s lawyer for years. “I ended up homeless and alone, too ashamed to let my family see the pathetic beaten man I had become.” It seemed that no amount of humiliation or rehabilitation programs (37 in all) could steer Chuck away from drugs, which became the love of his life. Sleeping in abandoned buildings, suffering from emphysema and Hepatitis C, the former 6’1″, 185 lb athlete and rock idol had, by 1991, shrunk to a cadaverous 126 lbs.
NEVER SAY NEVER
Just when it seemed that everyone had given up on him, Negron’s sister-in-law made him an offer and the offer was simple. Go to jail, die in the streets or let me get you into Cri-Help, a long-term rehab. Chuck went into rehab for the 37th and final time. The Cri-Help staff didn’t think he would make it through withdrawal cold turkey, but he did! Today Chuck feels the staff saved his life and that God worked through them to give him another chance. After so many years, it was finally over. September 17, 1991, Chuck entered Cri-Help and has been clean and sober ever since.
As Negron is the first to admit, the story of his rise and fall is a clique worthy of the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Shame. But his 9-month stay at Cri-Help changed his life profoundly and presented him with his next realization. There was now something he desperately wanted to do more than drugs. The one thing since he was a kid that always made him feel good inside “I wanted to make music and sing again!” But he knew he wasn’t ready just yet. He worked for several months in a hospital, a lock-down rehab unit for abused and addicted adolescents.
THE LONG ROAD BACK
” I studied voice, rehearsed and trained after work and on my days off.” Dedicating himself to a strenuous training regiment. Chuck Negron restored his body to a healthy 185 lbs. Revitalized, he accepted an invitation to record the “Golden Girls” television theme song for their new series. He was then offered and embarked on a series of well received live performances opening for comedian Howie Mandel. It was there that he impressed critics and audiences with the 4 ½ octave range, incredibly, a half octave higher than it was while in TDN. “Live performances can be like an athletic event, Negron explains with a laugh. “I train and utilize a vocal coach whenever necessary.” Negron performs many shows yearly, giving crowds the opportunity to hear his impressive volume of hits. Plus an exciting repertoire of new songs. “The hits I sang while in TDN are definitely a part of who I am,” Negron says. “But audiences today, even though they love the old songs, they always come up and ask me to do more of my songs from the solo albums.” His debut solo album, “Am I Still In Your Heart” clearly shows that Negron is today, not only in the best voice of his life but still has the knack for picking great songs. Songs like his soulful “How About Us” and the deeply affecting and irresistible “Soul to Soul” which put Chuck back on the radio charts. Chuck also released a Christmas CD with a full orchestra, The Salt Lake City Children’s Choir as well as a gospel choir. The Christmas CD is entitled “Joy To The World.” His forth solo CD, “Live In Concert” 2 CD set was released in 2001. But Chuck admits his proudest accomplishment is his best selling book “Three Dog Nightmare” and the accompanying soundtrack to the book “The Long Road Back” CD. This unique endeavor was purely to give help and guidance to anyone who is on “the long road to hell” through drug addiction. It was meant to be a message of honesty, hope and faith.
Chuck remains active at Cri-Help, Musicians Assistance Program (MAP), Hazelden Recovery Center, Music-Cares, and Musicians.com who aim to keep drugs out of the music industry. “The only reason I’ve included all the horrific life experiences that my journey has taken me on is because I want all people, young and old, to know what can be in store for them if they use drugs. I’m tired of people sensationalizing, glamorizing and romanticizing the drugs and rock-n-roll life style. People die, lives and families are ruined and careers are ended before they start.”
“I’ve been singing and recording for over 40 years. I’ve always been grateful for my voice and my life as a musician. I look at it as a gift from God. It has afforded me the opportunity to touch so many people in such a beautiful way. Music has brought me joy and inner peace and comfort that I thrive on. I feel very grateful to be in the game again.”