Three Dog Night: Rock's First Vocal Trio

The Founding Members of the Kings of '70s AM Gold

Three Dog Night was a pop rock band whose uniqueness came from its unusual trio of lead singers (Cory Wells, Danny Hutton, and Chuck Negron), each with a distinct style; together they maintained a near-constant presence in the Nixon-era Top 10 by interpreting an entire generation of up-and-coming, equally idiosyncratic songwriters. The approach not only made them ubiquitous, it resulted in one of the widest stylistic ranges of any Seventies pop group, going on to chart 21 Billboard Top 40 hits across their career.

Three Dog Night's Original Members

The story of Three Dog Night begins with its three lead vocalists, all fixtures on the late-Sixties L.A. scene: Chuck Negron, an unsuccessful solo artist recording on Columbia, Danny Hutton, a semi-successful solo artist for MGM and Hanna-Barbera, and Cory Wells, a mainstay at the Whisky a Go-Go who had signed on to tour with Sonny and Cher. Hutton's idea of a pop group with three equal leads (pre-Crosby Stills and Nash) led to a band named Redwood; the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson was taken with them enough to sign on as their producer. When the Boys refused to let Wilson do outside work, however, the group was stranded.

This didn't stop Wells, Hutton and Negron, who went on to form Three Dog Night in 1968 in Los Angeles, California. The new name originated from a story that Hutton's girlfriend, actress June Fairchild, had read about earlier that year about the indigenous Australian tradition of sleeping with dingos on especially cold nights (one dog for cold, two dogs for very cold, and a "three dog night" for freezing temperatures).

 

The vocalists recruited Ron Morgan as a guitarist, Floyd Sneed as a drummer, Joe Schermie as a bassist and Jimmy Greenspoon as a keyboardist and signed to Dunhill Records where they went on to sell over 40 million records. 

Commercial Success

Three Dog Night scored one top 40 single every three months for almost six years straight from 1969 to 1974.

 Their first national single, a cover of Otis' "Try A Little Tenderness," did well, but only after focusing on new songs by unknown songwriters did the group hit upon its hitmaking formula, resulting in their first smash, "One," courtesy of Harry Nilsson.

Though their choruses were usually sung in glorious three-part harmony, the verses of Three Dog Night hits often shone the spotlight on one lead singer: Danny Hutton was featured in "Liar," "Black and White"; Chuck Negron was featured in "One," "Joy to the World," "An Old Fashioned Love Song," "Easy to Be Hard," "The Show Must Go On," and " Pieces of April" and Cory Wells was featured in  "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)," "Shambala," "Never Been to Spain" and "Eli's Coming."

In pop culture, many acts went on to cover the group. Aimee Mann notably covered "One" in the extended opening credits of the 1999 ensemble drama  "Magnolia" and  "Celebrate" is one of the several songs sung at the end of Reunion's 1974 smash "Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)."

In movies, Dirk Diggler discovered his first Hollywood party to the strains of "Mama Told Me (Not To Come)" in the film "Boogie Nights;" Hurley drove around to "Shambala" in his van during an episode of "Lost" and the soundtracks of "The Big Chill" and "Forrest Gump" both feature the hit single "Joy to the World." 

Later Years

That approach led to a phenomenal chart run, but that also meant nonstop touring and promotion, and along the way, several members developed very nasty drug addictions. By 1975, tastes were moving towards the dance floor, and the band was burnt out: Three Dog Night folded in 1976, although they went on to stage reunion concerts beginning in the early Eighties. Hutton eventually went on to manage several punk bands, including Fear. Wells, an expert fisherman, became and editor for "Outdoor Life" magazine, and Negron has become notorious for his claim that the band split during sex with a groupie.

As of this writing, the original group, minus Negron, Sneed and the deceased Schermie, is touring; Negron, whose bid to rejoin was snubbed by at least one old bandmate, has begun touring on his own.