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Book Review: Three Dog Nightmare – The Continuing Chuck Negron Story by Chuck Negron

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Through the early 1970s, Three Dog Night was a fixture on the pop charts, a non-‎threatening alternative to the Stones and Zeppelin, yet hipper and harder-rocking ‎than Bread or The Carpenters. The band filled this niche for nearly five years, ‎racking up 21 consecutive Top 40 hits and selling over 80 million albums. They ‎were unusual, not only in their three-lead-vocalist format, but also in the degree ‎of control they had over choosing their material, using their own band in the ‎studio, and acting as co-producers of many of their records. The group’s ‎phenomenal success, and broad appeal, afforded them uncommon freedom from ‎Dunhill, their record label through 1973.

By 1975, though, they were on their third label in three years and the hits had ‎dried up. And by the time Elvis’ walking pharmacy, Dr. Nick, confided to the ‎world the King’s prodigious appetite for prescription drugs, Three Dog Night’s ‎Chuck Negron was selling his gold records to subsidize a $2,000 a day heroin ‎habit.‎

In case the title isn’t sufficient, Negron sets the tone for his autobiography with ‎the book’s first sentence — “I should be dead” — and an opening chapter that ‎catalogs overdoses, car crashes, gun play, suicide attempts, and nearly becoming a ‎victim in the notorious Wonderland murders. By the book’s end, it does seem ‎miraculous that he survived the dissolute life he depicts in Three Dog Nightmare. ‎Negron is merciless, even relentless, in portraying himself as a reckless, ‎impulsive, and selfish junkie who thinks no further than his next score.

His focus throughout the book, an update of the 2000 edition, is his drug use, his ‎repeated attempts at rehabilitation, and his eventual recovery; his musical career ‎is almost incidental to his addiction story. In fact, it becomes obvious that Negron ‎was already dealing with a propensity for substance abuse even before he became ‎a rock star. A few musically-related Three Dog Night anecdotes — like Danny ‎Hutton singing the lead vocal for “Liar” with “his head a few inches above the ‎water line . . . of this scummy toilet” — tease the story of the band that remains ‎largely untold (the only other autobiography out of the band to date, Jimmy ‎Greenspoon’s One Is the Loneliest Number, offers a disturbingly similar, ‎addiction-oriented approach to the Three Dog Night story, and is long out of ‎print.)

Negron’s account of free-lovin’ rock and roll on the road, however — from the ‎exploitation of groupies to his own sexual accomplishments — is covered in ‎exhaustive, sometimes implausible detail. The book has gained some notoriety ‎for the “penis explosion” episode, which is as repulsive, and ludicrous, as it ‎sounds.‎

While Negron’s band mates are generally spared, when he does illuminate his ‎dealings with them, especially his fellow vocalists, it is often in a negative light. ‎Danny Hutton, who appears to have been the band’s early leader, is said to have a ‎‎“dangerous” ego, and Negron “could no longer trust him with [their] careers” ‎when they disagree on releasing “One” (coincidentally, a Negron lead vocal) as a ‎single. Cory Wells is depicted as both miserly and passively complicit in forcing, ‎and keeping, Negron out of the reconstituted band. When Negron attempts to ‎rejoin them on stage for one song, in 1992, Wells turns him away, allegedly ‎saying, “We’ve been giving them hamburger for so long that if I bring a piece of ‎steak on stage, I’ll never be able to give them hamburger again.”

Other celebrities pass through the book’s pages and, given the pervasiveness of ‎drug abuse and Negron’s sometimes vindictive nature, most of them don’t come ‎off well, either. Sly Stone and his heavies are depicted beating Three Dog Night’s ‎road manager Bob Tomasso nearly to death over refusing to pay for a band ‎member’s cocaine. The legendary porn star, John Holmes, is among the ‎periphery of Negron’s junkie circle, who is ultimately implicated in the ‎Wonderland murders, which take place at the home of a friend where Negron ‎often shot up.

The L.A./Hollywood rock scene was so insular in Three Dog Night’s heyday that ‎Negron comes in contact with a number of other big names, in different ‎circumstances. In their early days, as Redwood, the band collaborated with Brian ‎Wilson, until other Beach Boys reportedly bullied Brian off the project; Mike Love ‎is quoted, true to his reputed character, as saying Redwood is “nothing.” Negron’s ‎band and Chicago encounter each other as collaborators and as both musical and ‎romantic rivals. And when Negron meets Julie, who becomes the mother of one ‎of his children, she was married to the Doors’ John Densmore and pregnant by ‎Allman Bros. Berry Oakley, who was already deceased.‎

Negron reports that Hutton and Wells were apprehensive when he first published ‎Three Dog Nightmare, concerned about their dirt being dished, but his goal was, ‎‎“[not] telling anyone’s secrets other than mine . . . I was exposing the horrors of ‎my addiction in hopes of helping others with addiction problems.” Through most ‎of the 300 pages, and nearly 20 years, Negron’s single-minded desire ‎for heroin (along with alcohol and other drugs) is shown jeopardizing the ‎livelihoods of his band mates and the safety of his own family.

To his credit, Negron seems to recognize how deplorable his selfishness and self-‎indulgence are, and how serious the consequences have been for everyone in his ‎life. That doesn’t make it any easier to read about his son, Chucky, being born ‎addicted to heroin or his girlfriend deciding between an abortion or giving birth ‎to a second addicted baby. And despite his candor, Negron seems lacking in ‎introspection over what led to this destructive lifestyle, or what he could have ‎done to prevent it. Had he used a Three Dog Night song title for the book, “My ‎Impersonal Life” might have been appropriate.‎

One of the book’s most disturbing aspects, and the apparent reason for this new ‎edition, is to update the fate of Chucky Negron, that addicted baby. By age 28, ‎Chucky had become a “full-blown heroin and crack addict” and was on his way to ‎prison. Despite the family’s participation in A&E’s Intervention series, Negron ‎indicates that, at the time of his writing, Chucky’s addiction was far from under ‎control.

It’s evident that Negron had the best intentions in portraying himself so ‎negatively and that he is a testament to the practice of rehabilitation, given his ‎ongoing sobriety after more than 30 failed rehab attempts. Three Dog Nightmare ‎should have the desired “Scared Straight” effect, while offering encouragement ‎for addicts and their families. Still, any personal victory Chuck Negron has ‎achieved must be overshadowed by the tragic legacy he handed down to his son, ‎which is certainly the most profound cautionary message of his book.‎

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About James A. Gardner

  • So his son Chucky Negron was basically born into addiction, and still suffers as a result? That is very sad, repulsive actually. If anything, it shows how rock excess can really ruin lives. I love the music of many of these bands, but the drugs and excess really destroy the music and the musician’s life.

  • Thanks for the comment, Kevin. My understanding, from Negron’s book, is just as you say, that his son has ongoing addiction problems due to his parents’ drug abuse. Hopefully, with persistence and support, he can eventually overcome his addictions, as his father apparently has.

  • Mick Tavella

    I just finished reading the book.What a train wreck! I can’t believe he isnt dead.Three Dog Night is the first band I remember hearing as a kid.My kindergarden teacher used to play Joy to the world.I applaud Negron.He’s sober,on top of his game,and is trying to repair the damage of his past.He’s 66 now and looks better than Wells and Hutton.I wish they would do one more tour,but I dont think that will happen.

  • Thanks for your comment, Mick. I wish they’d tour again, as I never got to see them in concert, but based on the animosity that comes through in Negron’s book, it doesn’t sound likely.
    According to Negron’s site, he was touring with the “Flashback Classic Rock Experience,” which sounded kind of cool, but that tour is “on hold until further notice.”

  • Christina from RI.

    Great book. I could’nt put it down.
    Chuck came to Mohegan Sun,CT. in April 2008 to promote his book. In the Cabarat they had a Q and A session then a book signing and later that night @ the Wolfe Den he held a concert. His step son Berry Oakley played guitar. It was a great time. I like his new band. I enjoy Chuck and his band more than Cory and Danny and the rest of Three Dog Night. Check out his website. There is a cruise in February 2009.

  • Mick Tavella

    Again,Chuck is an inspiration to me.I’ve never met the man, but he seems approachable.If he ever tours through Lancaster Pa.I would definately see him.Wells and Hutton do but I refuse to go unless Negron is there.Face it Chuck IS three dog night!

  • “Face it Chuck IS three dog night!”

    Mick, after reading his book, I know he would definitely agree with you! While there’s no denying all he brought to the band, when you hear him without the other two singers, and that group of musicians, you realize what an exceptional combo it was. But he did bring a ton to TDN.

    For a slightly different perspective on the TDN story, Jimmy Greenspoon’s book (which is out of print) is worth a read.

  • Barbara Eddins

    Chuck Negron’s book plus the addition have helped many addicts.
    If one visits his new website there are blogs on the message board from people who have been helped by reading his book.

    Chuckie (note correct spelling) is back in prison in California where drugs are readily available. This condition has placed much worry on family and friends. The latest news according to the message board is that Chuckie is well.

    Any fan of Three Dog Night will enjoy this book. The details of how the original seven members started out is included and quite entertaining. Negron describes the talents each one brought to contribute to the unique sound of the legendary rock band.

  • Pedro

    Unfortunately drug use and musicians go way back. But it got out of hand in the 70’s, ruining many lives. Fortunately by now we live in a less permissive society, but many paid the price of educating themselves. Glad that period is over. The music was great, though.

  • Mariano Garcia

    I am at the very end of the book. I was wondering where I could find the updated version? I am currently battling a heroin addiction and am attending Tarzana Treatment Center and have 2 weeks clean and sober. Let me tell you guys, that NOTHING in this book is exagerrated. I cant believe he is still with us. It is truly inspiring and he;s someone that I hope to meet one day.

  • Mariano, it looks like the updated version is available from Negron’s site, www [dot] negron [dot] com.
    Congratulations on cleaning up, and I hope you are on the road to lifelong recovery.

  • Straight dope

    vindictive man plain and simple. Hidden well but is not really what he claims to be.

  • alan macdonald

    I remember buying very expensive tickets to a 3dog night concert in Toronto in 1972. I was a struggling college student trying to show my girlfriend (now wife) a very good memorable time. The band was so stoned they couldn’t remember lyrics or hardly walk and giggled incessantly. Forty one years later I remember how much Negron and his drug addled brain ripped me off.