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.