“Joy to the World,” with Chuck Negron belting out the famous opening lyrics, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” was the No. 1 song of the year, beating out the Rolling Stones, Doors, Bee Gees, Jackson 5, and three solo Beatles.
In just five years, Three Dog Night racked up 21 consecutive Billboard Top 40 hits. They went on to sell over 85 million albums, featuring songs like “Never Been to Spain,” “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “Black and White,” “Shambala,” “One,” and “Easy to be Hard.”
“All these acts wanted to have one hit after another, and they wondered why they didn’t,” Negron says. “Joplin wondered why she only had sporadic hits. Hendrix was the same way, like, 'I can’t believe how many hits you have.'”
It seemed the band, fronted by a trio of lead singers — Negron, Cory Wells, and Danny Hutton — couldn’t be stopped. Negron says the disparate vocal stylings of each singer enabled the band to move seamlessly between genres.
“When we toured, we were at the top of the food chain,” he says of having access to the best of everything. But that excess that would soon lead to his downfall.
“I really got into drugs,” he says of the period after the band first broke up in 1976. “I wasn’t working, I was very wealthy, and made some bad choices.”
“I saw Hendrix, Joplin, and all these people doing drugs and I was like, 'Wow they’re successful. They’re not stupid.' So, I did them too,” he says. “It was just an accident waiting to happen.”
Negron recalls a party where Janis Joplin flipped out after Wells, whose wife was right next to him, rejected Joplin’s advances.
“He just thought she was some sweaty, overweight girl,” Negron says. “She just couldn’t deal with it. She was screaming at him and I had to intervene. She was saying terrible things. She was drunk.”
Negron says he and Wells ran into Joplin shortly thereafter at the Atlantic City Pop Festival, where, once again, Joplin came on hard to Wells. “She had a bottle of Southern Comfort in her hand, and I said, 'You’re so full of shit with your bottle. That’s really becoming,'” he says.
While there was no love lost between Negron and Joplin, they were able to reconcile when she temporarily cleaned up while recording what would turn out to be her final album.
“She had her hair up and I didn’t even recognize her,” he says of seeing Joplin sober for the first time. “She was just a whole other human being.”
Negron admits that he missed the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of either Joplin or Hendrix, who in 1970 died within weeks of one another from drugs and alcohol. For 25 years he did more than just help Jeremiah drink his wine — he helped him do his cocaine, LSD, peyote, uppers, downers, heroin, and just about anything else he could get his hands on.
“I was in detox in the hospital during the week, and on the weekends, I’d do shows with the band,” he remembers. He realized that to get sober, he had to get away from his bandmates, who he says enabled his addictions by giving him drugs when he was trying to detox.
“I went to another hospital where they wouldn’t know where I was, and I left the band. That was it.”
But the separation did not solve his addiction problems. That, Negron says, would take an act of God.
“I had stolen a car from my attorney to go buy some drugs and she turned me in,” he says of what preceded his final stint in rehab in 1991. “She’d had enough, and I was going to go to jail for car theft. It was jail or rehab.”
He chose rehab — for the 37th time in 13 years. “I prayed to God to let me die,” he says of lying in bed while every part of his body screamed for medication. But this time was different. Withdrawing and exhausted, Negron fell asleep. When he woke up, he says, he experienced a miracle.
“God had done for me what I could not do for myself,” he says. “The obsession [to do drugs] was removed, and it’s never come back.” Sober now almost 30 years, Negron says if he had it all to do over again, he would have never done drugs.
“When you’re a serious drug addict, you have lost the right to choose,” he says. “You’re insane. There’s no link between rational thought and action. You’re too sick to make that leap.”
Thrice-divorced, Negron today lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend of eight years. Despite having COPD and emphysema, he still tours, albeit with oxygen.
On Tuesday, June 4, Negron will bring all the Three Dog Night favorites to the Pompano Beach Amphitheater when he joins the Turtles, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, the Buckinghams, the Classics IV, and the Cowsills for the Tenth Annual Happy Together Tour.
No one is more surprised than Negron that he is alive at all, let alone healthy enough to tour after a lifetime of womanizing, drug addiction, and more than a few brushes with death.
And even at 76 years old, he says women still throw themselves at him –- slipping him notes and trying to meet him backstage.
“I was approached by a really, really beautiful 22-year-old woman,” he says of a private event he played recently in Fort Lauderdale. “She wanted an autograph.”
Flattered, Negron says he asked the young woman where she’d heard his music.
“She just looked at me and said, ‘Oh, I don’t know your music at all. This is for my grandmother,’” he says.
And then he laughs.
The Happy Together Tour 2019. 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 4, at Pompano Beach Amphitheater, 1806 NE Sixth St., Pompano Beach; theamppompano.org. Tickets cost $29.50 to $64.50 via axs.com or by calling 888-929-7849.