Sometimes, it might be said that a writer’s best work might come when they are a little tired. In this regard, the struggle helps to motivate one to really reach when they write. I was thinking of this this evening and then I came to the realization that I didn’t need tiredness, motivation or inspiration in order to write about a band like Three Dog Night. Well, in this case-one member to start before I expand.
Something else was driving an even greater need for my wanting to write about Cory Wells this evening. It can be traced back to the very point that I learned about Wells’ passing. It came as I was driving my car across one end of Eugene to where I live on the other side of town late this afternoon. There’s a d.j. in my town (who shall go nameless so that he doesn’t catch too much hell from people) who broke the news to all of us as I was driving. After he was done giving us the news, he went and played “Seasons In The Sun” from Terry Jacks. That was cool. It was a nice touch. Afterwards though, he went and played “Joy To The World”. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But if one really wanted to pay tribute to Cory Wells, then at least play one of the songs that he sang lead on and not Chuck Negron or Danny Hutton. At this point, as I’m taking in a new state of shock upon the news, my first reaction was to want to take my hand and smack my forehead hard enough to want to send said forehead clear to my backseat. What was even more disturbing to me was that the guy has been a d.j. for over 40 years and has very deep L.A. connections (in fact, he has spoken to the members of Three Dog Night on occasion over these many years). On top of it, this is a guy who has played “Never Been To Spain” here on the station he runs more frequently than of any other Three Dog Night songs that he spins for people. Why couldn’t he have chosen that one? That’s one of the songs Wells sang lead vocals on.
It is tragic that there was so much infighting among Three Dog Night. Once “Joy To The World” became a smash, it was as if Chuck Negron became the image focal point of the group when the truth was that the whole three-man front line was really the true focal point of the band. So, for those of you who were too young to have experienced them back in the day and then for those of you who did experience them back then but only in a casual way, let’s get this out of the way right now, o.k.? Cory Wells, Chuck Negron and Danny Hutton made Three Dog who they were. Fact. Please don’t bother arguing this point. I realize that everybody likes to pick sides in every argument. There’s the pro-Hutton side of the argument. There’s the pro-Negron side of the argument. And there was the pro-Wells side of the argument. I think we’ve all come along far enough along through the years now to understand that we have to learn to look beyond this. I wish that Wells, Hutton and Negron could have come to this conclusion as well. It appears that it won’t be the case now that a part of the equation has left us. Ultimately, I find this to be the thing that overrides what I said in the first two paragraphs of this tribute. My shock tonight leads to the sadness of what “Joy To The World” had wrought to Cory, Chuck and Danny’s relationship. They all got stuck in a terrible cycle of thinking that caused their ride through the already rocky waters of the music business to be that much more so.
What other songs could my local d.j. have picked in order to more accurately pay tribute to Cory Wells? He could have chosen the Laura Nyro penned “Eli’s Coming”. He could have chosen the song many people identify more with Otis Redding and that was their cover of “Try A Little Tenderness”. There was the Randy Newman penned “Mama Told Me (Not To Come)”. I’ve already named the Hoyt Axton penned “Never Been To Spain”. And then there was “Shambala”.
Cory Wells could sing just as well as Danny and Chuck. The praises are all over the music forums tonight about how he could combine his voice on harmony so superbly. The songs were succinct in comparison to other songs the late ’60s and early ’70s time period heyday. And it brings up another point. You could not get away from this band on the radio from 1969 to the Summer of 1974. They were selling enough albums to inform people that they were not flukes and yet something has left me puzzled to this very day. Why have so many critics put a rip on this band over the years? Take any copy of the now ancient Rolling Stone Record Guide (the red or blue copy) and take a quick gander at the reviews for their albums. What? I defy any critic to say this band was not worthy of decent album reviews when they had 6 years of staying power on the charts. That is an eternity for any band. And back in the late ’60s and the early ’70s, 6 years was proof that you had monstrous power because of how many incredible bands there were back then and how fierce the competition was for chart positioning in both the singles and LP markets.
And let’s consider those songs once again. This band had taste. They were choosing great songs from great songwriters who would eventually get great write-ups themselves. Did Laura Nyro get ripped by people? No. On top of it, she’s still looked back upon with great reverence since her passing. And then there’s Hoyt Axton. He actually knew the members of the band. He helped to supply many other artists with material. I don’t recall people ripping him too much. And Randy Newman? He’s considered a laureate of songwriting here in America. Did he get a going over very often by critics? Not too often. And then there was the B.W. Stevenson connection to “Shambala”. It was supposed to have come out before Three Dog Night’s version came out. Remember “My Maria”? It’s not too shabby to get a song on the charts. Yet this band that Cory was in got shafted by its own industry. Who decided to try to isolate them and what for? That’s something I’d like to know because this band was a veritable cornucopia of great songs. Was it their fault that they got material from other writers? What I’m trying to say is that Three Dog Night was a band that’s worthy of Hall Of Fame inclusion. You name it. Any Hall of Fame inclusion. Not just the joke of a one in Cleveland either. They should be in everybody’s Hall Of Fame because of the talent pool within the group they brought to the table and for their performances both on record and in concert. When I was living up here in Eugene my first time back from 1970-1972, I watched a performance of theirs on television that kept me riveted the whole way through. Did any of those writers bother going to the shows?
I grew up in both California and Oregon loving all of those great singles. I became fully aware of them in 1970 and I was along for the ride clear through the “The Show Must Go On” single in the Summer of 1974. My own personal tribute to Cory Wells comes from what I’m about to say right now. My two favorite songs from them have always been “Never Been To Spain” and “Shambala”. It had to do with two things that each song had in common. Obviously, the great lead vocals on the part of Wells. For “Never Been To Spain”, I’ve always really dug the guitar lines from Mike Allsup. They really made me feel, as a kid, like I was living in the present and really digging new sounds. And then there was “Shambala”. When I think of this song, I think of how it doesn’t get spoken about too much by people. The story goes that it was a rush-job that got done in a hurry in the studio. The sense of urgency helped to give the song the undeniable drive it has. The secret weapon on it, in my mind, was the drumming by Floyd Sneed. It helped to push Wells into an inspired vocal run.
I know that I’ll write more about Three Dog Night as time reveals its inevitable truths and cold reality. Cory Wells will be missed. I really hope that Cory’s passing will not stop the great individual album reissues the Iconoclassic label has been doing of them. Vic Anesini has provided a Midas touch to the self-titled first album and for Suitable For Framing. Iconoclassic needs to be allowed to finish off their catalog like they said they were planning on doing. Someone over at The Hoffman Forum made a terrific suggestion this evening. If the Real Gone Music label can do mono singles collections for various old bands, then why can’t one be done for Three Dog Night as well after the individual album reissues?