How To Sing About A Frog, Not Like One

Chuck Negron, one of the signature voices powering a long string of hits for Three Dog Night, continues to perform solo, with The Chuck Negron Band and, occasionally, fronts another classic rock band – Blood, Sweat & Tears. In addition, last year he sang his 40 years worth of hits as part of the touring retrospective

His classic repertoire includes ballads like “Easy To Be Hard” and “An Old Fashioned Love Song” to belters like “Joy to the World” and “One.” A set can include Top 10 hits like “Mama Told Me Not To Come,” “Eli’s Coming,” “Family of Man,” “Shambala,” “Black and White,” “Liar” and “Out in the Country” – and that’s just the short list.

That’s a lot of vocal territory to cover. Not to mention a lot of wear and tear on the ol’ vocal cords – or young ones, for that matter.

A blown-out voice is a singer’s worst nightmare; it can ruin individual shows and force entire tours to be canceled. Besides the lost income, a shredded voice can mean not just lost shows but, even worse for the true professional, the loss of faith from fans who might get their ticket money back but not the missed experience.

Vocalists have developed many strategies from time immemorial for resting, reviving and saving voices under stress. Here, Chuck tells of a close call just last summer on the eve of an important Hippiefest homecoming gig in Los Angeles.

For aspiring singers and seasoned veterans alike, he generously offers a few tips for vocal TLC. And for those who weren’t even a twinkle in Mom’s eye when Three Dog Night was an immovable force from the radio and record charts, a glimpse at the road from an artist’s perspective.

Chuck has offered commentary previously to Pollstar and in addition to his decades in the rock ‘n’ roll pantheon, he’s also an accomplished author, having written a memoir, “Three Dog Nightmare.” You can read his previous Pollstar commentary here:

With a backdrop of peace signs, psychedelic colors and images that defined one of the most magical times in music history, the stage was set last fall for a touring concert called “Hippiefest” and reliving some of the great music of the 1960’s.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Felix Cavaliere from The Rascals brought many out of their seats with “Groovin’.” The Turtles added to the fun with “Happy Together.” And the Gibson Amphitheatre at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles was rocking. My portion of the concert was approaching and I was full of gratitude and anticipation for what lay ahead.

The lights slowly dimmed and the crowd began to stir as Flo & Eddie began their introduction. Then, the audience erupted when my name was announced.

I appeared from behind the curtain to a hometown crowd of fans and family. I was touched and somewhat surprised at the warm reception as I made my way to the front of the stage.

My last appearance at this venue was when it was an open-air amphitheatre and Bob Hope (who lived nearby in Toluca Lake) would call to have us turn down the volume because we were interrupting his evening. My first visual contact, as my eyes adjusted to the lights, were my two younger girls – 16-year-old Charlotte and nine-year old Annabelle – dancing in tandem as they sang along to my first song, with its lyric: “How does your light shine/in the halls of Shambala.” My heart opened wide to capture this beautiful picture and stored it away.

For one moment my emotions stirred and I had to hold back my overwhelming feelings of joy, for these were only the first moments of my set, and there was so much more to give and receive.

I remember a New Year’s Eve concert with Three Dog Night when I ripped my shirt off in the first minute of the concert and threw it into the audience. One of the guys in the band said to me, “If you plan on taking anything else off, please let me know so I can avert my eyes.” Since that performance, I have mellowed and I feel everyone is happier when I keep my clothing on.

As the show moved smoothly from song to song, I found myself feeling an intimate connection between my voice and everyone attending the performance. It crossed my mind that they were there to honor the music and all we have shared for so many years.

Over the past 40 years, many of them had woken up, gone to sleep, fallen in and out of love, and gone through the pains of life with my voice and music. And for tonight we were all family!

I have been singing and recording for 50 years, so I am not easily moved by a performance – especially my own. To be honest, nine out of 10 shows I feel I could have done better. But not on this night.

The audience, who were cheering me on with every high note and subtle calm from verse to bridge, had my back and to them I could do no wrong.

This show was all about sliding into the pocket, letting the relentless groove pull you deeper into the music until you were dancing and sharing the experience of Rock & Roll with each other.

From an artist’s perspective, it is more likely that you may have to earn the applause every performance from Montana to Manhattan.

No matter who you are, you won’t get a pass from your peers or some fans if you don’t have the goods. The audience might never utter a critical word, for our music is so deeply connected to a special time in their lives, but a portion of their youthful allusions and memories are damaged in some unexplainable way if we fail them.

This happens because they feel they are a part of the performance and they have an investment in the show going well, for we are a part of their lives.

An interesting fact to consider, many decades after the original music was released, is many of the audience have only heard the original recordings on radio or CD, and may be seeing a live performance by these artists for the first time.

If the artist cannot present the song as well or close to the original performance, many will be disappointed. It is my opinion that if the artist shows up in deck shoes from Wal-Mart and a barbeque chic bowling shirt, it may be time to start performing in their back yard for their closest friends.

Sometimes, the performance isn’t up to your own personal artistic standards, despite your best effort.

The night before a performance at the Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie near Dallas, Texas, my voice was tired and my pitch suspect at times. The lack of vocal power concerned me and was altering what I was willing to try vocally. The next step for me was to accept that I must find another way to get through this performance.

My falsetto voice was almost gone because I had stretched out my natural voice far into my falsetto range. My range was good, but all natural voice with limited use of my head voice. This path would eventually tire and possibly hurt my voice.

I was showing off, caught up in the moment. So here it was, another learning experience, knowing I had pushed myself into a vocal corner.

I went about seeing exactly what I did have left in my voice by experimenting with different mixes of chest and head voice. In the end, I powered my way through the show understanding my voice could pay a price. My biggest concern filling my head was the concert in Los Angeles the following evening. My family, friends, and agents all would be there.

The cure: Go to bed early, no talking, no eating after 7 p.m. to avoid any acid reflux. Warm herbal tea and honey, and rest most of the following day with little or no talking. Unfortunately, the next day included an early departure from Dallas to Los Angeles. But I’d learned to rest at every opportunity including airport lines and going to the bathroom. It’s an art form in itself.

There are medications and herbs a singer should travel with. Nystatin gargle (obtained by prescription) will help with a sore throat. “Entertainers Secret,” an herbal spray found in some pharmacies, is excellent to protect and aid in the recovery time of an abused voice. Forsythia, licorice, Platy Odon, Catechu, Terminally, Cilium, Cardamom, and Rhubarb are all found in an herbal product called “Silver Voice” found at The Tea Garden in Los Angeles or other herbalists.

These wonderful and affective herbs will shorten your recovery time and magically bring your instrument back to life, but only if you have something going on in the first place.

Back on stage at The Gibson Amphitheatre, my voice is reacting well to the rest, quiet, diet, and herbal regiment I adhere to after every show. My set list is based on several things, none of which is more important then allowing my voice to warm up by performing the songs that are in lower keys first.

I do all my material in the original keys, and several songs are quite demanding. The litmus test for me as an artist and a vocalist is the next song in my set: ”Easy to be Hard.”

For me, this performance will make or break the night in my mind. It must have soft pure verses moving into a powerful bridge back to an even softer verse… Then taking it home utilizing many styles of singing, muscle, and in the end just seasoned chops.

I use these words as an observer of something I’m proud to be a part of even on the nights I feel I’ve failed. Failure was not on the agenda this night for anyone as we moved into a simple song about a frog.

The entire sold-out crowd – including my brother and two youngest girls – sang, screamed and yelled “Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog” as we all wished “Joy to the World”!