It Ain’t Easy
This is an ongoing series of my raw, unpolished thoughts about the biography book project I’m working on about Cory Wells, founding member of the hugely popular classic rock band, Three Dog Night.
As one of the most prominent and visible members of Three Dog Night, Cory Wells was also the most private. Almost to the point of secretive. He was the voice of arguably the band’s best and biggest hit, Mama Told Me, and that voice was about as soulful as soul got in those days (for a white boy from Buffalo, anyway). But who was he? What was his story? Did his fans ever get to know?
Five years after Cory’s sudden death in 2015, I took on the project of writing his biography — actually co-writing with his daughter, Dawn Wells. In truth, she’s not a writer and I’m doing the heavy lifting. And in truth, it’s the most daunting project I’ve undertaken up to this point. I’ve published two novellas (fiction) and one collection of poetry. I also served as music editor for Janky Smooth for three years, an indie L.A. publication that covers the underground music scene, and I’ve been a contributing writer for Flaunt Magazine since 2015. This, however, is my first attempt at nonfiction of this scale, and the research is staggering to me. The era of 1965–1975 is so heavy in its magnitude, and to write about such a big band in the midst of all that pop history is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I’m going to use Medium as an outlet to document the process of writing this book, but mainly just to vent — to get my thoughts down in order to exorcise some feelings of intimidation and immobilized fear, to keep me on track and undistracted, but also to build anticipation for the book’s release.
Though beyond the fame of the band, and the weight of the late ’60s, and all the name-dropping, this book is about family and fatherhood. Where there is massive success, there is also profound failure.
It’s a strange thing to write in the first-person of someone else, like wearing a mask, someone else’s skin. I’m the invisible stranger in the room. And it’s even stranger to write in the first-person of someone else writing about their own father. It’s also strange to write about a famous man who never fully gave himself over the public, to his fans, maybe even his own family. He kept everything extremely close to the chest. There are no journals, no letters, no road diaries, no record of intimate thoughts, no nothin’ — only disjointed anecdotes that span fifty years and that somehow I need to stitch together into a salable narrative.
I have to make sense of a dead man’s life.
A man I never got to know and a man I can’t talk to. What I know so far is that he didn’t keep famous friends, he didn’t indulge in hotel room-demolishing partying, he didn’t lord his name over others to get what he wanted. Other than the music, he loathed the industry he was in and everything that came with it. He was the traffic cop to the other members of the band. He was a business and road manager as much as the business and road managers.
This is not going to be a typical rock bio. Unlike fellow singer Chuck Negron, there is no prototypical Hollywood rise and fall story about drug addiction and how he overcame it — no infamously cool mugshot photo of him with his face busted on the cover of this book. Cory didn’t fit the mold of a 60’s rock star. While contemporaries Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison succumbed to their addictions and became immortalized in their formation of the notorious 27 Club, Cory was struggling to hold two families together — the one on the road, and the other back home.
It ain’t gonna be easy.
So far, I’ve only interviewed Cory’s younger daughter, Dawn, now in her 50’s. Mind you, I’ve got about 10 1/2 hours of audio to sift through. But so far, here’s what Cory’s book could entail (not including the trajectory of the band itself): Childhood abuse, Air Force days, the Enemies, Laurel Canyon days, drug struggles of those closest to him, raising two daughters in 1980’s Malibu, stalkers, paranormal experiences, his connection to Rob Lowe, the 1993 Malibu fire, his passion for fly fishing, the marriage that lasted 50 years, and untimely death.
If you’re a fan, I would love to hear any feedback, and why you loved Cory.
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