Cory Wells: He Was One Voice of Three Dog Night

Cory Wells in 2010

Cory Wells in 2010

You might not recognize Cory Wells by name, but you undoubtedly know his voice – in particular, his vocal on Three Dog Night’s 1970 chart-topping single “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” in which he artfully feigns panic after wandering into a particularly debauched soiree:

Want some whiskey in your water?
Sugar in your tea?
What’s all these crazy questions they’re askin’ me?

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Wells, who passed away on Oct. 20 at age 74 in Dunkirk, N.Y.,  co-founded a band whose 21 Top 40 hits between 1969 and 1975 helped popularize the work of songwriters ranging from Laura Nyro to Randy Newman. Here are some facts about his life and career.

  • The Buffalo native’s birth name was Emil Lewandowski.
  • Before Three Dog Night, he was in The Enemys, the house band at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood, and appeared in the 1967 cult movie Riot on Sunset Strip.
  • Wells and fellow vocalists Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron got the name Three Dog Night from an Australian story about natives who slept with their dogs for warmth on frigid evenings.
  •  In a 1972 Rolling Stone profile of the band, he said that his two favorite live performers were funky R&B shouter Joe Tex and crooner Andy Williams.
  • Wells had to persuade his band mates to record “Mama Told Me” because, having heard an earlier release by songwriter Randy Newman, they didn’t think the song had commercial potential.
  • When not singing, Wells loved to fish, and appeared on several episodes of The American Sportsman.

 

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Here’s a vintage video clip of Wells and Three Dog Night performing “Mama Told Me (Not to Come).”

Photo: Jon Elswick/AP

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