In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Three Dog Night was one of the most popular rock music groups in the world. From 1969 through 1974, they had more top ten hit records than anyone else. One of the leaders of the group was Cory Wells.
Wells' given name was Emil Lewandowski. He was born in Buffalo, New York in 1942. His natural father was an Englishman residing in Canada named Wellsley. His mother gave her son her last name. She later married a man who turned out to be an alcoholic and a less than pleasant step-father to the boy.
Emil became fascinated by early rock and roll music in his teens, and he played in some local bands in Buffalo. And music was in his genes. His mother was an aspiring songstress who tried to make a career for herself in New York City, and her father had a polka band. Two of his uncles were members of polka bands in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas, and one of his great-grandfathers had been an opera singer in Poland.
After high school, Lewandowski joined the Air Force where he formed an interracial doo-wop singing group. After being discharged, he moved to Los Angeles and took the name Cory Wells. He became a member of the rock group the Enemys, who in the mid-1960s became the house band of the legendary Whisky-A-Go-Go nightclub and had a couple of minor hits. The group often performed at private parties for Hollywood celebrities.
In 1968 Wells formed a new rock band with Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron which featured the three as lead singers backed by a four piece band. That was Three Dog Night, and some of their hit songs, many of them featuring Wells as lead singer, included "One," "Joy to the World," "Never Been to Spain," and "Shambala." The band broke up in 1975 and re-formed six years later.
Wells has some fond memories of being raised in a Polish American household, especially of his mother. "She was the one that held things together in very tough times," he recalls.
And there was the food. "Polish food is my soul food. And of course my Mom made the best dishes. Which I have carried on with my family. My wife, she's Polish-Italian, as well as my oldest daughter make the best pierogi and kluski, not to mention duck soup," says Wells.
He understood some Polish as a child but could not really speak the language. He was an altar boy and attended a church where he heard Polish but couldn't comprehend anything that was being said. He also reveals, "My mother alsways had Polish music on the radio on Sundays. I could hear it sometimes a few houses down the street. My aunts and uncles had it on also. It was always on at my grandmother and grandfather's house when we visited."
Speaking of how being a Polish American influenced his career, Wells says, "Maybe tapping into my tenacity and diligence of 'never give up' pulled me through some tough times when all was bleak. I grew up poor and learned how to survive in a harsh environment."
Today, Cory Wells continues to tour with a revamped lineup of Three Dog Night. He has been an avid fisherman all his life and has written several articles for outdoor magazines. Like many young people of his generation who moved on seeking fame and fortune, he may have left Polonia, but Polonia never really left him.
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