Cory Wells, a founding member of the popular 1970s band Three Dog Night and lead singer on such hits as “Never Been to Spain” and “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” died Oct. 20 in Dunkirk, N.Y. He was 74.
His death was announced on Three Dog Night’s Web site. The cause was not immediately available.
Mr. Wells, Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron, all vocalists, formed Three Dog Night in 1967, lifting the name from Australian slang for especially cold weather. They added a backing band as they became a top group over the following decade, specializing in covers of songs by Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Paul Williams, among others.
Band members took turns on lead vocals, with Mr. Wells’s singing featured on “Shambala,” “Never Been to Spain” and the No. 1 hit “Mama Told Me (Not to Come),” Newman’s comic tale of an innocent man at a wild party.
“It was turned down by the other two singers,” Mr. Wells told the Buffalo News in 2012. “I found Randy Newman’s album in Sears, Roebuck’s bargain bin for 50 cents. I loved his sarcasm and style of music and offbeat approach. It became our second-largest record.”
The singers also patented a fervent, gospel-influenced style on such hits as “One,” “Eli’s Coming” and the chart-topping “Joy to the World.”
Mr. Wells, a Polish American with several polka musicians among his relatives, was born Emil Lewandowski in Buffalo on Feb. 2, 1941. He joined the Air Force out of high school and performed in local groups after returning.
He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1960s and while in the house band for the popular club Whisky a Go Go he met Hutton, a writer and producer at the time with Hanna-Barbera Records. He also toured with Sonny and Cher.
Mr. Wells and Three Dog Night continued to record and tour, in various incarnations, until the present. Longtime keyboard player Jimmy Greenspoon died of cancer in March.
Mr. Wells’s survivors include his wife, Mary; two daughters, Coryann Wells and Dawn Marie Cussins; and five grandchildren.