Road To Shambala

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Song: Shambala (1973)

Artist: Three Dog Night

Album: Cyan

“Everyone is helpful, everyone is kind, On the road to Shambala…”

Like all of Three Dog Night’s top ten hits, Shambala was a cover song. It was actually written by Daniel Moore, but the first artist to make the song actually entered a week before Three Dog Night’s version. Texan B.W. Stevenson made it to number 66 on the Hot 100, peaking in June 1973. Writer Daniel Moore, who wrote the song alone, actually played on his track. B.W. if you’re wondering, stood for Buck Wheat.

Three Dog Night’s Shambala just zoomed past Sevenson’s version and is surely the only version most anyone remembers, nothing new for the band when it came to its cover songs. TDN’s version peaked about a month later, in July 1973.

It has been claimed that the record label gave the song to Three Dog Night after B.W. recorded it so that he was cheated out of a chance at a hit, eclipsed by the more popular band. However, according to writer Daniel Moore, who wrote the song in late 1972, Three Dog Night actually recorded the song first, in December of the same year, and Stevenson recorded it a few months later. His version was simply released first. It is not that Stevenson’s version is not good, it’s just that TDN’s version is more listenable and upbeat. Stevenson sang with a deep country twang and his version is more country-rock rather than rock, like TDN’s. Although many people claim to like Stevenson’s version better, I prefer Three Dog Night’s version both for its more positive, upbeat approach, which fits the lyrics, and singer Cory Well’s soulful delivery. Well was simply a great singer. Incidentally, Stevenson’s version actually did better in South Africa than TDN.

Sambala has really become a classic mainstay of rock. It was used in Michelob beer television commercials for many years and has been included in movies such as Drowning Mona (2000), Joe Dirt (2001), and Wonderland (2003). The television show Supernatural, known for its great classic-rock soundtrack, featured the song on episode 2 of season 2, during the scene when Dean is fixing the Impala.

What Does Shambala Mean?

Shambala is sort of an earthly paradise, similar to lands called Shangri la. It began as a Hindu tradition but when it reached Tibet about a thousand years later, the Tibetans just ran with it. There are several versions of the legend, but the basic gist is that somewhere to the North is a mystical place, ringed by snowy mountains and cloaked in a veil of mist. In this place, there is no hunger, poverty, illness, crime, or any other bad mojo. In Shambala, people live one hundred years. The song seems to be about this physical Shambala.

Wash away my troubles, wash away my pain, With the rain in Shambala.

Shambala (Shambhala) is also a branch of Buddhism, Shambala Buddhism, which is somewhat of a simplified type of Tibetan Buddhism meant to help westerners understand Buddhist teachings and ways. It is a blend of traditional Buddhist meditation techniques and other Tibetan studies. The song imagines Shambala as the sacred land where, as the lyric says, everything is swell, everyone is kind, and your worries just get washed away. This certainly does reflect the teachings of Shambhala Buddhism, in which every person is said to have a basic goodness, kindness, and intelligence. Through meditation, you can develop these basic traits and then manifest them in your life to positively affect other people, just as the people on the “road to Shambala” do in the song.

This branch is the way most people in the United States enter into Buddhism. Its teachings were originally developed by C Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche as a combination of the Kagyu and Nyingma schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He introduced the Sambala school of philosophy in the 1970’s and wrote about them in this book Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. This warrior is not a military warrior, but a spiritual warrior. This warrior way is needed, according to the teachings, to combat the distractions, fear, ego, and possession, that dominates modern life. The road to Shambala is actually a journey into and through your own heart. The actual term Shambhala Buddhism was not introduced until 2000, by Sakyong Mipham, the son of Chögyam Trungpa.

B.W. Stevenson’s Most Well-Known Song: My Maria

Later the same year that Stevenson’s Shambala was eclipsed by TDN’s, he had much greater success with My Maria, which peaked at number 9 in September 1973, written with Daniel Moore. On the adult contemporary charts, it reached number one. It is a song about a long-distance love affair about a singer on a plane who is excited to see his lady again. The country duo Brooks and Dunn did the song over twenty years later, in 1996, reaching number one on the country charts.

Also by Three Dog Night, see Mama Told Me (Not To Come)

Watch Three Dog Night Perform Shambala, 1975

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