Hoyt Wayne Axton (March 25, 1938 – October 26, 1999) was an American folk music singer-songwriter, guitarist and a film and television actor. He became prominent in the early 1960s, establishing himself on the West Coast as a folk singer with an earthy style and powerful voice. As he matured, some of his songwriting became well known throughout the world. Among them were "Joy to the World", "The Pusher", "No No Song", "Greenback Dollar", "Della and the Dealer" and "Never Been to Spain".
Life and career
Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, Axton spent his pre-teen years in Comanche, Oklahoma, with his brother, John. His mother, Mae Boren Axton, a songwriter, co-wrote the classic rock 'n' roll song "Heartbreak Hotel", which became the first major hit for Elvis Presley. Some of Hoyt's own songs were also later recorded by Elvis. Axton's father, John Thomas Axton, was a Naval officer stationed in Jacksonville, Florida; the family joined him there in 1949. Axton graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1956 and left town after Knauer's Hardware burned down on graduation night, a prank gone wrong. Axton attended Oklahoma State for a short length of time before following his father and enlisting in the Navy. Axton served aboard the USS Ranger before pursuing a music career.
After his discharge from the Navy on the West Coast, he began singing folk songs in San Francisco nightclubs. In the early 1960s he released his first folk album titled The Balladeer (recorded at the Troubadour), which included his song "Greenback Dollar", a 1963 hit for The Kingston Trio. Axton released numerous albums well into the 1980s.
In 1966, Axton made his film debut in the movie Smoky playing the role of Fred Denton, the evil brother of actor Fess Parker who finds a black stallion named Smoky, a wild stallion who eventually becomes a wonderful cutting horse and the best friend an old cowboy could ever want. The wild stallion Smoky gets his revenge on the evil Mr. Denton in the end by killing him for his brutal, harsh whipping he gives Smoky towards the end of the film. In 1979, Axton appeared on the PBS music program Austin City Limits during Season 4.
Axton had many minor singing hits of his own, such as "Boney Fingers", "When the Morning Comes", and 1979's "Della and the Dealer", as well as "Jealous Man" (the latter two he sang in a guest appearance on WKRP in Cincinnati). His vocal style featured his distinctive bass-baritone (which later deepened to near-bass) and use of characterization.
His most lasting contributions were songs made famous by others: "Joy to the World" and "Never Been to Spain" (Three Dog Night), the previously mentioned "Greenback Dollar" (Kingston Trio), "The Pusher" and "Snowblind Friend" (Steppenwolf), "No-No Song" (Ringo Starr), and an array of others, covered by singers such as Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, BJ Thomas, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, Jonathan Edwards, and Anne Murray. Axton also sang a couple of duets with Linda Ronstadt, including "Lion in Winter" and "When the Morning Comes" (a top 40 country hit). His composition "Joy to the World", as performed by Three Dog Night, was No. 1 on the charts for six straight weeks in 1971, making it the top hit of the year.
Axton was the first singer, songwriter and actor all at the same time. He first appeared on television in a David L. Wolper ABC production of The Story of a Folksinger (1963). He frequently appeared on Hootenanny, hosted by Jack Linkletter during this period. In 1965, he appeared in an episode of Bonanza, then followed with other TV roles over the years. As he matured, Axton specialized in playing good ol' boys on television and in films. His face became well known in the 1970s and 1980s through many TV and film appearances, such as in the movies Liar's Moon (1982) playing poor-but-happy farmer Cecil Duncan who is crushed to death when a stack of metal pipes falls on him, Gremlins (1984) and The Black Stallion (1979). He sang the jingle "Head For the Mountains" in the Busch beer commercials in the 1980s (and also "The Ballad of Big Mac", touting McDonald's Big Mac onscreen in a 1969 commercial he filmed for the hamburger franchise). Axton also appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial in 1985.
Last years and death
Axton struggled with cocaine addiction and several of his songs, including "The Pusher", "Snowblind Friend", and "No-No Song", partly reflect his negative drug experiences. He was a proponent of drug use for many years when, in February 1997, he and his wife were arrested at their Montana home for possession of approximately 500 grams of marijuana (a little over a pound). His wife explained later that she offered Axton marijuana to relieve pain and stress following a 1995 stroke; both were fined and given deferred sentences.
Axton never fully recovered from his stroke, and had to use a wheelchair much of the time. His mother, Mae, drowned in a hot tub at her Tennessee home in 1997, after suffering a heart attack while in the hot tub. Hoyt Axton died of a heart attack at his home in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, at the age of 61, after suffering a massive heart attack two weeks earlier.
On November 1, 2007, he and his mother were inducted posthumously in to the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
|US Country||US||CAN Country|
|1964||Hoyt Axton Explodes!||—||—||—||Vee Jay|
|1964||Long Old Road||—||—||—||Vee Jay|
|1965||Mr. Greenback Dollar Man||—||—||—||Surrey|
|1965||Hoyt Axton Sings Bessie Smith||—||—||—||Exodus|
|1969||My Griffin Is Gone||—||—||—||Columbia|
|1971||Joy To The World||—||—||—||Capitol|
|1973||Less Than the Song||—||—||—||A&M|
|1979||A Rusty Old Halo||27||—||14||Jeremiah|
|1980||Where Did the Money Go?||31||—||—|
|1982||Pistol Packin' Mama||41||—||—|
|1990||Spin of the Wheel||—||—||—||DPI|
|1996||Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog||-||-||-||Youngheart Music|
|1998||"The A&M Years"||—||—||—|
|US Country||US ||CAN Country||CAN||CAN AC|
|1963||"Greenback Dollar"||—||—||—||—||—||Greenback Dollar|
|1973||"Sweet Misery"||—||—||—||—||—||Less Than the Song|
|1974||"When the Morning Comes" (with Linda Ronstadt)||10||54||1||72||20||Life Machine|
|"Boney Fingers" (with Renee Armand)||8||—||8||—||31|
|"Lion in the Winter" (with Linda Ronstadt)||57||—||—||—||—|
|"In a Young Girl's Mind"||—||—||—||—||—|
|1976||"Flash of Fire"||18||—||9||—||—||Fearless|
|1977||"You're the Hangnail in My Life"||57||—||42||—||—||Snowblind Friend|
|"Little White Moon"||65||—||—||—||—|
|1979||"Della and the Dealer"||17||—||—||—||—||A Rusty Old Halo|
|"A Rusty Old Halo"||14||—||—||—||—|
|1980||"Wild Bull Rider"||21||—||—||—||—|
|"Boozers Are Losers (When Benders Don't End)"||—||—||—||—||—||Where Did the Money Go|
|"Where Did the Money Go"||80||—||—||—||—|
|1981||"Flo's Yellow Rose"||78||—||—||—||—||single only|
|"(We've Got To) Win This One"||—||—||—||—||—||single only|
|1982||"(When You Dance) You Do Not Tango"||—||—||—||—||—||Where Did the Money Go|
|"There Stands the Glass"||—||—||—||—||—||Pistol Packin' Mama|
|"Pistol Packin' Mama"||—||—||—||—||—|
|1983||"Warm Storms and Wild Flowers"||—||—||—||—||—|
|"If You're a Cowboy"||—||—||—||—||—||single only|
Selective list of songs
Among his best-known compositions (or co-writing credits) are:
- "Greenback Dollar" covered by The Kingston Trio
- "The Pusher", covered by Steppenwolf on their debut album in 1968. This version was also used in the soundtrack of the classic 1969 motion picture "Easy Rider"
- "No-No Song", which became a No. 3 hit for Ringo Starr in March 1975
- "Never Been To Spain", covered by Three Dog Night, Waylon Jennings, and Elvis Presley
- "Joy to the World", the Three Dog Night hit from April 1971 which held US No. 1 for six weeks
- "Snowblind Friend" (1971), covered by Steppenwolf
- "Lightning Bar Blues" (1973), covered by Brownsville Station and Arlo Guthrie (also a big hit for the Finnish band Hanoi Rocks in the '80s)
- "Sweet Misery" (1974), covered by John Denver
- "When the Morning Comes" (1974)
- "Boney Fingers" (1974)
- "Della and the Dealer" (1979) (Reached the top 20 of the Billboard Country charts in the United States and the top 50 of the British pop charts)
- "Hotel Ritz" (1979)
- "Rusty Ol' Halo" (1979)
- "Hangnail In My Life" Snowblind Album (1977)
"Della and the Dealer" and "Hotel Ritz" both became minor hit singles in the UK after extensive playing by the British D.J. Terry Wogan on his BBC Radio 2 breakfast program of the time.
Movies and television appearances
- Outlaw Blues
- The Black Stallion
- Heart Like a Wheel
- Cloud Dancer
- Season of Change
- Disorganized Crime
- We're No Angels
- The Junkman
- Deadline Auto Theft
- Buried Alive
- Buried Alive II
- Dixie Lanes
- Liar's Moon
- Christmas Comes to Willow Creek
- Endangered Species
- Harmony Cats
- King Cobra (His last movie)
Axton also performed the theme song that plays over the closing credits of the film Mitchell.
- The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
- Austin City Limits
- Hootenanny (US TV series)
- I Dream of Jeannie
- Domestic Life
- Dukes of Hazzard
- Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol
- WKRP in Cincinnati (performed "Della and the Dealer" and "Jealous Man")
- Diff'rent Strokes
- Murder, She Wrote
- Growing Pains
- Faerie Tale Theatre - "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"
- The Bionic Woman - "Road to Nashville"
- The Rousters
- Dallas: The Early Years
- The Iron Horse
Axton also composed and sang the theme song to the short-lived television sitcom Flo. Several songs for the 1977 film Outlaw Blues were composed by Axton and sung by Peter Fonda.
The Rousters was a short-lived television sitcom (1983) with Axton as 'Cactus' Jack Slade. The show starred Chad Everett as Wyatt Earp III, the grandson of the legendary Wyatt Earp, and Jim Varney as his dim-witted brother, Evan.
In the mid '90s, Axton was chosen to host and narrate the profile series The Life and Times on The Nashville Network, in which a different country music figure was spotlighted each hour. His voice was heard throughout and he was seen on-camera doing the introduction and closing of each show in which he participated.
Axton also showed up as the narrator for two documentaries of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race in 1982 and 1983 called Desperate Dreams.