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Hoyt Axton

Hoyt Axton in his early years as a folksinger
Background information
Birth name Hoyt Wayne Axton
Born March 25, 1938(1938-03-25)
Origin Duncan, Oklahoma, USA
Died October 26, 1999 (aged 61)
Genres Country , Folk
Occupations Singer, Songwriter, Actor
Instruments Vocals, Guitar
Years active 19601999
Associated acts Three Dog Night, The Kingston Trio
Website Hoyt Axton's Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Page

Hoyt Wayne Axton (March 25, 1938 – October 26, 1999) was an American country music singer-songwriter, 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 efforts became well known throughout the world. Among them are "Della and the Dealer", "Joy to the World" (which many know better by its opening lyric, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog!"), and "Greenback Dollar".

Contents

Biography

He was born in Duncan, Oklahoma and spent his pre-teen years in Comanche, Oklahoma with his brother, John. His mother, Mae Boren Axton, 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. Hoyt's father, John T. Axton, was a Navy 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.[1] Axton attended Oklahoma State for a short length of time before following his father and enlisting in the Navy. Hoyt served aboard the USS Princeton (LPH-5), 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 legendary Troubadour), which included his song "Greenback Dollar", a 1963 hit for The Kingston Trio. Axton released numerous albums well into the 1980s, changing somewhat with the times but always retaining an honest, down-home and fairly "country" approach to his music. Axton had many minor singing hits of his own, such as "Boney Fingers" ("Work your fingers to the bone, what do you get? Boney fingers, boney fingers"), "When the Morning Comes", and 1979's "Della and the Dealer as well as Jealous Man" (which 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: at times gritty and defiant, other times exceptionally mellow, occasionally deliberately cartoonish. One song, "Officer Ray", is styled in self-parody, as Hoyt softly croons curses at a sadistic police officer that would seem more likely to come from the narrator of "The Pusher": "Officer Ray / .... / May you have a bad day / May your wife run away / With a hippie."

But 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, John Denver, and Waylon Jennings. Axton also sang a couple of notable duets with Linda Ronstadt, including "Lion in Winter" and "When the Morning Comes" (a top 40 country hit). His most popular and signature song, "Joy to the World", as performed by Three Dog Night, was number 1 for on the charts for six straight weeks in 1971, making it the top hit of the year.

Axton first appeared on television in a David L. Wolper ABC production of The Story of a Folksinger (1963). In 1965, he appeared in an episode of Bonanza, then followed with other TV roles over the years. As he matured, Axton as an actor 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 Gremlins and The Black Stallion. He sang the jingle "Head For the Mountains" in the Busch beer commercials in the 1980s (and also "The Ballad of Big Mac", touting the recently released McDonald's Big Mac on screen in a 1969 commercial he filmed for the hamburger franchise).

Hoyt Axton on Austin City Limits in 1978

Axton spent some time struggling with cocaine addiction and several of his songs, including "The Pusher", "Snowblind Friend", and "No-No Song", partly reflect his negative drug experiences. He had been known as an opponent 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 Hoyt marijuana to relieve pain and stress following a 1995 stroke; both were fined and given deferred sentences.

Hoyt never fully recovered from his stroke, and still had to use a wheelchair much of the time. His mother, Mae, drowned in a hot tub at her Tennessee home in 1997. Hoyt Axton died of a heart attack in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, at the age of 61. Axton had suffered a severe heart attack two weeks earlier and experienced another one while undergoing surgery in Montana.

On November 1, 2007 he and his mother were inducted posthumously to the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee, Oklahoma.[2][3]

Discography

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Albums

Year Album Chart Positions Label
US Country US CAN Country
1969 My Griffin Is Gone Blue Thumb
1973 Less Than the Song A&M
1974 Life Machine 21
1975 Southbound 27 188
1976 Fearless 26 171
1977 Snowblind Friend 36 MCA
1978 Road Songs 40 A&M
Free Sailin' 42 MCA
1979 A Rusty Old Halo 27 14 Jeremiah
1980 Where Did the Money Go? 31
1981 Live! 30
1982 Pistol Packin' Mama 41

Singles

Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US CAN Country CAN CAN AC
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
1975 "Nashville" 61 106 Southbound
"Lion in the Winter" (with Linda Ronstadt) 57
"In a Young Girl's Mind"
1976 "Flash of Fire" 18 9 Fearless
"Evangelina"
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
"Evangelina" 37 44
"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
"The Devil" 86 Live!
"(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:

"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 programme of the time.

Movies and television appearances

Movie appearances

Television appearances

Axton also composed and sang the theme song to the short-lived television sitcom Flo.

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.

References

  • Allen, Bob. (1998). "Hoyt Axton". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 23.

External links


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