Hoyt Axton

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Hoyt Axton
Hoyt Axton on July 4, 1976
Hoyt Axton on July 4, 1976
Background information
Birth nameHoyt Wayne Axton
Born(1938-03-25)March 25, 1938
Duncan, Oklahoma, U.S.
OriginComanche, Oklahoma
DiedOctober 26, 1999(1999-10-26) (aged 61)
Victor, Montana, U.S.
GenresCountry, folk, blues, rock
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, actor
Instrument(s)Vocals, guitar
Years active1960–1999
WebsiteOfficial website

Hoyt Wayne Axton (March 25, 1938 – October 26, 1999)[1] was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist and 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. Among his best-known songs are "Joy to the World", "The Pusher", "No No Song", "Greenback Dollar", "Della and the Dealer" and "Never Been to Spain".[2]

He was also a prolific character actor with many film and television roles over several decades, playing a father figure in a number of films such as The Black Stallion (1979) and Gremlins (1984).

Early life[edit]

Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, Axton spent his preteen years in Comanche, Oklahoma, with his brother John.[3] His mother Mae Boren Axton, a songwriter, cowrote the song "Heartbreak Hotel", which became a major hit for Elvis Presley.[4] Some of Hoyt's own songs were later recorded by Presley. Axton's father John Thomas Axton[5] was a naval officer stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, where the family joined him in 1949.

Axton graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1956 and left town after a hardware store was destroyed by fire on graduation night following a misguided prank.[6]

He attended Oklahoma State University on a scholarship,[4] where he played football, but he left to enlist in the US Navy. Axton held the rank of petty officer second class and served on two ships, the USS Princeton (CV-37) and the USS Ranger (CVA-61).[2]

Axton was the first cousin of David Boren, who served as governor of Oklahoma and three terms in the United States Senate and was also president of the University of Oklahoma.[7]


After his discharge from the Navy, Axton began singing folk songs in coffee houses and nightclubs in Southern California. In the early 1960s, he released his first folk album, The Balladeer (recorded at the Troubadour), which included his song "Greenback Dollar", which became a 1963 hit for the Kingston Trio.[2]

Axton released numerous albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He produced Tales From the Ozone, a 1975 album by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, and he released many minor hits of his own, such as "Boney Fingers", "When the Morning Comes" and 1979's "Della and the Dealer".[4] His vocal style featured his distinctive bass-baritone (which later deepened to near-bass) and use of characterization.

Axton first appeared on television in a David L. Wolper ABC production of The Story of a Folksinger (1963). He appeared on Hootenanny, hosted by Jack Linkletter, during this period. In 1965, he appeared in an episode of Bonanza[4] in which he sang duets with Pernell Roberts. In 1966, he made his film debut in Smoky playing the role of Fred Denton, the evil brother of the character played by Fess Parker. He gained fame in the 1970s and 1980s through his film roles, including those in The Black Stallion (1979), Heart Like a Wheel (1983) and Gremlins (1984). His television appearances included WKRP in Cincinnati (1979) and Diff'rent Strokes (1984, 1985). In 1980, he sang the theme song to the short-lived series Flo, and he appeared as himself in the episode titled "You Gotta Have Hoyt". Axton sang the jingle "The Ballad of Big Mac" for a 1969 McDonald's Big Mac television commercial as well as "Head for the Mountains" in voiceovers for Busch beer in the 1980s. He appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial in 1985 and in a TV spot for FTD with Merlin Olsen in 1989.[citation needed]

Axton's most lasting contributions were songs made famous by others: "Joy to the World" (Three Dog Night) and "Never Been to Spain" for both Three Dog Night and Elvis Presley, "Greenback Dollar" for the Kingston Trio "The Pusher" and "Snowblind Friend" for Steppenwolf, "No No Song" for Ringo Starr and songs covered by singers such as Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, John Denver, Nina Simone, Waylon Jennings, Martha Reeves, Jonathan Edwards, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, David Clayton-Thomas and Colter Wall. Axton sang duets with Linda Ronstadt on the songs "Lion in the Winter" and "When the Morning Comes" and with Tanya Tucker on "You Taught Me How to Cry." His composition "Joy to the World", performed by Three Dog Night, reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six straight weeks in 1971, making it the top hit of the year. He named his record label Jeremiah after the bullfrog mentioned in the song.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Axton was married four times, but the first three ended in divorce.[2] He had five children.[2]

He struggled with cocaine addiction, and several of his songs, including "The Pusher", "Snowblind Friend" and "No No Song", partly reflect his drug experiences.[2] He was a proponent of medical marijuana use but he and his wife Deborah were arrested in February 1997 at their Montana home for possession of about 500 g (1.1 lb) of marijuana. His wife later explained that she offered Axton marijuana to relieve his pain and stress following his 1995 stroke. They were fined and received deferred sentences. Axton never fully recovered from his stroke, and he was bound to a wheelchair for most of the remainder of his life.


Axton died at age 61 at his home in Victor, Montana on October 26, 1999, after suffering two heart attacks in two weeks.[2][8][9]

On November 1, 2007, Axton and his mother Mae were inducted posthumously into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee, Oklahoma.[10][11]



Year Album Chart positions Label
US Country US CAN Country
1962 The Balladeer Horizon
1963 Greenback Dollar Horizon
1963 Thunder'n Lightnin' Horizon
1963 Saturday's Child Horizon
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
1971 Country Anthem Capitol
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
1984 American Dreams Global
1990 Spin of the Wheel DPI
1996 Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog Youngheart Music
1998 The A&M Years[12]


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US
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)[14] 8 8 31
1975 "Nashville" 61 106 Southbound
"Speed Trap" 105
"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
"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" Spin of The Wheel
1991 "Oh I'm a Good Old Rebel" Songs of the Civil War
"Yellow Rose of Texas"

Music videos[edit]

Year Video
1990 "Heartbreak Hotel"
Year Video
1990 "Mountain Right"

Selected list of songs[edit]

Among Axton's best-known compositions (or co-writing credits) are:

Film and television appearances[edit]

Film appearances[edit]

Axton also contributed songs for the films The Legend of Hillbilly John (1972), Buster and Billie (1974) and Mitchell (1975).

Television appearances[edit]

Several songs for the 1977 film Outlaw Blues were composed by Axton and sung by Peter Fonda.[16]

The Rousters was a short-lived television comedy adventure series (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 dimwitted brother Evan.

In 1992 Axton narrated The Alaska Highway: 1942-1992 a documentary about the history of the Alaska Highway that was produced by public television station KAKM of Anchorage and shown nationally on PBS. In the mid-1990s, Axton was chosen to host and narrate the profile series 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 served as the narrator for two documentaries about the Western States Endurance Race in 1982 and 1983 titled Desperate Dreams.


  1. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records, Ltd. p. 34. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Oliver, Myrna (October 27, 1999). "Hoyt Axton, Singer, Character Actor and Hit Songwriter, Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  3. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Biography: Hoyt Axton". AllMusic. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d Pareles, Jon (October 27, 1999). "Hoyt Axton, 61, Songwriter, Singer and Actor in Movies". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "Hoyt Axton Biography (1938–)". filmreference.com.
  6. ^ Cohen, Larry. "North Florida Music Hall of Fame". Larry Cohen Productions. Archived from the original on August 20, 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  7. ^ "Axton, Mae Boren (1914–1997)". Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  8. ^ Hinckley, David (October 27, 1999). "Songwriter Hoyt Axton Dead at 61 In Montana". Daily News. New York. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  9. ^ Burke, Brad (October 27, 1999). "Axton, Hoyt Wayne (1938–1999)". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Archived from the original on August 5, 2011. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  10. ^ Downing, Jim (November 17, 2007). "Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Induction 2007". Tulsa Today. Archived from the original on March 18, 2012. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  11. ^ Smoot, D. E. "'Thank God I'm from Oklahoma,' inductee says". Muskogee Phoenix. Muskogee, Oklahoma. Archived from the original on September 4, 2012. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  12. ^ Adams, Greg (n.d.). "Hoyt Axton: The A&M Years". AllMusic. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-89820-188-8.
  14. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2005). Joel Whitburn's Top Country Songs, 1944–2005. Record Research Inc. p. 35. ISBN 9780898201659.
  15. ^ "The Hoyt Axton Country Western Boogie Woogie Gospel Rock and Roll Show". IMDb. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  16. ^ "Outlaw Blues (1977) – Overview". TCM.com. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 5, 2018.

External links[edit]