Hoyt Axton

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Hoyt Axton
Hoyt Axton 1976.jpg
Hoyt Axton Show, July 4, 1976
Background information
Birth name Hoyt Wayne Axton
Born (1938-03-25)March 25, 1938
Duncan, Oklahoma, United States
Origin Comanche, Oklahoma, United States
Died October 26, 1999(1999-10-26) (aged 61)
Victor, Montana, United States
Genres Country, folk, blues, rock
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, actor
Instruments Vocals, guitar
Years active 1960–99
Associated acts Three Dog Night, The Kingston Trio, Steppenwolf (band)
Website Hoyt Axton's Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Page

Hoyt Wayne Axton (March 25, 1938 – October 26, 1999)[1] 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".[2]

Life and career[edit]

Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, Axton spent his pre-teen years in Comanche, Oklahoma, with his brother, John.[3] 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 Presley. Axton's father, John Thomas Axton,[4] 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 Store burned down on graduation night, a prank gone wrong.[5] Axton attended Oklahoma State for a short time before following his father and enlisting in the navy. Axton served aboard the USS Ranger before pursuing a music career.[6]

After his discharge from the navy, 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. In 1979, Axton appeared on the PBS music program Austin City Limits during Season 4.

Axton had many minor 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), "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 number 1 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). 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, The Black Stallion (1979), and Gremlins (1984). 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[edit]

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 until 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. Hoyt Axton died of a heart attack at his home in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, at the age of 61,[7] after suffering a massive heart attack two weeks earlier.[8]

On November 1, 2007, he and his mother were inducted posthumously in to the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee, Oklahoma.[9][10]



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"[11]


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)[13] 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" single only

Selected list of songs[edit]

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 program of the time.

Film and television appearances[edit]

Film appearances[edit]

Axton also performed the theme song that plays over the closing credits of the 1975 film Mitchell.

Television appearances[edit]

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.[14]

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-1990s, 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.


  1. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records, Ltd. p. 34. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  2. ^ http://articles.latimes.com/1999/oct/27/news/mn-26812
  3. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Biography: Hoyt Axton". Allmusic. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Hoyt Axton Biography (1938-)". 
  5. ^ Larry Cohen. "North Florida Music Hall of Fame". 
  6. ^ Buchalter, Judith (August 27, 1979). "Like His Pal Fearless, No One Messes with Hoyt Axton, the Mountain Man of Country Music". People. 12 (9). Retrieved August 9, 2011. 
  7. ^ Hinckley, David (October 27, 1999). "Songwriter Hoyt Axton Dead At 61 In Montana". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  8. ^ Burke, Brad (October 27, 1999). "Axton, Hoyt Wayne (1938-1999)". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved September 3, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame Induction 2007". Tulsa Today. 
  10. ^ MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK - "Thank God I'm from Oklahoma," inductee says
  11. ^ Greg Adams. "The A&M Years". AllMusic. 
  12. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 50. ISBN 0-89820-188-8. 
  13. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2005). Joel Whitburn's Top Country Songs, 1944-2005. Record Research Inc. p. 35. 
  14. ^ "Outlaw Blues (1977) - Overview - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. 
  • Allen, Bob. (1998). "Hoyt Axton". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 23.

External links[edit]