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Hoyt Axton

Born March 25, 1938, Duncan, Oklahoma, Hoyt was the son of Mae Boren Axton whose claim to fame was being the co-writer of `Heartbreak Hotel’ (Elvis’s first No.1 hit in 1956). Most aficionados will associate HOYT AXTON with country music, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but in the early half of the 60s, the songwriter was a cowboy-styled folk-singer. From 1969 to his death in 1999, Hoyt was a bona fide country singer, with a few twists and turns along the way.
Having performed live at the turn of the decade (he also served his time in the US Navy), Hoyt’s road to semi-stardom came early in 1963 when The KINGSTON TRIO took his `Greenback Dollar’ into the Top 30. Taken from his debut album, THE BALLADEER (1962) {*6} – subsequently re-issued as “Greenback Dollar” – the song should’ve made him some big cash, instead he was “shafted” by a crooked publisher; on reflection Hoyt thus described it: “I was just a kid”.
His label, Horizon (which basically catered for jazz artists), also released his follow-up, THUNDER’N LIGHTNIN’ (1963) {*6}. But it would be Vee-Jay Records who issued three further sets, SATURDAY’S CHILD (1963) {*4}, HOYT AXTON EXPLODES! (1964) {*5} and MR. GREENBACK DOLLAR MAN (1965) {*6} – all basic folk-meets-blues sets with a hint of C&W. Around the same time, covers LP HOYT AXTON SINGS BESSIE SMITH (1964) {*6} was turned out by Exodus Records.
The singer’s subsequent output dried up for around half a decade while his cocaine addiction kicked in. However from these barren times, one song did surface when STEPPENWOLF covered his infamous anti-drug opus, `The Pusher’ (the movie Easy Rider gave it cult status).
In 1969, with his name revered once again, AXTON signed a new deal with Columbia Records and finally delivered his “comeback” country set MY GRIFFIN IS GONE {*8}. All self-penned and dealing in social commentary (even satire) a la PHIL OCHS, the vibrato vox of Hoyt excelled on `It’s All Right Now’, `Childhood’s End’, `Way Before The Time Of Towns’ and `Beelzebub’s Laughter’.
Having previously opened for covers specialists, THREE DOG NIGHT, 1971 saw AXTON provide the group with two major US hits, `Joy To The World’ (a No.1 and the title of his own album for Capitol) and `Never Been To Spain’ (a Top 5). The aforementioned JOY TO THE WORLD {*7} LP was interesting in respect that it captured some of his own unique original pre-hit versions; follow-up COUNTRY ANTHEM (1971) {*6} kept the ball rolling so to speak.
Two years later and now on the roster of A&M Records, the amiable-voiced country/folk artist was back at his very best on LESS THAN THE SONG (1973) {*7}. In fact, all his star-studded albums from the mid-70s, LIFE MACHINE (1974) {*6} (including a LINDA RONSTADT duet `When The Morning Comes’), SOUTHBOUND (1975) {*6} and FEARLESS (1976) {*7} were top quality of their genre; the latter couple even giving him chart entries. Around the same time, other major artists were delivering their own AXTON interpretations, notably JOAN BAEZ, GLEN CAMPBELL, RINGO STARR, JOHN DENVER, WAYLON JENNINGS, TANYA TUCKER, COMMANDER CODY and STEPPENWOLF again.
AXTON decided it was time for a move to M.C.A.; SNOWBLIND FRIEND (1977) {*6} and FREE SAILIN’ (1978) {*6} catching him combine country anthems and odd drug-related ditty (including `Them Downers’). But it was clear that the man’s artistic peak had come and gone and seen better days. Having rid himself of his drug addiction, the cherub-faced singer/guitarist founded his own imprint, Jeremiah; a reference from his `Joy To The World’ anthem. There, he issued three low-key LPs, the first of which A RUSTY OLE HALO (1979) {*6} produced a surprise UK Top 50 hit in 1980, `Della And The Dealer’.
The singer was also fast becoming an established actor having worked on TV and films such as The Black Stallion (subsequent movie appearances were in Gremlins, E.T. and `Season Of Change. Meanwhile, the rest of the 80s saw the man take a well-earned break from his recording schedule after relatively poor sales for WHERE DID THE MONEY GO? (1980) {*4}, LIVE! (1981) {*5} and PISTOL PACKIN’ MAMA (1982) {*4}.
In 1990, AXTON recorded a comeback album, SPIN OF THE WHEEL {*7}, an acclaimed record which, regretfully, was to become his swansong due to heart problems. Sadly, after a few years confined to a wheelchair due to a series of heart attacks, Hoyt was to meet his maker on October 26, 1999.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Feb2015

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