Hoyt Axton - Biography
By J Poet
Hoyt Axton only had a couple of minor hits under his own name, “Boney Fingers” and “When the Morning Comes,” but he wrote many pop classics for other artists including “Greenback Dollar,” for The Kingston Trio, “Joy to the World” for Three Dog Night, “The Pusher” for Steppenwolf and “No No Song” for Ringo Starr. He also wrote the music for several iconic commercials including “The Ballad of Big Mac” to introduce MacDonald’s Big Mac in 1969 and “Head For the Mountains” for Busch Beer in 1980. His big booming baritone was instantly recognizable, and his big booming personality made him many life long friends both in and outside of show business. He recorded prolifically making both folk and country albums and was a well-known actor and voice over artist. A 1995 stroke left him wheelchair bound until he died in 1999.
Axton was born in Duncan, Oklahoma to high school teachers to John and Mae Boren Axton. His mother quit teaching to become a songwriter and co-wrote “Heartbreak Hotel” for Elvis Presley. The family moved to Jacksonville, FL where Axton grew up playing piano, guitar and football. He was writing songs by the time he was 15, inspired by his mother’s folk and country record collection and her own success as a songwriter. He won a football scholarship to Oklahoma State University and joined the Navy after he graduated. In the Navy he served on the USS Princeton and became a boxer, the Heavyweight Champion of his task force.
In 1961, fresh out of the service, Axton settled in San Francisco and became a regular on the folk circuit. In 1962 The Kingston Trio recorded “Greenback Dollar” and its success got Axton a contract with Horizon Records. His first album, The Balladeer (1962 Horizon) included “Greenback Dollar” and other folk songs. When “Dollar” became a hit, the album was reissued as Greenback Dollar (1963 Horizon). After “Greenback Dollar” Axton made six more albums for Horizon, Vee Jay and Columbia combining folk songs, blues and his own material and using arrangements that blended folk rock and pop, but none of them were successful. Axton began dabbling with drugs to ease the pressure, and during that time wrote “The Pusher” which was recorded by Steppenwolf on their million selling debut. “The Pusher” became an FM radio hit and got Axton an opening slot on a Three Dog Night tour. He pitched them “Joy to the World” and “Never Been to Spain.” In 1969 “Joy to the World” became a worldwide smash for Three Dog Night and Axton’s place in music history was assured. He capitalized on its success with some of his finest albums including Joy to the World (1971 Capital), Less Than the Song (1973 A&M), Life Machine (1974 A&M) which included the great protest song “Geronimo’s Cadillac,” his first hit under his own name “Boney Fingers,” and a Top 40 country hit “When the Morning Comes,” with Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals, Southbound (1975 A&M) which included “No No Song” a hit for Ringo Starr and Fearless (1976 A&M). During that period he also had his tunes covered by Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Glen Campbell, Tanya Tucker, John Denver, Commander Cody and Linda Ronstadt.
In 1979 Axton started his own label, Jeremiah and made one of his best albums A Rusty Old Halo (1979 Jeremiah) which included the country hits “Della and The Dealer” and the title track. In the 80s he became a well-known character actor and was featured in many movies and TV shows including The Black Stallion Returns (1983) and Trapper John MD. His last studio album was Spin of the Wheel (1990 DPI).
In 1995 he suffered a stroke that left him in a wheelchair and in 1997 his Montana home was raided and he was busted for possession of marijuana, which he used to self medicate for the pain induce by the stroke and his diabetes. He paid a fine and was cut loose. He died after a heart attack on October 26, 1999.