Hoyt Axton

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]

Hoyt Axton
Hoyt Axton Show, 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
InstrumentsVocals, guitar
Years active1960–99
WebsiteOfficial website

Early life

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 a 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]

He attended Oklahoma State University on a scholarship, and he played football for the school, but he left to enlist in the US Navy.[2]


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

Axton was managed by Martin Pichinson and released numerous albums throughout the 1970s. He 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 the TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati). 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 frequently appeared on Hootenanny, hosted by Jack Linkletter during this period. In 1965, he appeared in an episode of Bonanza. In 1966, he made his film debut in the movie Smoky playing the role of Fred Denton, the evil brother of the character played by actor Fess Parker. 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, and in a TV ad for FTD Florists with Merlin Olsen in 1989. He became well known in the 1970s and 1980s through many TV and film appearances, including The Black Stallion (1979), Liar's Moon (1982), Gremlins (1984), and We're No Angels (1989).

However, 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 #1 on the charts 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

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

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.[2] However, he was a proponent of marijuana use for many years until he and his wife were arrested in February 1997 at their Montana home for possession of approximately 500 g (1.1 lb) of marijuana. His wife later explained that she offered Axton marijuana to relieve his 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 afterwards. He died at age 61 at his home in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, after suffering two heart attacks in two weeks.[2][6][7]

On November 1, 2007, Axton and his mother were both inducted posthumously into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee, Oklahoma.[8][9]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Hoyt Axton among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[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

Music videos

Year Video
1990 "Mountain Right"

Selected list of songs

Among his best-known compositions (or co-writing credits) are:

"Della and the Dealer" became a minor hit in the U.K. after extensive playing by the British D.J. Terry Wogan on his BBC Radio 2 breakfast program of the time.

Film and television appearances

Film appearances

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

Television appearances

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.[15]

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 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. 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.com. Retrieved September 6, 2011.
  4. "Hoyt Axton Biography (1938-)". filmreference.com.
  5. Cohen, Larry. "North Florida Music Hall of Fame". Larry Cohen Productions. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  6. Hinckley, David (October 27, 1999). "Songwriter Hoyt Axton Dead At 61 In Montana". New York Daily News. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  7. Burke, Brad (October 27, 1999). "Axton, Hoyt Wayne (1938-1999)". Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture. Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  8. 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.
  9. Smoot, D. E. "'Thank God I'm from Oklahoma,' inductee says". Muskogee Phoenix. Muskogee, Oklahoma. Archived from the original on 2012-09-04. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  10. Rosen, Jody (25 June 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  11. Adams, Greg. "Hoyt Axton: The A&M Years". AllMusic.com. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  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. "The Hoyt Axton Country Western Boogie Woogie Gospel Rock and Roll Show". imdb.com. Retrieved August 26, 2019.
  15. "Outlaw Blues (1977) - Overview". TCM.com. Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 5, 2018.
  • Allen, Bob. (1998). "Hoyt Axton". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 23.
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