Hoyt Axton was born in Duncan, Oklahoma (“Well, I’ve never been to heaven/ but I’ve been to Oklahoma./ Well, they tell me I was born there, / but I really don’t remember.” --from Axton’s song, “Never Been to Spain.”) on March 25, 1938.
Whether or not his father, John T. Axton, was formerly in the Navy is disputed but nevertheless, his father was a high school teacher and a football coach. Although John Axton never played an instrument, he sang in a deep baritone and Hoyt credits his father for instilling in him the love of singing and credits his mother, Mae Boren Axton, with his love of song writing. It was Mae who co-wrote Elvis’ huge hit, “Heartbreak Hotel” and it was also Mae who insisted that Hoyt take classical piano lessons between his football practices.
Hoyt made All State in football in High School and won a football scholarship to Oklahoma State University. After college, Hoyt joined the Navy and kept his athletic edge by boxing. Hoyt claims that he never had the “flight” instinct but had a very strong “fight” instinct. He told a story where in the chow line, another sailor who had a grudge against him punched him in the nose and Hoyt said, “I never even spilled my applesauce.” He attacked the man but they were broken up and a boxing match was arranged where Hoyt was the victor. He claimed to have taken the man down four times in the first 59 seconds. Then he left the ring, picked up a folding chair and went back into the ring, daring his opponent to come at him again--the man declined.
After the Navy, Hoyt went straight into the music industry as a performer, mainly in the coffee house circuit where he stood out with his “intense style. It was also during that time that he wrote his first hit song, “Greenback Dollar,” that was recorded by The Kingston Trio. Hoyt only made $800.00 dollars from the song due to a bad manager and then became more business savvy and started taking a greater hand in the business end of the music industry.
More of Axton’s songs were recorded, not just by him, but by other artists and became hits. Since Hoyt’s manager also handled Three Dog Night, the group recorded two songs of Hoyt’s that rose up the charts, “Joy to the World,” not to be confused with the Christmas carol, and “Never Been to Spain.” In 1977, Axton formed his own recording company, Jeremiah Records named after the “bullfrog” in “Joy to the World.” (“Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”) The label folded in 1982 though.
Hoyt had his own hit with the country music song, “Boney Fingers” in the ‘70’s. (“Work your fingers to the bone, whaddaya get? Boney fingers…”) But when a friend of Axton’s died of a drug overdose, he was inspired to write “The Pusher,” a song that was recorded by Steppenwolf and that appeared on the Easy Rider soundtrack. With this song, Axton’s songs found a new, hipper audience although he received much criticism from his loyal fans in country music for the content of the song. Ironically, near the end of his life in 1997, Axton was fined $15,000 dollars and given a three year deferred sentence for marijuana possession; his wife, Deborah Hawkins, said that she gave her husband marijuana because it relieved the pain, anxiety and stress of his medical condition after his stroke in 1995.
Axton also worked in films and television. His first foray into acting was in the episode “Dead and Gone” in Bonanza where he played Howard Meade, a charming drifter without a conscience. Axton also appeared with Pernell Roberts again in Roberts’ television show, Trapper John, M.D., in the episode, “Game of Hearts,” about a man who receives an artificial heart. Axton appeared as Alec’s father in The Black Stallion, and is best know to the contemporary generation as the protagonist’s father in Gremlins and as Father LeVesque in the Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn movie, We’re No Angels.
Hoyt suffered a stroke in 1995 and never fully recovered, requiring a wheelchair to move about. Two weeks before his death in 1999, Axton suffered a severe heart attack and then had another one on the operating table. He died quietly at his home in Victor, Montana October 26, 1999. He was survived by his wife and five sons and daughters.
Axton had said that “I write solely from my own experience of life because that’s the only way I know how to do it.” The world still has his songs and his many fans to remember him as a man and an artist who helped many others along in their paths to success. For a complete list of his songs, go to:http://www.whosdatedwho.com/tpx_15643/hoyt-axton/songs
For his film and movie appearances, go to IMDb at:http://www.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=hoyt%20axton