Actor Hoyt Axton

Hoyt Wayne Axton (March 25, 1938 – October 26, 1999) was an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and 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”.

Early life

Born in Duncan, Oklahoma, Axton spent his pre-teen years in Comanche, Oklahoma, with his brother, John. 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, 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.

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

Axton was the first cousin of David Boren, who served as Governor of Oklahoma, as well as three terms in the United States Senate.


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.

Axton released numerous albums throughout the 1960s and 70’s. He had many minor hits of his own, such as “Boney Fingers”, “When the Morning Comes”, and 1979’s “Della and the Dealer”. 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 also appeared on Hootenanny, hosted by Jack Linkletter, during this period. In 1965, he was in an episode of Bonanza where he sang a duet with Pernell Roberts. In 1966, he made his film debut in the film Smoky playing the role of Fred Denton, the evil brother of the character played by actor Fess Parker. He became well known in the 1970s and 1980s through his film roles, including The Black Stallion (1979), Heart Like a Wheel (1983), and Gremlins (1984). His television appearances in the 1980s included WKRP In Cincinnati and Diff’rent Strokes. Axton sang the jingle “The Ballad of Big Mac”, touting McDonald’s Big Mac onscreen in a 1969 commercial he filmed for the hamburger franchise, as well as “Head For the Mountains” in voice-overs for Busch Beer in the 1980s. He also appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial in 1985, and in a TV spot for FTD Florists with Merlin Olsen in 1989.

However, Axton’s most lasting contributions were songs made famous by others: “Joy to the World” (Three Dog Night) and “Never Been to Spain” (Three Dog Night, Elvis Presley); “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, John Denver, Waylon Jennings, Jonathan Edwards, Glen Campbell and Anne Murray. Axton also sang a couple of duets with Linda Ronstadt, including “Lion in the Winter” and “When the Morning Comes” (a top 40 country hit). His composition “Joy to the World”, as performed by Three Dog Night, was No. 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.

Personal life and death

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

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 medical marijuana use for many years, until he and his wife Donna 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 his 1995 stroke. They were fined, and given deferred sentences. Axton never fully recovered from his stroke, and he used a wheelchair much of the time afterwards. Axton died at age 61 at his home in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, after suffering two heart attacks in two weeks.

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

Hoyt Axton was among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.



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


Year Single Chart Positions Album
US Country US CAN Country CAN CAN AC
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) 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 “Heartbreak Hotel”
Year Video
1990 “Mountain Right”

Selected list of songs

Among Axton’s best-known compositions (or co-writing credits) are:

  • “Greenback Dollar” covered by The Kingston Trio
  • “The Pusher”, by Steppenwolf on their debut album, 1968; this version was also used in the soundtrack of the classic 1969 motion picture Easy Rider. Nina Simone recorded the song in 1971.
  • “No No Song”, which became a No. 3 hit for Ringo Starr in March 1975
  • “Never Been To Spain”, covered by Three Dog Night, Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley, and many others
  • “Joy to the World”, the Three Dog Night hit from 1971 which held US No. 1 for six weeks
  • “Snowblind Friend” (1971), covered by Steppenwolf
  • “Lightning Bar Blues” (1973), covered by Brownsville Station, Linda Ronstadt, Arlo Guthrie, and Hanoi Rocks
  • “Sweet Misery” (1974), covered by John Denver and Martha Reeves
  • “When the Morning Comes” (1974)
  • “You Taught Me How To Cry” (1977 duet with Tanya Tucker)
  • “Boney Fingers” (1974), with Renee Armand
  • “Jealous Man” (covered by John Fullbright)
  • “Della and the Dealer” (1979), (performed on WKRP in Cincinnati; reached top 20 of the Billboard country chart in the U.S. and the top 50 of the British pop chart)
  • “Evangelina”, covered by Arlo Guthrie and Jonathan Edwards
  • “Flash of Fire”
  • “In a Young Girl’s Mind”
  • “Della and the Dealer” became a minor hit 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

    Film appearances

  • Smoky (1966) – Fred Denton
  • The Black Stallion (1979) – Alec’s Father
  • Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol (1979, TV Movie) – Cyrus Flint
  • Cloud Dancer (1980) – Brad’s Mechanic
  • Liar’s Moon (1982) – Cecil Duncan
  • The Junkman (1982) – Himself / Cap. Gibbs / Rev. Jim Beam (voice)
  • Endangered Species (1982) – Ben Morgan
  • The Black Stallion Returns (1983) – Narrator (voice)
  • Heart Like a Wheel (1983) – Tex Roque
  • Deadline Auto Theft (1983) – Captain Gibbs
  • Fred C. Dobbs Goes to Hollywood (1983)
  • Gremlins (1984) – Randall Peltzer
  • Act of Vengeance (1986, TV Movie) – Silous Huddleston
  • Retribution (1987) – Lt. Ashley
  • Christmas Comes to Willow Creek (1987, TV Movie) – Al
  • Dixie Lanes (1988) – Clarence Laidlaw
  • Disorganized Crime (1989) – Sheriff Henault
  • We’re No Angels (1989) – Father Levesque
  • Buried Alive (1990, TV Movie) – Sheriff Sam Eberly
  • Harmony Cats (1992) – Bill Stratton
  • Season of Change (1994) – Charlie
  • Kingfish: A Story of Huey P. Long (1995, TV Movie) – Huey P. Long, Sr.
  • Number One Fan (1995) – Lt. Joe Halsey
  • King Cobra (1999) – Mayor Ed Biddle (final film role)
  • Axton also performed the song that plays over the closing credits of the 1975 film Mitchell.

    Television appearances

  • Hootenanny (1964) – Himself / Himself – Performer
  • Bonanza (1965, Series 06 Episode 27 “Dead And Gone”) – Howard Mead
  • The Iron Horse (1966) – Slash Birney
  • I Dream of Jeannie (1966) – Bull
  • The Hoyt Axton Country Western Boogie Woogie Gospel Rock and Roll Show (1975) – Himself. NBC TV special – 1 episode. Guests included Linda Ronstadt, Arlo Guthrie and Ringo Starr
  • The Bionic Woman (1976) – Buck Buckley
  • McCloud (1977) – Johnny Starbuck
  • The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1979) – Himself – Musical Guest
  • WKRP in Cincinnati (1979, performed “Della and the Dealer” and “Jealous Man”) – T.J. Watson
  • Austin City Limits (1979) – Himself
  • Dukes of Hazzard (1981, TV Series) – Himself
  • Flo (1981, TV Series) – Himself
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1982, Season 1 (the only season), Episode 3, “Challenges,” and Episode 8, “Rodeo,” in which he sang “I Dream of Highways”) – Cooper Johnson
  • The Rousters (1983–1984) – Cactus Jack Slade
  • Diff’rent Strokes (1984) – Sam’s Father – Wes McKinney
  • Domestic Life (1984) – Rip Steele
  • Faerie Tale Theatre (1984, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”) – Forest Ranger
  • Cover Up (1984) – John Cody
  • Trapper John, M.D. (1985) – Jack Dearborne
  • Dallas: The Early Years (1986, TV Movie) – Aaron Southworth
  • Murder, She Wrote (1988) – Sheriff Tate
  • Midnight Caller (1990) – Ralston Cash Dollar
  • Growing Pains (1990) – Claver Jackson
  • 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.

    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.

    External Links

    Actor Hoyt Axton – Wikipedia

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