Hoyt Axton: Joy to the World

Hoyt Axton was already a singer/songwriter long before he found broader fame as an actor.  He was folksy, had a deep baritone voice and his mother co-wrote “Heartbreak Hotel” for Elvis Presley.

Axton had an unusual name, but a voice and a face that seemed familiar.

As an actor, he was bear-like in appearance but possessed a broad smile and warmth that audiences responded to.

He started out as a folk singer, making albums, singing some commercials and he slowly began to get a variety of acting roles on television and then films.

As a songwriter, he had great success as others recorded his work: The Kingston Trio (“Greenback Dollar”), Three Dog Night (“Joy to the World”, “Have You Ever Been to Spain”), Steppenwolf (“Snowblind Friend”, “The Pusher”) and Ringo Starr (“The No No Song”) all covered his songs.

“Joy to the World” was a number one hit in 1971. Everybody was singing it.  Jeremiah was a bullfrog, and he was a friend of mine.

He sang the “Head to the Mountains” jingle for Busch beer and a few other commercials.

Axton achieved his greatest success in the 1980s and 1990s as an actor, primarily on  television, but he had featured roles in a number of films: The Black Stallion, Liar’s Moon, Heart Like a Moon, Gremlins, Disorganized Crime and We’re No Angels.

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Television gave him steady work in shows like WKRP, McCloud, Bionic Woman, Diff’rent Strokes, Murder She Wrote, In the Heat of the Night, Trapper John and Growing Pains.

Even with this acting success, Axton never stopped writing and recording. He channeled his own challenges into his music. He had drug problems in his earlier years and wrote about the experiences. “Della and the Dealer” was one such song.

Hoyt Axton gained notoriety but he was not really famous; he was not a rock star, he was a folkie; he wasn’t handsome, he was husky and had a kindly face; he was never a leading man, but a fine supporting actor; he released numerous solo albums, but musically he had greater success as a songwriter.

At the end of his life, Axton was wheel-chair bound from a stroke and suffered a heart attack that brought his life to a close.   He was only 61 years old, my current age.  I don’t know if he considered his life a success, he certainly accomplished a lot, and not many can claim they brought joy to the world.


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