Tail of the Weak 1.12
Updated: Jan 24
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
I'm a high life flyer and a rainbow rider...A straight shootin' son-of-a-gun - “Joy to the World”
In this week's Tail, I will invoke the theory of Six Degrees of Separation and attempt to link Elvis Presley with the 1980s movie, Gremlins.
In 1955, Mae Boren Axton, an English teacher at Dupont High School in Jacksonville, Florida, co-wrote “Heartbreak Hotel”, Elvis's first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Pop charts. Mae Axton was the mother of singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton, who played the father that gave his son a pet Mogwai for Christmas in Gremlins.
Well, that didn't take long...damn Premature Substantiation!
Goodnight folks...see you next week!
Sorry, just give me a minute to clean up and go on.
Hoyt Wayne Axton was born in Duncan, Oklahoma on March 25, 1938, son of Mae and John Axton. His father, a Naval officer, moved the family to Jacksonville in 1949.
Hoyt studied classical piano as a child before switching to guitar, writing his first songs at the age of 15. He graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1956 and headed off with a football scholarship to Oklahoma State University for a brief stint before enlisting in the Navy, serving aboard the USS Princeton.
Following his discharge in '61, he started singing folk songs in San Francisco clubs. In the early 60s, Axton released his first folk album, The Balladeer, which included his self-penned original, “Greenback Dollar”, a 1963 hit record for The Kingston Trio. Due to a crooked music publisher, Hoyt made a mere $800 from the song. Said he, “I'd only been in the music business a year, so I didn't know anything. How could I sue when the whole point of the song was how I didn't give a damn about a greenback dollar?”
The singer-songwriter had a pleasant and distinctive bass-baritone vocal style that lent itself well to his homey, character-driven songs; but, his lasting contribution to the world was as the man who wrote hit songs made famous by some of music's finest.
In the late Sixties, Steppenwolf recorded two of his songs, “The Pusher” and “Snowblind Friend”. “The Pusher” graced their 1968 album, Steppenwolf, and was immortalized in the 1969 movie, Easy Rider. The financial rewards were finally paying off.
Hoyt recalls, “One Saturday morning, I went to the mailbox and there was a check for $14,000 for the use of the song in Easy Rider. I had a real nice weekend; and, then on Monday, another ten grand came in.”
By the early Seventies, Axton had signed on with Steppenwolf's management company, Dunhill, which also happened to be Three Dog Night's label. In 1971, Three Dog Night released Hoyt's song, “Joy to the World”, as a single, which proceeded to shoot to the top of the charts and was certified gold for selling one million units in less than two months.
Later the same year, the group recorded and released another Axton original, “Never Been to Spain”, which was subsequently recorded by Elvis, Cher, Waylon Jennings, and Ike and Tina Turner. There's a line in “Never Been to Spain” that goes: “Well, I never been to England but I kinda like The Beatles.”
Turns out, in 1974, Ringo was in Los Angeles to record his Goodnight Vienna album, produced by Richard Perry at Sunset Sound Studios. Axton dropped by the studio with an acetate copy of his new “No No Song”—a humorous song about a man constantly being offered drugs and alcohol—and presented it to Ringo for inclusion on the record.
The Beatles' drummer flat out refused it! “I'm not gonna sing a song about fallin' all over the floor!”
In the final hours before the album was finished, as a testament to the brilliance of Ringo's producer—Richard Perry had seen the potential of the song from the start. Perry managed to get the rhythm section to lay down the music and then convinced Ringo to record a vocal track. “No No Song” was a huge hit for Ringo Starr and went to No. 3 in the U.S.
Axton himself was a big proponent of drug use; and, following a stroke in 1995, he continued using marijuana to relieve his pain and stress.
His mother, Mae, suffered a heart attack and drowned in a hot tub at her Tennessee home in 1997. Hoyt also died of a heart attack in Victor, Montana on October 26, 1999, at the age of 61.
On November 1, 2007, he and his mother were inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, the first mother and son to each have written a number one pop single in the rock era.
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#Elvis #MaeAxton #HoytAxton #JacksonvilleFlorida #Folkmusic #Steppenwolf #ThePusher #EasyRider #ThreeDogNight #JoyToTheWorld #NeverBeenToSpain #TheBeatles #RingoStarr #GoodnightVienna #RichardPerry #NoNoSong