By Denise Miller
“Jeremiah was a bullfrog”: the opening line to the popular 1971 hit song “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night is as well known today as it was back then. The song, and the bullfrog, captured America’s imagination and heart, becoming one of the big hits of the 70’s. This song’s writer, Hoyt Axton, was born on March 25, 1938 in Duncan, Oklahoma. The song would become part of a legacy of his hit songs that would weave into the fabric of American popular music.
Axtonwas born in 1938 to Mae Boren Axton, who was also a noted songwriter. She co-wrote the song “Heartbreak Hotel” which became a huge hit for Elvis Presley. His father, John, was a Navy Officer stationed in Jacksonville, Florida where the family lived. Axton, himself, enlisted in the Navy after finishing school and served on the USS Ranger.
After his Navy discharge, Axton went to the west coast and became a folksinger in several nightclubs. His first album, The Balladeer, contained the song “Greenback Dollar” which was recorded by the Kingston Trio. The 1970’s and 1980’s spawned a succession of albums producing a line of hit songs. Most notable were: “Boney Fingers,” “When the Morning Comes,” “Della and the Dealer,” and “Jealous Man.” His songs were recorded by many popular artists. “Joy to the World” and “Never Been to Spain” were hits for Three Dog Night. “Snow Blind Friend” and “The Pusher” were big hits for Steppenwolf, and Ringo Star had a hit with Axton’s “NO-NO Song”.
Others who had used Axton’s music include Joan Baez, John Denver, Waylon Jennings and Anne Murray. Axton sang duets with Linda Rondstadt including, “Lion in the Winter” and, most notably, “When the Morning Comes,” which became a top 40 hit. “Joy to the World” was number one on the charts for six weeks in 1971 and was “Hit of the Year!”
Axton also had success in television. In 1963 he first appeared on the show, The Story of a Folksinger. In 1965 he was on an episode of Bonanza. He had many other appearances on television thoughout the 70’s and 80’s, as well. He also narrated several documentaries and television series on the Nashville Network. Axton composed and sang the theme song for the sitcom Flo as well as wrote several songs for the film Outlaw Blues. Those songs were sung by Peter Fonda. He wrote and sang some commercial jingles, including “The Ballad of Big Mac” for McDonalds and “Head for the Mountains” for Busch beer. Axton has been seen on the big screen in Gremlins and Black Stallion.
Hoyt Axton passed away on October 26, 1999 from a heart attack. He left behind a rich treasury of music. His career includes 24 albums, 25 singles, 17 movies, and 13 TV shows plus commercial jingles! On November 1, 2007 he and his mother Mae were both posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Not bad for a Bullfrog!
© When Magazine
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