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Hoyt Axton was always on the fringe of rock 'n' roll stardom. He found incredible success as a songwriter, and marginal success as a recording artist, performer and later, film actor. Though his name may not be on instantly recognizable, some of the songs he wrote will remain popular for decades to come.
Axton was a burly figure in the late 1950s and early '60s, and was originally positioned to become a professional athlete while attending college in Oklahoma. College was followed by a stint in the U.S. Navy. When he was discharged in the early 1960s he decided to pursue a music career, a legacy his mother (an English teacher and part time lyricist) had begun with a then-unknown Elvis Presley. Hoyt's mother, Mae Boren Axton, is best known as the lyricist for "Heartbreak Hotel."
With his first album release in 1963, Axton embarked on a music career that lasted over 35 years and yielded some of the biggest pop records of the '70s. Equally capable of writing folk, rock and country songs, Axton usually toured with just an acoustic guitar or one or two other musicians. Several years passed on the coffeehouse circuit before he eventually hooked up with some of the bigger rock bands of the 1960s and '70s. Hoyt Axton eventually developed a solid repertoire that began in the late 1960s when he wrote "The Pusher," one of the most controversial drug songs of its time. It was recorded by Steppenwolf on its debut album that included "Born To Be Wild." "The Pusher" was clearly an anti-drug song, but was banned by the FCC because of the lyric "You know I've smoked a lot of pot; I popped a lot of pills…" Axton wrote another anti-drug song for Steppenwolf that the FCC also banned, called "Snowblind Friend," that appeared on a later album.
In the early 1970s, he was brought in to write songs for pop group Three Dog Night. Axton would contribute two of the band's biggest hits of all time: "Never Been To Spain," and "Joy To The World." Over the years he continued to write, produce and act. He is best known for his role as the father/inventor in the Warner Brothers film, Gremlins. He died in 1999, at age 61, after suffering a stroke and a heart attack.