Hoyt Axton

First rising to prominence as a songwriter, Hoyt Axton carved out successful careers as a singer and actor as well; rooted equally in country, folk and pop, his gravelly baritone and wry, earthy songs projected an uncommon wit, warmth, and optimism, yielding a consistently engaging body of work extending across four decades. Axton was born March 25, 1938 in Duncan, OK, the son of a naval officer and his English teacher wife. Raised primarily in Jacksonville, FL, he studied classical piano as a child before switching to guitar, writing his first songs at 15. Despite the musical impact of his mother, Mae Boren Axton -- the co-author of Elvis Presley's landmark 1956 chart-topper "Heartbreak Hotel" -- he initially pursued a career in athletics, attending Oklahoma State University on a football scholarship before serving a stint in the navy. From there Axton relocated to San Francisco, performing at local folk clubs and in 1962 writing his first hit, the Kingston Trio's "Greenback Dollar." Later that year he issued his first album, The Balladeer, a live effort recorded at the Hollywood nightspot the Troubadour; a concurrent appearance on the television western Bonanza also launched his acting career.