Hoyt Axton? Am I really writing about Hoyt Axton? Why, prior to 12:30 PM of last week’s Tuesday I hadn’t thought about this gentleman in so long it might as well have been forever. And although I’m certain that I used to know a few bits about him, I couldn’t in a million years have told you more than one-tenth of an iota of what I used to knew. Was he once a presence on TV and in movies? Did he write some songs that made it into the mainstream? I’d have guessed yes to both queries, but any specifics would have been beyond my reach. My memories of Hoyt were nothing but the dimmest and vaguest, buried in the dark and dusty recesses of what passes for my mind.
I’ve done some research on Hoyt since then, as any good reporter would. A few hours delving into the vaults of Wikipedia and its brethren have helped bring him to life for me. And what I’ve learned tells me that a lot of people knew about him in his heyday, which took up much of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I should have remembered that. Hoyt, who died in 1999 at age 61, was a fairly big star. He was an occasional actor on the small and big screens, popping up in I Dream Of Jeannie and McCloud, for example, on the former, and in The Black Stallion on the latter. But, more than anything, Hoyt was a music man, a singer-songwriter mostly in the folkie/country/pop veins, who recorded around 25 albums filled with many of his own compositions and who toured all over the place for years. He often imbued his lyrics with wry or idiosyncratic slants and visions. And though he never exactly set the Billboard music charts afire with his own waxings, some of his songs found fine and enduring success in the hands of others. How many millions of people have heard Three Dog Night’s version of Joy To The World (click here to listen)? Too many to count. And though there are some who haven’t encountered Ringo Starr’s irresistibly bouncy immersion in The No No Song (click here), or Steppenwolf’s grinding take on The Pusher (click here) . . . well, that’s their loss.
But you know what, I’ve digressed as far as I need to. Just a little bit to my left, and I can see it clearly, is the bottomless rabbit hole that an extensive investigation of Hoyt, or of just about anybody for that matter, would ensnare me in. Help! I’m a muser, not a biographer. Rabbit holes and I don’t get along! This story, you see, isn’t meant to be so much about Hoyt as it is about getting jazzed by the simple things in life, good things that show up from out of the blue and make you say wowza. Such as hearing a song you’ve never heard before that sets you flying.
There I was, then, at 12:30 PM a week ago Tuesday, driving home from who knows where, when I flipped the car radio to WPRB, Princeton University’s radio station whose programming is unpredictable, wild and sometimes wooly. A song was in progress, and immediately I liked what I heard. The song moved at a languid pace, buoyed by spare, shimmering keyboard notes, quiet yet urgent vocals and delicate percussion work. It floated, it drifted and it took me aboard. Spacey and wispy, it made me wish that I was 30 or 40 years younger, toking up to enjoy the journey even more. Potless though I was, the song put me in a most excellent frame of mind: Calm, open. Yeah, man . . . a superb way to be.
What song was I listening to? Undoubtedly something by a modern day neo-psychedelic conjurer, I figured. But noooooo. A few minutes later the song ended and the DJ started talking. You could have knocked me over with a magic mushroom when he said that the track, Kingswood Manor (click here), was performed by Hoyt Axton, he whose name, as I mentioned, I hadn’t thought about in eons. I couldn’t recall ever hearing Hoyt sing a song before.
Well, my mini high lasted for a decent spell beyond the song’s end. And I’ve since revisited Kingswood Manor a number of times, diligent and conscientious blogger that I am. It comes from Hoyt’s obscure 1969 album My Griffin Is Gone. Hoyt solely wrote or co-wrote all of its tunes. I’ve listened to it from start to finish on YouTube. MGIG, I imagine, isn’t a conventional Hoyt album, dressed up as many of its songs are with strings and baroque strokes. I also gave a listen online to his 1977 album Road Songs, a country and honky-tonk workout that probably is more typically Hoyt. And I have to say that overall I prefer Road Songs to Griffin. Road Songs’ songwriting seems more focused and stronger. But Kingswood Manor? Sure, lyrically it’s unsettling, what with its trippy looks into a troubled mind. At song’s finish, has the protagonist escaped from madness, finding bliss? I believe you can argue the puzzle either way. Whatever the case, I find the words fascinating. It’s the sonics and mood, though, that I concentrate on, because for me that’s where Kingswood Manor’s power is at. To me the song is magnifique, the type of creation that rings my astral bells just right. I don’t know how the Princeton DJ ever came across Kingswood Manor. It’s one of those tunes that only relative handfuls of folks are familiar with. But glad I am that he did.
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