Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ain't never been to heaven, but been to Oklahoma

By Rob Carrigan,

I think it was Mae West that postulated that “Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.” Along those lines, one of my favorite characters from the 1960s and early 1970s was
American folk music singer-songwriter, guitarist, and a film and television actor Hoyt Axton.
I was drawn to coincidence, and surprised by how often the fellow's name popped up when I found something that I liked — when I was just a kid.

"Joy to the World," for example, is a song written by Hoyt Axton and made famous by the band Three Dog Night. The song is also popularly known by its opening lyric, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog." 
The song, which has been described by members of Three Dog Night as a "kid's song" and a "silly song," topped the singles charts in North America, was certified gold and has since been covered by many different artists.

The song is featured prominently in the film The Big Chill. It is sung by a child character at the beginning and the Three Dog Night recording is played over the end credits.

For Colorado ties: It is also played at the end of every Denver Broncos home victory. Notable playings of this song after Broncos victories included then-Chicago Bears head coach Abe Gibron's singing along with the song in 1973; and at the end of Super Bowl XXXII, played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. It was also played at the end of Super Bowl XXXIII at Pro Player (now Hard Rock) Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida and Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California.

Other songs notably written by Axton include "The Pusher," made famous by the 1969 movie Easy Rider which used Steppenwolf's version, Ringo Starr's hit "No No Song", and Kingston Trio blockbuster "Greenback Dollar," "Della and the Dealer", and also "Never Been to Spain," also by Three Dog Night.

Louis Weltzer, writing for Ralston Creek Review notes that Hoyt Axton was born on March 25, 1938, making him 31 years old when My Griffin Is Gone was released.  He was old enough and smart enough to understand that he needed to overcome his problems with substance abuse, and it was during this period – the late 1960s and early ’70s – that he wrote some of his best anti-drug songs.  Here, in Colorado, we run into a relative obscure offering on the subject of getting and trying to stay clean,  “On the Natural.”

Shortly before recording the album, Hoyt lived for a time in Crested Butte, Colorado.  It was a slower paced lifestyle than he was used to on the road or in California.  He seems to have realized that if one just catches his breath and looks around, Nature (especially in the Colorado mountains) is miraculous and a better and more lasting “high” than is possible with chemicals.  He tells us that in “On The Natural.”

In the liner notes to the album, Hoyt himself wrote,  “Someone once told me in a dream that truth was a great white bird. Here are some feathers I found.” "On the Natural," was listed as one of those feathers.

“On the Natural”

Would you like to go to Colorado?
Heaven’s there I’m told, in Colorado.
Well I’m leavin’ in the morning
And I’d like to take you with me,
I feel that Colorado is a place we could be happy
In the mountains,
Rocky Mountains
Everybody talk about the place of their dreams
Where they can find peace of mind
I’m not sure but I think it seems
I’ve finally found mine.
In the mountains,
Rocky Mountains.
Up on the mountain
you don’t need your little blue pills,
And there’s a golden light
In them thar hills.
On the natural,
On the natural,
Would you like to be in Colorado?
Something’s drawing me to Colorado.
You can leave all of the hangups
Of the city in the city
And the crystal morning sunshine
Is so pretty
In the mountains,
Rocky Mountains,
[I cannot understand all the words to this verse]
Where have all the buffalo gone?
Up on the mountain you don’t need to blow no grass,
And all the tea you need is sassafras.
On the natural,
On the natural,
Everything is real in Colorado,
And real is how you feel in Colorado,
I’m tired of plastic people
With their neon souls aglow,
So I’m going to Crested Butte, babe,
I’ve just got to try once more
In the mountains,
Rocky Mountains,

Axton however continued to struggle with cocaine addiction and several of his songs, including "The Pusher", "Snowblind Friend," and "No-No Song,"partly reflect his negative drug experiences. However, he was a proponent of marijuana use for many years until he and his wife were arrested in February 1997 at their Montana home for possession of approximately 500 g (1.1 lb) of marijuana. His wife later explained that she offered Axton marijuana to relieve his pain and stress following a 1995 stroke. Both were fined and given deferred sentences. Axton never fully recovered from his stroke, and had to use a wheelchair much of the time afterwards. He died at age 61 at his home in Victor, Montana, on October 26, 1999, after suffering two heart attacks in two weeks.

In 1965, he appeared in an episode of Bonanza, then followed with other TV roles over the years including credits in McCloud, I Dream of Jeanie, Dukes of Hazzard, The Bionic Woman, Murder She Wrote, Different Strokes and many more. As he matured, Axton specialized in playing good ol' boys on television and in films. His face became well known in the 1970s and 1980s through many TV and film appearances, such as in the movies Liar's Moon (1982) playing poor-but-happy farmer Cecil Duncan who is crushed to death when a stack of metal pipes falls on him, The Black Stallion (1979) as the main character's father, and Gremlins (1984) as the protagonist's father.

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