Hoyt Axton is one of those songwriters like Jimmy Webb whose music I know best from others’ interpretations. Axton penned classic tunes such as “Joy To The World,” “Never Been To Spain” and “The Pusher,” of which the first two became huge hits for Three Dog Night, while Steppenwolf’s John Kay put his inimitable spin on the latter tune. All the while, Axton was busy writing more songs and recording his own material. His music ventured from folk to folk-rock in the 1960s and then into country in the 1970s. Omni Recordings, a reissue specialist based in Australia, has brought back Axton’s My Griffin Is Gone, gracing it with an extra 12 tracks: Four are sides from 45s only, the other eight were previously unreleased, including Axton covering Jackson Browne’s “She’s A Flying Thing,” a song never released by Browne himself. Pretty cool.
My Griffin Is Gone was originally issued in 1969, at a time when Axton was dealing with personal demons and watching his friends struggle with drug addiction or recovery from substance abuse. Axton had admittedly entered into an experimental phase with LSD, and the imagery from trips good and bad seem to permeate this record. As well, Axton looked to the Bible for inspiration on tunes such as “Revelations” and “Ten Thousand Sunsets” (one of the bonus tracks), a powerful, sitar-driven plea for love, where Axton asserts, “There really is a God. You can bet your life on it,” with almost religious fervor.
Omni has taken Griffin and put the tracks back in their original running order, opening with the idyllic “Way Before The Time Of Towns,” a floating track with a lush string accompaniment that features a very rich Axton vocal. The arrangements aren’t as complex as many records of the day, but the orchestration does play a large part in fleshing out these songs. Following is “Beelzebub’s Laughter,” a scathing attack on war and its effects on children across the globe. “On The Natural” is Axton’s offer to take a friend to the nurturing outdoors of Colorado, away from the big city and its impersonal trappings. “Sunshine Fields Of Love” sounds like a lost Donovan track, while “Snowblind Friend” is a haunting account of drug dependency. Axton wasn’t all heavy, though, as evidenced by “Speed Trap (I’m The Cop In A Little Bitty Town),” a humorous tale of a small-town badge dedicated to ticket writing and his bank account; still, his demo of “The Pusher” is as bitter as they come. “Morning Star” is a gentle, finger-picked number that sounds like early James Taylor. And that’s the spirit that flows through this release – one of an artist unbounded by convention, expectation or genre. Axton was an artist unto himself, and this reissue brings fully out that sentiment.