Posts Tagged ‘Hoyt Axton’

Back To Garden City

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

As you might recall, we spent a little bit of time last Saturday poking around a music survey released on March 15, 1974, by radio station KUPK of Garden City, Kansas. The thirty-record survey showed some familiar records, mostly at the upper end, and a fair number of records not so familiar. Four of the records on the KUPK survey, I noted, didn’t even dent the Billboard charts or its Bubbling Under section, and I chose one of those four – “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax – for our Saturday Single.

In addition, I noted that nine other records on the Garden City survey were ranked a good deal higher than they ever got on the Billboard charts. Now, it’s not out of the ordinary for records to do better in one market than they do nationally. But thirteen out of thirty? That seemed a bit odd. Here, listed by their rankings on the KUPK survey, are those thirteen records and their Billboard peaks:

No. 12: “Star” by Stealers Wheel, No. 29.
No. 16: “On A Night Like This” by Bob Dylan, No. 44.
No. 19: “I’m A Train” by Albert Hammond, No. 31.
No. 20: “Music Eyes” by Heartsfield, No. 95.
No. 22: “Roll It” by Nino Tempo & 5th Ave. Sax, did not chart.
No. 23: “Skybird” by Neil Diamond, No. 75.
No. 24: “Loving Arms” by Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, No. 86.
No. 25: “You’re So Unique” by Billy Preston, No. 48.
No. 26: “When The Morning Comes” by Hoyt Axton, No. 54.
No. 27: “All The Kings And Castles” by Shawn Phillips, did not chart.
No. 28: “Stone Country” by Johnny Winter, did not chart.
No. 29: “Invisible Song” by the Rainbow Canyon Band, did not chart.
No. 30: “Pepper Box” by the Peppers, No. 76.

Seven of those records were unfamiliar to me, though I knew most of the performers and one of the songs. I’d never heard of the Rainbow Canyon Band (listed only as “Rainbow Canyon” on the KUPK survey) or the Peppers. And I’ve known the song “Loving Arms” for years, but I’d never heard Kris and Rita’s cover. So after sharing “Roll It” last Saturday, I went and found videos of the six remaining unfamiliar records. Then, even though the Shawn Phillips track was one that I knew, I posted a video of it because it was one of those listed that did not chart in Billboard.

The Rainbow Canyon Band, according to the YouTube poster, was a well-known Cleveland group that came to the attention of James Gang drummer Jim Fox, who produced “Invisible Song” and brought James Gang guitarist Tommy Bolin to the sessions. The Peppers, according to Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, were an instrumental duo from Paris; “Pepper Box” was the duo’s only charting single.

As I noted last week, I’m not a chart maven; I do have a sense that the KUPK survey is odd in hosting so many singles that out-perform their national ranking. And I noticed a couple of other things that intrigued me about the KUPK survey.

First, in addition to the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, the survey – seen here – had a ten-record listing for easy listening and a twenty-record listing for country, so just from those three lists, it’s evident that the station had vastly different sorts of programming for different day-parts, something not at all rare for small town stations (and, by our estimate based on the 1970 and 1980 censuses listed at Wikipedia, Garden City had about 16,000 residents in 1974).

Supporting that assumption are three notes in the text at the top of the survey: “Capt. Weird, Roger Unruh” offered listeners the program Rock Garden on Saturday nights from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m.; Jim Throneberry, the “Morning Mayor” was on the air from 7 to 9; and a new voice on the station was that of Bob Hill, who ran the Country Show from 5:30 to 10 p.m. (And I wonder if some of the records in the “Pop & Contemporary” listing might not have been heard on Capt. Weird’s Rock Garden.)

Here’s a guess at KUPK’s weekday: A morning show with news and farm reports from 4 to 7 a.m. followed by Jim Throneberry until 9 a.m., and then maybe easy listening (with some news at noon) until 5 p.m. After more news, country music from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Then more news, and “Pop & Contemporary” until 4 the next morning. (Perhaps on the FM side; the AM side went off the air at sunset, as friend and faithful reader Yah Shure notes below.)

After pondering that, I took a closer look at the “Pop & Contemporary” listing, and I was struck by the volatility of the survey. Of the thirty records listed, sixteen were new to the survey that week, including two in the top ten: Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling” and Rick Derringer’s “Rock & Roll, Hoochie Koo.” I’d love to have seen the KUPK surveys from the week before and the week after, but unfortunately, the March 15, 1974, survey is the only one from KUPK available at the Airheads Radio Survey Archive, and a quick Googling found no others (although I did learn that the Davis Sisters of nearby Meade, sponsored by KUPK, won the 1973 Kansas State Fair Talent Contest).

As it happens, KUPK radio is no longer on the air; KUPK-TV is a satellite station of KAKE-TV in Wichita, about two hundred miles away; a segment of KAKE’s nightly show originates from a newsroom at the KUPK studios. I assume that arrangement dates from the Garden City station’s founding in 1964, as the call letters KUPK, according to Wikipedia, are meant to symbolize Kup-Kake.

(The station’s history is not quite right in that preceding paragraph. Yah Shure also untangled the KUPK story in his note, and he gets my thanks.)

So what does all this mean? I have absolutely no idea. It’s just interesting stuff – interesting to me, anyway – from forty years ago. And we’ll close this morning with what’s likely my favorite record of the thirty listed on the KUPK Music Survey from mid-March 1974: “When The Morning Comes,” on which Hoyt Axton got some help from Linda Ronstadt. As noted above, the record – from Axton’s 1974 album Life Machine – went to No. 54 on the Billboard pop chart (and to No. 10 on the country chart).

‘My Pony Wants To Run . . .’

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

When folks talk about Hoyt Axton, most often they talk about him as a songwriter, I’d guess. And that’s fair, at least on the pop side of things. His catalog of songs at the BMI site contains more than two hundred titles, and he’s remembered for penning at least five well-known songs: “Greenback Dollar,” a No. 21 hit for the Kingston Trio in 1963; Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” and “Snowblind Friend,” the latter of which went to No. 60 in 1971; and Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” (No. 1 in 1971) and “Never Been to Spain” (No. 5 in 1972).

As a performer, Axton put out twenty-five albums – based on the listing at Wikipedia – starting with Saturday’s Child in 1963 and ending with Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog in 1996, three years before his death at the age of sixty-one. Two of those albums made the Billboard 200: Southbound went to No. 188 in 1975, and Fearless went to No. 171 in 1976. (In 1971, presumably after Three Dog Night’s success with “Joy to the World,” Axton’s similarly titled album bubbled under the album chart at No. 215.)

He had similar results with singles: In 1974, “When The Morning Comes” from his Life Machine album went to No. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100, and a double-sided single in 1975, “Speed Trap/Nashville,” bubbled under at Nos. 105 and 106 respectively.

Things were considerably different for Axton on the country charts, however. According to the information at Wikipedia, nine of his albums made the Billboard country chart between 1974 and 1982; the highest ranking was Life Machine, which went to No. 21. And Axton placed fourteen country singles into the Billboard charts during those years. His highest ranking country single was “Boney Fingers” from Life Machine, which went to No. 8 in 1974.

I don’t know Axton’s music well. I’ve got a copy of Life Machine in the vinyl stacks waiting to be ripped to mp3s. It looks like I picked it up at a garage sale in Minneapolis in 1994, and I evidently played it once and then ignored it. I also have a couple of his albums in the digital stacks, and I have versions of four of the five prominent songs mentioned at the top of this piece. (For some reason, I do not have his version of “Joy to the World,” a gap that’s going to have to be filled.)

So why write about Axton if I don’t have a lot of his music and don’t know very much about him and his life? Well, because I stumbled this week into a video of “When The Morning Comes,” and I recalled hearing it somewhere during June 1974. I’m not sure where that would have been, as the record peaked at the time I was more or less house-bound as I recovered from a lung ailment. So it was either on the radio or on a jukebox when my folks and I went out for dinner. I lean toward the latter, as we often went to places whose jukeboxes were stocked with country records, and “When The Morning Comes” went to No. 10 on the country chart. I might even have walked over to the jukebox to see what it was and then told myself to look into it. I don’t know.

Wherever I heard it back then, I ran into it again this week, and I remembered hearing it and liking it thirty-nine years ago this month. And until this week, I’ve been oblivious to the fact that I’ve had a copy of it sitting between the Average White Band and Aztec Two-Step for nine years.

Whatever I might have thought back then and even though I evidently ignored it in 1994, I caught up with the record this week. And it reminded me that Hoyt Axton remains among the many artists whose music I need to know better. Here, with a major assist from Linda Ronstadt, is Axton’s 1974 track, “When The Morning Comes.”