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Axton resurfaced in 1963 with Thunder 'N Lightnin', followed later that year by Saturday's Child; around that same time one of his best friends suffered a fatal drug overdose, inspiring his song "The Pusher," a hit for the rock band Steppenwolf subsequently included on the soundtrack to the film Easy Rider. Despite his success as a songwriter, Axton's performing career failed to catch fire, and after 1965's Sings Bessie Smith he was without a recording contract for several years before signing to Columbia in 1969 to issue My Griffin Is Gone. While opening for Three Dog Night in support of the album, the band heard his composition "Joy to the World" -- their recording of the song topped the pop charts in the spring of 1971 -- and early the following year they returned to the Top Ten with Axton's "Never Been to Spain." He signed to A&M to release 1973's Less Than the Song; the follow-up, Life Machine, launched two of his biggest solo hits, the lovely "When the Morning Comes" (a duet with Linda Ronstadt) and "Boney Fingers." In 1975, Ringo Starr also notched a Top Three smash with Axton's "The No No Song."
Following the much-acclaimed 1977 album Snowblind Friend, Axton completed his deal with MCA with the release of Free Sailin'; he then formed his own label, Jeremiah Records, and with 1979's A Rusty Old Halo scored his biggest solo hit with the classic "Della and the Dealer." In the wake of appearances on dozens of television series including I Dream of Jeannie and McCloud, he landed his first major film work that same year in the acclaimed family drama The Black Stallion; Axton's subsequent movie roles included co-starring appearances in projects including 1983's Heart Like a Wheel, 1984's Gremlins, and 1989's We're No Angels. After 1982's Pistol Packin' Mama, Jeremiah folded, and Axton was noticeably absent from recording until issuing the comeback album Spin of the Wheel in 1990. The LP was Axton's last major new release, however, and in 1996 he suffered a stroke; his health continued to decline, and after a series of heart attacks he died October 26, 1999 at the age of 61. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi