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by Brenda L. Madden

With a lengthy and illustrious career in the entertainment industry, Mae Boren Axton, often referred to as the “Queen Mother of Nashville” and the “First Lady of Rock ‘N Roll,” was an extraordinary leader, a hit songwriter, outstanding publicist and all around talent scout. In addition to the long list of awards, accolades and accomplishments to her credit – she offered a helping hand to many of today’s country music superstars from Willie Nelson to Tanya Tucker; not to mention leading the way for women now working on Music Row.

Born in Bardwell, Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Mae displayed an early interest in writing, selling her first article to a magazine before graduating high school. Attending the University of Oklahoma, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism; after which she received her teaching certificate and taught English as well as writing for Life Magazine. Also starting a family, she married John T. Axton, an officer in the U.S. Navy, and had two sons, Hoyt and John, Jr.

An assignment for Life Magazine, a story about “Hillbillies,” brought Mae to the Big D Jamboree in Dallas and also to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, where she first met comedienne, Minnie Pearl. While in Music City, music publishing executive, Fred Rose needed a song for a music convention later that day and it was Minnie that volunteered Mae to write one. After much encouragement, in only a few hours, “Count Me In (Because Baby I Like That Kind Of Carrying On)” was written and became Mae’s first country song to hit the charts.

When John was stationed in Jacksonville, Florida, the family relocated and Mae resumed teaching high school English; although during this time, she was also dabbling in public relations and promoting shows in the Jacksonville, Orlando and Daytona Beach area.

In 1955, Mae was hosting a radio show and promoting concerts for Col. Tom Parker, at which time, she met a young Elvis Presley. Captivated by his performance and charm, Mae knew he was more than just another singer. During a conversation while overlooking the ocean, Elvis commented to Mae, “I’d give anything in the world if I had enough money to bring Mama and Daddy down here.” She decided then that she was going to write a song that would earn enough money for him to do just that and she did!

With songwriting partner, Tommy Durden, Mae wrote the legendary song, “Heartbreak Hotel” which remains one of Elvis’ most memorable songs and first million-seller. The idea for the song came from a suicide reported in the local newspaper. The man had left a note that simply said “I walk a lonely street.” Inspired by that line, Mae added “Heartbreak Hotel” and the rest is history. Remembering that conversation on the beach, Mae agreed to give Elvis one third of the song. She once commented, “The song made Elvis, but Elvis made the song.” “Heartbreak Hotel” was Elvis’ first single for RCA Records and has been recorded by countless others including Ann-Margret, Chet Atkins, Pat Boone, Delaney and Bonnie, Adam Faith, Frijid Pink, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson with Leon Russell, John Cale, the Portsmouth Sinfonia, Donna Fargo and Conway Twitty.

As a publicist and friend, Mae played an integral role in the careers of some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry from Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Pasty Cline and Reba McEntire to Tanya Tucker, Mel Tillis, and Dolly Parton, not to mention her own son, Hoyt Axton.


Hoyt Axton and Mother Mae on "Hee Haw"

A successful singer, songwriter and actor in his own right, Hoyt wrote hits like “Never Been To Spain” and “Joy To The World” recorded by Three Dog Night as well as appearing in movies like “The Black Stallion” and “Gremlins.” Always proud to have his mother by his side, he once commented about hiring her as his publicist, “She’s on my team. She’s been involved in my career from the beginning and she probably understands it as well as anyone.” In later years, Mae formed her own record label releasing albums on Hoyt as well as Mel McDaniel and Mario Martin.

Whether wearing the hat of publicist, songwriter, disc jockey, journalist, or record label executive, Mae was a woman of strength, talent, integrity and inspiration.


Thank you for the music, we will remember you always, Mae Boren Axton!



Special Thanks to Jan Woods
For Providing the Photos
 
 
 

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