Leon III surprised fans on Friday with a cover of “Kingswood Manor” by Hoyt Axton. The cover from cult 1960s West Coast singer-songwriter also serves as a fundraiser for the SIMS Foundation, a local Austin, TX organization that provides mental health services and substance abuse assistance for music industry professionals.
Taken from Griffin’s 1969 album, My Griffin Is Gone, “Kingswood Manor” reads like Ween source material. The psychedelic Pink Floyd tones are balanced out with ludicrous lyrics, beginning with the opening, “Floating through the air on a cotton candy cloud.” These sonic templates are further broadened by Leon III—headed by Andy Stepanian (vocals) and Mason Brent (guitar) who command a stable of session musicians—who play up the trancelike tendencies of the track.
“I came across Hoyt Axton’s 1969 album My Griffin is Gone in 2020,” Stepanian said in a statement. “Like a lot of people, I discovered all kinds of music during the COVID months but My Griffin is Gone really stood out to me. I played it a lot. The record rambles all over the place and it has this very late 60’s psychedelic folk thread running through it that is borderline absurd at times. There are quasi-cheesy string arrangements and songs with lyrics about ‘riding on a green velvet dragon’ but there’s also a manic darkness to the record that offsets all of this and grounds it as a serious, singular work.”
Though Axton is not a household name, he exists as a songwriter’s songwriter. Like J.J. Cale, his works are best known for their interpretations by other artists, from Steppenwolf and Blind Melon‘s cover of “The Pusher” to “Snowblind Friend” from Vic Chesnutt and Widespread Panic‘s supergroup brute. Axton was also an actor, appearing in a number of films including Gremlins and Black Stallion.
For every download on Bandcamp and save on Spotify/Apple Music, Leon III will make a donation to the SIMS Foundation. Stream Leon III’s cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Kingswood Manor” via the player below or on your preferred streaming platform. Scroll down to read Stepanian’s full statement.
Leon III – “Kingswood Manor” (Hoyt Axton)
I came across Hoyt Axton’s 1969 album “My Griffin is Gone” in 2020. Like a lot of people, I discovered all kinds of music during the COVID months but “My Griffin is Gone” really stood out to me. I played it a lot. The record rambles all over the place and it has this very late 60’s psychedelic folk thread running through it that is borderline absurd at times. There are quasi-cheesy string arrangements and songs with lyrics about “riding on a green velvet dragon” but there’s also a manic darkness to the record that offsets all of this and grounds it as a serious, singular work.
After digging into it I realized I knew a bunch of Axton’s songs that were made famous by others like ‘The Pusher’ that Steppenwolf did (although I only know the Blind Melon version) and ‘Snowblind Friend’ that I knew from the Vic Chesnutt / Widespread Panic collab called brute. And, of course, everyone knows Joy to the World. He was also an actor in movies like Gremlins and Black Stallion.
‘Kingswood Manor’ hit me most on the album. It encapsulates the duality of the entire record. It has these over-the-top lyrics about “floating through the air on a cotton candy cloud” and “crystal Buddhas from the sea” and chimey lullaby sounds but it also has a dark underbelly about struggling to find bliss in the throws of mental illness. It’s a disconcerting song but also soothing and hopeful.
A few months back we had a day to kill in Nashville and I thought it would be fun to go into our friend Kai Welch’s studio and try and get down a version of ‘Kingswood Manor.’ It was a super relaxed session. We had exhausted ourselves for two whole days before shooting a live set so we had no real agenda or expectation. Some friends who had played on our Antlers in Velvet record like Paul Niehaus (Justin Townes Earle) and Tony Crow (Lambchop) stopped in to play and producer Paul Ebersold (Morgan Wade) just stopped in to hang and talk shit. We had a great day. After we were gone, Kai got Molly Martin to come in and sing background vocals. She really brought the song together and gave it a timeless feel.
After it was all mixed we thought it would be cool to release the song digitally and try to use the occasion to do some good.
– Andy Stepanian, Leon III