Wayne Carson, "Always on My Mind" Songwriter, Dies at 72

Wayne Carson Music
Wayne Carson

The tune was a hit for Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson. The Grammy winner also wrote "The Letter," recorded by The Box Tops and Joe Cocker.

As one of three composers of "Always on My Mind," Wayne Carson watched as Elvis Presley made it a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 in 1972. But with Willie Nelson’s recording of the song a decade later, Carson's name was written in the history books as one of the great songwriters of the past 50 years.

Carson died July 20 of congestive heart failure in Franklin, Tenn., leaving behind a long career that included a number of country and pop classics. He was 72.

Born Wayne Carson Thompson in Denver, his parents were professional musicians. The family moved to Springfield, Mo., where they found work at KWTO Radio. Inspired by Merle Travis, Carson picked up the guitar during his teenage years and eventually began writing songs.

One of those compositions, "Somebody Like Me," would find its way to Chet Atkins and RCA Victor. The producer played the song for Eddy Arnold, who liked it on its first listen but thought it was too short. Arnold called the young tunesmith and asked him to write another verse. Carson did, and Arnold took the song to No. 1 on the Billboard country charts in 1966.

 

The 1960s and ’70s were full of career highlights for Carson, as he wrote hits including "The Letter" for The Box Tops (as well as Joe Cocker), "No Love at All" for B.J. Thomas and "Who’s Julie," which became Mel Tillis first top 10 hit in 1968.

After Gwen McCrae and Brenda Lee originally recorded "Always on My Mind," Presley made it a hit with his cut in 1972, just as he was undergoing a divorce from his wife, Priscilla. The pain-drenched track hit the top 20 on both the country and pop charts for the singer. A decade later, Nelson would bring it to the top of the country charts — in addition to No. 5 on the Hot 100 — for his strongest career showing on that chart. 

"Always on My Mind" also won CMA, ACM, NSAI and Grammy trophies for Carson (along with co-writers Johnny Christopher and Mark James) and was named Song of the Year in 1982 and 1983 — one of only two hits to win the award two straight years.

Among the other artists to record Carson’s songs were Conway Twitty, the Beach Boys and Tina Turner.

Carson was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997. His death came just a few days after the announcement that James, one of his co-writers on "Always," would join him there.

Survivors include his wife, Wyndi, and son, Christopher.

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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