As one of three composers of “Always On My Mind,” Wayne Carson waited for nearly a decade before the song before Elvis Presley made it a top 20 hit on the Hot 100 in 1972. But, with Willie Nelson‘s recording of the song, his name was written in the history books as one of the great songwriters of the past fifty years.
Carson passed away Monday morning at age 72, leaving behind a career that spanned the decades with writing credits on a number of country and pop classics to his name. 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 the song on its first listen, but thought it was too short. Arnold personally called the young tunesmith and asked him to write another verse. Carson did so and Arnold made the song a No. 1 hit on the Billboard country charts in 1966.
The 1960s and 1970s 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 ten 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, as he was undergoing a divorce from 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 take it all the way to the top of the country charts — in addition to No. 5 on the Hot 100 — for his strongest showing on that chart to date. “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 both 1982 and 1983 — one of only two songs to win the award two years in a row.
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. Carson’s passing comes just a few days after the announcement that James — one of his co-writers on “Always” would join him this fall as a member of the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.
Carson is survived by a wife and a son.