Writer of wistful pop-country ballads including the hit 'Always on My Mind'
Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30
Wayne Carson, the American songwriter who died on Monday aged 72, was responsible for such popular classics as The Letter and Always on My Mind, which became hits for a variety of artists on both sides of the Atlantic.
Carson had the gift of being able to convey universal human emotions in an original, almost conversational way - perhaps most notably in Always on My Mind, a song recorded by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson and 800 other artists, including the Pet Shop Boys: "Maybe I didn't love you quite as often as I could have /Little things I should have said and done / I just never took the time / You were always on my mind." Inspiration for the song came to Carson in 1972 during a telephone call when he was attempting to explain to his wife why he had stayed in Memphis for 10 days longer than he had originally planned.
"She was pretty damned irate about it," he recalled. "So I tried to calm her down. I said, 'Well, I know I've been gone a lot, but I've been thinking about you all the time' - and it just struck me like someone had hit me with a hammer. I told her real fast I had to hang up because I had to put that into a song."
First released in 1972 by Elvis Presley, Always on My Mind was only a modest success at first in the United States because disc jockeys thought the song on the other side of the record Separate Ways was more appropriate, given the recent breakdown of Elvis's marriage to his wife Priscilla. In Britain, however, Always on My Mind was the hit song, reaching No 9 in the charts, while Separate Ways was the B-side.
It did not re-enter the American charts until Willie Nelson recorded it in 1982, when it went straight to No 1 in the Billboard chart, was named the Country Music Association's song of the year and won singer and songwriter three Grammys the following year.
In 1987 the Pet Shop Boys performed a synthesiser-driven dance version of the song on an ITV television special commemorating the 10th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death and later decided to release it as a single. It became Britain's Christmas No 1 that year.
If purists decried the Pet Shop Boys version as sacrilege, Carson kept an open mind, recalling that "when I finally heard it, I thought, 'Hell, that's a great record.' I don't think you can hurt a good song, and this is living proof."
He was born Wayne Carson Head on May 31, 1943, in Denver, Colorado. His parents were country musicians with a stage act called Shorty & Sue and the family moved to Springfield, Missouri, when Wayne was a boy.
Initially he wanted to become a performer himself and, inspired by the country guitarist Merle Travis, began learning the guitar aged 14.
His first success came with Eddy Arnold's recording of Somebody Like Me in 1966, which went to No 1 in the country charts and stayed there for four weeks. "
The following year Carson's father showed him a short story he had written called Her Last Letter, and asked him if he could perhaps turn it into a song. Carson was immediately struck by a phrase halfway down the third page - "Ticket for an aeroplane." In America the word is more usually spelled and pronounced "airplane", but the three-syllable version struck a chord. Carson would claim that he simply sat down and wrote The Letter in about as much time as it would take to sing it.
The song ("Gimme a ticket for an aer-o-plane/Ain't got time to take a fast train/ Lonely days are gone, I'm a-goin' home/My baby, just-a wrote me a letter") was recorded more than 850 times, becoming an international smash hit for the Box Tops in 1967, and in 1970 for Joe Cocker.
Other artists who recorded his songs included the Beach Boys, Ike and Tina Turner, Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings and Glen Campbell.
Carson is survived by his third wife and fellow songwriter, Wyndi Harp, and by a son.