Songwriter Wayne Carson Dies at 72
Wayne Carson -- the professional songwriter whose prolific output included hits for Elvis Presley, Joe Cocker and many others -- has died at the age of 72 after a long struggle against what are being described as "various health issues."
Even though Carson's career credits included a long list of pop and country Top 20 hits, he was arguably best known for penning two songs in particular: "The Letter," which was a No. 1 hit for the Box Tops in 1967, and "Always on My Mind," which achieved chart success repeatedly through different artists' interpretations after Presley had a country hit with it in 1972.
As Carson told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, "Always on My Mind" — which was then enjoying a fresh resurgence thanks to the Pet Shop Boys' hit cover — was inspired by an apologetic phone call home to his wife, who was annoyed that a business trip he'd taken was taking weeks longer than he'd planned. "She was pretty damned irate about it, so I tried to calm her down," he explained. "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."
Born to a musical family, Carson started out forming bands in the early '60s before finding his niche as a songwriter, and enjoyed his first chart success with Eddy Arnold's recording of his song "Somebody Like Me" in 1966. By the early '70s, he'd built enough of a reputation to secure a record contract in his own right, and released a series of albums into the early '80s, but slowly withdrew from a full-time presence in the business due to an increasing disenchantment with what he saw as growing corporate control.
"Outside of politics, I think the music business is about as nasty a business as I've ever encountered," he told Classic Bands. "You got to have somebody that represents you. I do anyway, because if I didn't, I'd end up shooting somebody. I'm serious. If I had to do business starting over today, about the first one of them that stepped on my toes hard enough, I'd just put a bullet in 'em. You're not gonna do that to me." Ultimately, he shrugged, "I'd rather be fishing anyway."
Even as he receded from the full-time songwriting life, Carson's compositions continued to find new homes — Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach recorded Carson's "I Want Some More" for his solo album, Keep It Hid — and he remained well-respected among his peers, who inducted him into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2011, he was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, who made Carson part of their Poets and Prophets series.
Even though he spoke at a number of songwriting seminars later in his career, Carson always maintained that writing a song wasn't something that could be taught — that it was more like discovering a story that was already there, waiting to be told. "To me, a good song tells a story that everyone would like to say," he told the Los Angeles Times. "A song that leads people to say, 'God, that song's me."
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