Hall Of Fame Songwriter Mark James Passes (2024)

Mark James

Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame songwriter Mark James has died at age 83.

James was behind such enduring hits as “Suspicious Minds,” “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Always On My Mind.” In addition to his many honors in Music City, he was also a multiple Grammy Award winner in L.A. and a 2014 inductee into the national Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York.

Mark James was born Francis Rodney Zambon in Houston. He learned to play the violin as a child, and switched to guitar as a teenager. His stage name came about in 1960 when local club owners had difficulty pronouncing his birth name.

In the early 1960s, he recorded a series of local singles, including “Jive Note,” “Running Back” and “She’s Gone Away.” But his musical progress was halted by military service in Vietnam. Upon his return, he relocated to Memphis at the urging of singer B.J. Thomas, who had been a childhood friend in Houston. In Memphis, James went to work with producer Chips Moman.

Produced by Moman, B.J. Thomas recorded the first of James’s successful songs, 1968’s “The Eyes of a New York Woman.” The singer followed it with two more James compositions in 1969, “Hooked on a Feeling” and “It’s Only Love.”

Mark James also continued to record, himself. Moman produced his version of “Suspicious Minds” for Scepter Records in 1968. It was not a hit, but Moman took the song to Elvis Presley. Using the same arrangement as the James version, Presley recorded “Suspicious Minds.” It became the superstar’s last No. 1 hit. He also had late-career hits with the Mark James songs “Raised on Rock” (1973) and “Moody Blue” (1976).

In 1973, Mark James issued his self-titled debut LP on Bell Records. Again, it was not a hit. But his songwriting career continued. He teamed up with Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson to create “Always on My Mind.” Brenda Lee put it out in 1972, but it was not a notable success. Elvis Presley fared somewhat better with the song the following year, scoring a British hit with it.

Brenda Lee returned to the songwriter’s catalog and recorded “Sunday Sunrise” in 1973. It became a top 10 country hit, and Anne Murray had a hit with the song in Canada. Mac Davis scored a big 1974 pop hit with James’s “One Hell of a Woman.”

Also in 1974, the Swedish rock band Blue Swede issued a driving new version of “Hooked on a Feeling.” It became a No. 1 pop smash and an international sensation. In 1976, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter turned “Suspicious Minds” into a big country hit. B.J. Thomas had pop success with “Everybody Loves a Rain Song” in 1978.

John Wesley Ryles brought “Always on My Mind” back as a country hit in 1979. Then Willie Nelson picked it up in 1982. This time, the song became a titanic pop and country success, winning James a pair of Grammy Awards as Song of the Year and Country Song of the Year. It also won the CMA Award as Song of the Year. “Always on My Mind” came around again in 1988 when the British pop band The Pet Shop Boys had a dance-club smash with it in both the U.S. and England.

Dozens of artists have recorded songs from the Mark James songbook. They include Fine Young Cannibals, The Persuasions, Dwight Yoakam, Roger Whittaker, Dee Dee Warwick, Helen Reddy, Johnny Winter, Del Reeves & Billie Jo Spears, B.B. King, Eddy Arnold, Englebert Humperdinck, Cissy Houston, Floyd Cramer, Little Milton, The Stylistics, Charlie McCoy, Vicki Carr, Ray Peterson, The Partridge Family, Ronnie Milsap, Jose Feliciano, The Sweet Inspirations, Percy Sledge, Lou Rawls, The Box Tops, Millie Jackson and Al Hirt.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Mark James attended UCLA’s film scoring program and studied at the American Film Institute. He began to work composing film soundtracks, beginning with 2001’s Trade Day.

Meanwhile, his classic “Hooked on a Feeling” popped up in such films as Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Mark James songs have also been used on the soundtracks of such hit movies as Kramer Vs Kramer, Honeymoon in Vegas, Breathless, Someone to Watch Over Me, Practical Magic and Frequency.

In 2000, BMI named Mark James one of its top songwriters of the 20th century. This placed his name alongside such legendary figures as Elton John and Paul McCartney.

Mark James died in Nashville on June 8. Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens & Funeral Home (9090 Highway 100) will be handling arrangements, which have not been announced.

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Robert K Oermann

Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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Hall Of Fame Songwriter Mark James Passes (2024)
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