Mark James (songwriter)

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Mark James
Birth nameFrancis Rodney Zambon
Also known asFrancis Zambon
Born(1940-11-29)November 29, 1940
Houston, Texas
DiedJune 8, 2024(2024-06-08) (aged 83)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, record producer
Instrument(s)Vocals
Years active1968–2024
LabelsBell, Scepter, Liberty, Masterfonics

Francis Rodney Zambon (November 29, 1940 – June 8, 2024), known professionally as Mark James, was an American songwriter. He wrote hits for B.J. Thomas, Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley, including Presley's hit single "Suspicious Minds".[1]

Early life

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Mark James was born an Italian-American in Houston, Texas, on November 29, 1940,[1][2] the son of an Italian-born building contractor and a school teacher,[3] and he was raised there. At High School he played the violin and the accordion and conducted the school orchestra, but he said later that he had not realised how much he loved music until he picked up a guitar.[4] James befriended singer B.J. Thomas when both were young.[5] He began writing songs and performing in clubs in Houston, and changed his name to Mark James after he was told that 'Francis Zambon' was "a non-starter" .[6]

Career beginning and songwriting

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At first James intended to record his songs himself rather than give them to other singers. He released his first single, "Jive Note", in 1959. He formed a band, the Mark James Trio, and released several more songs co-written with Bobby Winder, including Running Back and Tell Me, released on Crazy Cajun Records in Houston, Texas, which was a minor hit in 1963.[7] His career was temporarily halted when he was drafted into the US Army to serve in Vietnam with the First Infantry Division.

After his discharge, he moved to Memphis in 1968 and worked as a staff songwriter for Memphis producer Chips Moman's publishing company.[5] In 1968 and 1969 Moman produced Thomas’s versions of "The Eyes of a New York Woman", "Hooked on a Feeling", and "It's Only Love", all of which were successful.[8] "Hooked on a Feeling", inspired by Karen Taylor his high school sweetheart who had inspired "Suspicious Minds", was his first top ten hit.[9]

James released his own version of his song "Suspicious Minds", also produced by Moman, on Scepter Records in 1968. Elvis Presley, looking for a song with which to relaunch his career, had "Suspicious Minds" played to him by Moman[10] and recorded a version in 1969 with an almost identical arrangement.[11] The song became a smash hit[12] and was later listed on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time at no. 91.

1969–1977: Continued success

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In 1972 James signed a long-term contract with Screen Gems-Columbia Music.[13] In 1973, his song "Sunday Sunrise" was recorded by American Country singer Brenda Lee. Lee's version was a huge hit and became a top ten single on charts in the US. In 1975, Canadian musician Anne Murray covered "Sunday Sunrise". Elvis Presley recorded more of James's songs, "Raised on Rock", "It's Only Love" and "Moody Blue", which was the title track to Presley's last studio album. James's greatest success came with "Always on My Mind", which he wrote with Johnny Christopher and Wayne Carson. It was issued as a b-side by Presley in 1972. In 1973, jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears released James’s "Roller Coaster" as a single from their album No Sweat. The song was recorded by David Cassidy in the same year for the last Partridge Family album Bulletin Board, which contained two other James songs, "Where Do We Go From Here" and "Alone Too Long", which he wrote with Cynthia Weil.

From 1978: Grammy wins, "Always on My Mind" covers, Mark James Trio

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Mark James Trio released the album She's Gone Away in 1960 on Crazy Cajun Records, with band members Joey Longoria and Bobby Winder who cowrote with Mark James .

A decade after "Always on My Mind" was released, Willie Nelson covered it and made the song a huge hit. James won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year and Grammy Award for Best Country Song for Nelson's version.[14] In 1987 the UK's Pet Shop Boys released a version of "Always on My Mind" which reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 4 in the US. On October 11, 2015, James entered the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Private life and death

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James married his first wife, Shirley Yates, in Houston,Texas. They had a daughter. He married his second wife, Karen Taylor, in 1971. She had a daughter from her first marriage.[15] Mark James died at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, on June 8, 2024, at the age of 83.[16][17][18]

Awards

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Grammy Awards

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Year Nominee / work Award Result
1983 "Always on My Mind" Grammy Award for Song of the Year Won
1983 "Always on My Mind" Grammy Award for Best Country Song Won

References

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  1. ^ a b Jones, Roben (February 1, 2010). Memphis Boys: the Story of American Studios. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-60473-401-0. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
  2. ^ Edwards, Joe (September 22, 1985). "Nashville Sound: Encouraging Word Spurred Career". The Victoria Advocate. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  3. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  4. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  5. ^ a b Klein, George; Crisafulli, Chuck (January 5, 2010). Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock 'n' Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley. Crown. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-307-45274-0. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
  6. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  7. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  8. ^ Collins, Ace (April 1, 2005). Untold Gold: The Stories Behind Elvis's #1 Hits. Chicago Review Press. p. 213. ISBN 978-1-55652-565-0. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
  9. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  10. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  11. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  12. ^ Creswell, Toby (August 2006). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them. Da Capo Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-56025-915-2. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
  13. ^ "James Joins SG-Col Music–Tyrell Tie". Billboard. March 4, 1972. p. 8. Retrieved August 13, 2020.
  14. ^ "Country". Billboard. Vol. 94, no. 52. October 23, 1982. p. 56. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved November 22, 2010.
  15. ^ Mark James obituary, The Times Register, 14 June 2024
  16. ^ "Mark James Obituary". Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens-Funeral Home & Cremation Center. Retrieved June 11, 2024.
  17. ^ Brodsky, Greg (June 11, 2024). "Mark James, Songwriter of 'Suspicious Minds' and Other Hits, Dies". Bestclassicbands.com. Archived from the original on June 11, 2024. Retrieved June 11, 2024.
  18. ^ Mark James, Houston songwriter known for Elvis Presley hit 'Suspicious Minds,' has died
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