Mark James, ‘Suspicious Minds’ Songwriter, Is Dead at 83


Mark James, a genre-defying and Grammy Award-winning songwriter whose hits included “Suspicious Minds,” “Hooked on a Feeling” and “Always on My Mind,” died at his home in Nashville on Saturday. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Sammie Zambon. The Houston Chronicle first reported the news of Mr. James’s death.

Various stars, including Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson, lent their voices to Mr. James’s catalog of songs over the years.

His career of powerhouse hits began in 1968 with “The Eyes of a New York Woman,” cut by the country and pop hitmaker B.J. Thomas. Mr. Thomas, a lifelong friend of Mr. James, then recorded “Hooked on a Feeling,” Mr. James’s 1968 song celebrating newfound love, which hit the top five that year. The song again made it to the top five in 1974, when the Swedish rock band Blue Swede released its version.

Mr. James catapulted into a different stratosphere in 1969 when Elvis cut “Suspicious Minds,” a song Mr. James first recorded and released as a single, to little notice, the previous year. Elvis’s version reached No. 1 in 27 countries and became one of his biggest hits and his last No. 1 single. The song is included in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

“Always On My Mind,” which Mr. James co-wrote with Wayne Carson and Johnny Christopher, became one of his most decorated works. Brenda Lee recorded the first version in 1972 before Elvis released his take in 1973 and John Wesley Ryles made it a top 20 country hit in 1979, according to the Texas Heritage Songwriters Association.

Yet it was Mr. Nelson’s 1982 version that earned “Always On My Mind” a Grammy for song of the year and for best country song, as well as song of the year from the Country Music Association. It was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.

Mr. James’s arsenal of songs has been recorded by a range of artists, including Michael Bublé, Jay-Z, The Pet Shop Boys, Bill Withers and The Fine Young Cannibals. They’ve been featured in the films “Reservoir Dogs” and “Lilo & Stich,” and in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise.

Mr. James was inducted into the New York Songwriters Hall of Fame, Nashville Country Hall of Fame and the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1999, Broadcast Music Inc., the music rights management company, named “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Suspicious Minds” and “Always on My Mind” to its list of the 100 greatest songs of the 20th century.

Mr. James was born Francis Rodney Zambon on Nov. 29, 1940, in Houston. (The Houston Chronicle reported that he went by Mark James because, when he started playing music in public, Houston club owners “didn’t like the sound of Francis Zambon.”) He is survived by his wife, Karen Zambon; his daughters, Sammie and Dana Zambon; two grandchildren; and extended family.

In all, Elvis recorded five songs by Mr. James and named two of his albums after them, “Raised on Rock” and “Moody Blue.”

In an interview with The Tennessean, Mr. James recalled the moment when Elvis was booked for a studio in Memphis and he realized “Suspicious Minds” would be perfect for him.

“I turned around in the chair and it was like seeing a golden number one and I knew that was the song I’d been looking for,” he said, adding, “I felt like even shaking Elvis and saying, ‘This is a great one for you, man, to record.’ But I knew probably everyone in the world had probably said that to him. So all I could do is tell the guys around him, ‘Get him to cut this, this is a great one for him!’”



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