Eric Clapton pays homage to hero Willie Nelson with touching cover of 'Always On My Mind'

20 September 2023, 11:23 | Updated: 10 January 2024, 12:55

Eric Clapton has wished Willie Nelson a belated happy 90th birthday with a cover of 'Always On My Mind'.
Eric Clapton has wished Willie Nelson a belated happy 90th birthday with a cover of 'Always On My Mind'. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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It's a song that's echoed through the ages.

'Always On My Mind' has taken on my guises through the pop, electronic, and country western worlds since it was first written.

The regretful, heart-aching ballad was popularised by none other than Elvis Presley, on British shores at least, charting three times in the top 20.

Pet Shop Boys offered a dancier disco spin on the song in 1987, becoming Christmas number one that year, but it's another artist whom the world considers to have recorded the definitive version.

In 1982, outlaw country legend Willie Nelson released his rendition of 'Always On My Mind' and it became an instant phenomenon.

Willie's version hit the top of the US country charts almost immediately, later winning him the Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance as well as taking Song Of The Year, the first time it was ever awarded to a country musician.

So, the song clearly resonates with Willie Nelson fans, and it has one fan in particular: none other than Eric Clapton.

The influential guitar-slinger has now recorded his own version of the song, in tribute to his hero.

Eric Clapton & Bradley Walker - Always On My Mind

Willie celebrated his 90th birthday earlier this year, and curated two star-studded concerts of his favourite artists at Hollywood Bowl in April, especially for the occasion.

Now Clapton has recorded Nelson's signature song as a tribute to the red-headed music icon, alongside country singer Bradley Walker.

Their gentle, pensive cover version always includes some guitar work from The Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood.

"Dear Willie, Here's to 90 years and many more. Love, Eric and Bradley," the text in the video reads at the beginning.

It's not the first time there's been an Eric Clapton and Willie Nelson crossover either - in 2014, the pair united for a duet of 'Songbird'.

The track featured on Clapton's full-length, The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale, an album consisting of entirely JJ Cale cover versions which featured guest appearances from Tom Petty, Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler and Willie.

Nelson returned the favour, after Eric had appeared as a guest on Willie's 2003 live album, Live And Kickin', which was recorded during a special concert for his 70th birthday.

Eric Clapton and Willie Nelson performing together in 2003. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Eric Clapton and Willie Nelson performing together in 2003. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage). Picture: Getty

"'Always On My Mind' bowled me over the moment I heard it, which is one of the ways I pick songs to record," Nelson wrote in his 1988 autobiography, Willie.

"There are beautifully sad songs that bowl me over... haunting melodies you can't get out of your mind, with lines that really stick."

Because of its sentiment and melody, 'Always On My Mind' has been recorded by over 300 artists since its initial release.

The enduring song was originally written by Wayne Carson (the man behind The Box Tops' 1967 classic 'The Letter'), Johnny Christopher, and Mark James, and was first recorded by Brenda Lee in 1972.

Carson recalled the inspiration behind the song, as he was away from home longer than expected and wanted to make it up to his wife.

"All that 'Always' was about was one long apology," Carson added. "I guess there are a lot of people in the world who were looking for a way to say that in a song."

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