Dobie Gray (July 26, 1940 – December 6, 2011) was an American singer and songwriter, whose musical career spanned soul, country, pop, and musical theater. His hit records included “The ‘In’ Crowd” in 1965 and “Drift Away”, which was one of the biggest hits of 1973, sold over one million copies, and remains a staple of radio airplay.
In 1972, he won a recording contract with Decca Records (shortly before it became part of MCA) to make an album with producer Mentor Williams—Paul’s brother—in Nashville. Among the songs they recorded at the Quadrafonic Sound Studios, co-owned by session musicians Norbert Putnam and David Briggs, was Mentor Williams’ “Drift Away”, featuring a guitar riff by Reggie Young. Released as a single, the song rose to #5 on the US pop chart and remains Dobie Gray’s signature song. It placed at #17 in the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1973.
The follow-up, a version of Tom Jans’ much-covered song “Loving Arms”, hit #61. Gray also released three albums with MCA, Drift Away, Loving Arms, and Hey, Dixie, but later stated that MCA were unsure of how to market the albums—“They didn’t know where to place a black guy in country music.”
In the mid-1970s, he moved permanently to Nashville and signed for Capricorn Records, writing songs in collaboration with Troy Seals. His last solo hit singles were “If Love Must Go”, #78 in 1976, and “You Can Do It”, #37 in 1978. He increasingly concentrated on songwriting, writing songs for a variety of artists including Ray Charles, George Jones, Johnny Mathis, Charley Pride, and Don Williams. He also toured in Europe, Australia and Africa in the 1970s. He performed in South Africa only after persuading the apartheid authorities to allow him to play to integrated audiences, becoming the first artist to do so. His popularity in South Africa continued through numerous subsequent concert tours.
“Drift Away” became a hit again in 2003, when it was covered by Uncle Kracker on his No Stranger to Shame album as a duet with Dobie Gray, who was also featured in the video. It hit #9 and placed at #19 in the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 2003.
According to the Associated Press, he died at his home in Nashville, Tennessee after a long battle with cancer. Sources differed as to his age; his official site stated he was 71, while the AP stated he was 69.
- Look (Stripe, 1963)
- Dobie Gray Sings For “In” Crowders (Charger, 1965)
- Pollution (Prophecy/Atlantic, 1970)
- Pollution II (Prophecy/Atlantic, 1971)
- Drift Away (Decca/MCA, 1973) US #64
- Loving Arms (MCA, 1974) US #188
- Hey Dixie (MCA, 1975)
- New Ray Of Sunshine (Capricorn, 1976)
- Let Go (Capricorn, 1977)
- The Best Of Dobie Gray (Gallo, 1978)
- Dobie Gray & Mary Wells (Gusto Inc., 1978)
- Midnight Diamond (Capricorn, 1978) US #174, R&B #72
- Dobie Gray (Infinity, 1979)
- Welcome Home (Equity / Robox, 1981)
- From Where I Stand (Capitol/EMI/Amer., 1986)
- Love’s Talkin’ (Capitol/EMI/Amer., 1987)
- Dobie Gray: His Very Best (Razor & Tie, 1996)
- Diamond Cuts (Dobie Gray Prods., 1998)
- Soul Days (CDMemphis, 2001)
- Dobie Gray: The Ultimate (Universal Hip-O, 2001)
- Songs Of The Season (Dobie Gray Prods., 2001)
- Dobie Gray: A Decade of Dobie (1969–1979) (UMG/Select-O-Hits, 2005)