(Read all about Dobie Gray after the video)
Dobie Gray (born Lawrence Darrow Brown; 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.
Life and career
He was born near Houston, Texas, by his own account in Simonton although some sources suggest the nearby town of Brookshire. His birth name was most likely Lawrence Darrow Brown, who is listed in Fort Bend County birth records as being born in 1940 to Jane P. Spencel and Jethro Clifton Brown. Other sources suggest he may have been born Leonard Victor Ainsworth, a name he used on some early recordings.
His family sharecropped. He discovered gospel music through his grandfather, a Baptist minister. In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles, intending to pursue an acting career while also singing to make money. He recorded for several local labels under the names Leonard Ainsworth, Larry Curtis, and Larry Dennis, before Sonny Bono directed him toward the small independent Stripe Records. They suggested that he record under the name "Dobie Gray", an allusion to the then-popular sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
His first taste of success came in 1963 when his seventh single "Look At Me", on the Cor-Dak label and recorded with bassist Carol Kaye, reached #91 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, his first album, Look!, failed to sell. Greater success came in early 1965 when his original recording of "The 'In' Crowd" (recorded later that year as an instrumental by Ramsey Lewis, and also covered in 1965 by Petula Clark) reached #13. Written by Billy Page and arranged by his brother Gene and produced by Fred Darian, Gray's record reached #11 on the US R&B chart, and #25 in the UK. The follow-up, "See You at the Go-Go", recorded with such top session musicians as Kaye, Hal Blaine, and Larry Knechtel, also reached the Hot 100, and he issued an album, Dobie Gray Sings For 'In' Crowders That Go Go Go, which featured some self-penned songs.
Gray continued to record, though with little success, for small labels such as Charger and White Whale, as well as contributing to movie soundtracks. He also spent several years working as an actor, including 2½ years in the Los Angeles production of Hair. In 1970, while working there, he joined a band, Pollution, as singer and percussionist. They were managed by actor Max Baer Jr. (best known as "Jethro" in The Beverly Hillbillies) and released two albums of soul-inspired psychedelic rock, Pollution I and Pollution II. The band also included singer Tata Vega and guitarist/singer James Quill Smith. He also worked at A&M Records on demo recordings with songwriter Paul Williams.
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, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA on July 5, 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.
Dobie Gray re-emerged as a recording artist for Capitol Records in the mid-1980s, recording with producer Harold Shedd. He placed two singles on the US country chart in 1986-87, including "That's One to Grow On" which peaked at #35. His country albums included From Where I Stand in 1986, and he made several appearances at Charlie Daniels' popular Volunteer Jam concerts. He also sang on a number of TV and radio jingles. In 1997, he released the album Diamond Cuts, including both new songs and re-recordings of older material.
In 2000, Wigan Casino DJ Kev Roberts, compiled The Northern Soul Top 500, which was based on a survey of Northern soul fans. Gray's "Out On The Floor", a 1966 recording which would become a British hit in 1975, made the Top 10.
"Drift Away" became a hit again in 2003, when he covered the song as a duet with Uncle Kracker on the latter's No Stranger to Shame album. The re-recording peaked at #9 one week to the day after Gray's 63rd birthday and placed at #19 in the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 2003 as well as logging a record-setting 28 weeks atop the Adult Contemporary chart in 2003-2004.
Gray died on December 6, 2011, from complications of cancer surgery in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 71. His remains were buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park And Mausoleum in Nashville, Tennessee.