December 6, 2011 – Dobie Gray was either born Lawrence Darrow Brown on July 26, 1940 in Brookshire Texas or Leonard Victor Ainsworth, possible born around the same time in Houston’s suburb Simonton. Born into a family of sharecroppers in and greatly influenced by his grandfather, a Baptist Minister, Dobie’s early life revolved around family, the church and music. Thus, Gospel, Country, Tex-Mex and R& B all found a comfortable home in his repertoire.
Moving from Texas to California in the early 60’s, Dobie met Sonny Bono (Sonny & Cher), then A&R manager for Specialty Records. That encounter led to his first notable single, “Look At Me.” (later recorded by The Righteous Brothers). Although “Look At Me” remained on the charts a healthy five weeks, Dobie’s real breakthrough came in 1965 with the release of “The ‘In’ Crowd.”
In Hollywood he enrolled in acting classes, and appeared in Theatre-group Productions, including “A Raisin In The Sun,” “The Amen Corner,” “Look Homeward Angel” and “Rhinoceros.” His dramatic gifts eventually landed him a role in the L.A. production of the Mega – Hit, Musical “Hair,” in which he remained for two and a half years.
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 in Nashville. Among the songs they recorded 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.
“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 hit #9 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.
In the 30 years that had passed in between Dobie Gray increasingly concentrated on songwriting for a variety of ‘country’ 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.
He died on December 6, 2011, from complications of cancer surgery in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 71