Dobie Gray, a smooth balladeer who hit the top of the music charts in 1973 with “Drift Away” and wrote songs for an array of country and pop performers, died in his sleep in Nashville early Tuesday, Dec. 6. He was 69 after a long battle with cancer.
Gray’s silky tenor also was heard on other hits including “The In Crowd” in 1965 and “Loving Arms” in 1973. His songs received radio
airplay on several formats including top 40, country, AOR and adult contemporary.
He wrote songs recorded by Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis, Etta James, Three Dog Night, Julio Iglesias, John Denver, George Jones and Tammy Wynette.
Gray toured extensively in Europe, Australia and Africa and insisted on performing for integrated audiences in South Africa. After that declaration, he became especially popular in South Africa.
He also sang on the soundtracks of films including “Uptown Saturday Night,” “Out of Sight” and “Casey’s Shadow.”
“Drift Away” also was recorded by rap artist Uncle Kracker in 2003 and became a hit again.
“I guess what you call my ‘signature songs’ will never die, thank God,” he told the Tennessean newspaper in 1988. At the time, he was the only major black vocalist to call Nashville home.
Gray was born into a family of sharecroppers in Simonton, Texas. He moved from Texas to California in the early 1960s where he met Sonny Bono, then an executive with Specialty Records. This led to his first record, “Look at Me,” in 1963. While in Los Angeles, Gray appeared in a production of “Hair.”
He was not married and had no children.