Dobie Gray (born Lawrence Darrow Brown in 1940 – died in 2011) was an American R&B/soul/country/pop whose claim to music immortality is rested on his 1973 hit “Drift Away”, which had become his signature hit. Primarily intending to be an actor, the Texan-born Brown arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1960s and ended earning money by singing, having recorded under several local labels under different names. When Brown was signed to Stripe Records, the label suggested the name “Dobie Gray” (as a reference to the popular sitcom at that time, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis). He broke into the Hot 100 with 1963’s “Look at Me” which reached #91. He then followed this up two years later with “The In-Crowd,” which became a Top 20 hit and Top 25 UK smash. In 1972, he signed with Decca Records which would shortly emerge with the country-oriented MCA records. In Nashville, Tennessee, Gray then proceeded to record songs, one of which would be his trademark hit “Drift Away,” which went high on the Top 10 pop chart in 1973. He would release other singles but none of them were remotely successful as his prior releases. During the 1970s Gray also toured in Europe, Australia and Africa, in particular South Africa to integrated audiences (after he successfully requested to apartheid officials that he play in front of the racially mixed crowd). He expanded his range when recorded country music – his songs “From Where I Stand,” “That’s One to Grow On,” “The Dark of Time” and “Take It Real Easy,” were all placed on the country charts. “Take It Real Easy” was to be his last charting solo single. In 2003, “Drift Away” was re-recorded by Uncle Kracker and featured Gray on lead vocals; it became a #9 pop hit that year. In 2011, Gray died after a long battle with cancer, aged 71.
Lawrence Darrow Brown, professionally known as Dobie Gray, was a singer-songwriter who played on a variety of genres including soul, country and pop. He was born on July 26, 1946 near Houston Texas, although different sources list his birthplace either in Brookshire or Simonton, a small town near Texas. Raised by a family of sharecroppers, his love for music was greatly influenced by his grandfather who was a Baptist minister. Aside from gospel music, he also absorbed the R&B and country music from his neighborhood.
Gray’s vibrant career
Gray moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960’s pursuing his musical forte to earn a living. Before gaining popularity as Dobie Gray, he used several names in some of his early recordings like Larry Curtis, Larry Dennis and Leonard Ainsworth. When he was signed to a small independent label named Stripe Records, he was baptized with the name “Dobie Gray” which was named after from a popular sitcom during those days, titled The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
In 1963, Gray first came to prominence when he issued his seventh single on Cor-Dak label “Look at Me” which reached #91 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Look at Me” was later followed with his more successful single “The “In” Crowd” in 1965. Written by Billy Page (brother of the better known arranger Gene Page) it made to #13 in the US charts and #25 in Britain which was covered with several artists such as Ramsey Lewis and Petula Clark. The next single “See You at the Go-Go” also entered the Hot 100 and followed up with the album featured some self-penned songs, Dobie Gray Sings For ‘In’ Crowders That Go Go Go.
After gaining a little success in the music business, in the meantime, Gray pursued another one of his passions — acting. He became part of the cast the famed musical Hair for two years an made some appearances in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel. In 1970, he became the singer and percussionist of the soul-inspired psychedelic rock band Pollution which in 1971. With Pollution, Gray released two albums on Prophecy label.
Gray signed a record deal with Decca Records in 1972 which resulted in his signature song,”Drift Away.” In 1973, it reached #5 on the US pop chart and was marked as his biggest hit of his career. He later released his version of Tom Jans’ “Loving Arms” which peaked at #61. Gray was also engaged in tours in Europe and Africa where his popularity was increasing. He was able to perform in South Africa after he convinced the apartheid authorities to let him play to a racially-integrated audience.
In 1975, he transferred to Capricorn label and also shifted into country. With his new songwriting partner Troy Seals, they recorded his material in Nashville where he eventually lived permanently. Although his follow-up singles were not commercially successful, Gray focused more on songwriting for numerous artists who included Ray Charles, George Jones, Johnny Mathis, Charley Pride and Don Williams.
In the mid-1980’s, Gray returned to Capitol Records. With producer Harold Shedd, he issued two singles from his 1986 album From Where I Stand which made to the US country chart, “That’s One to Grow On” (#35) and “The Dark Side of Town” (#42). He released an album which included new songs and re-recordings of his early material. Alternative rocker Uncle Kracker remade “Drift Away” in 2003 which was included on his album No Stranger to Shame. In the music video, Gray was featured doing a duet with Uncle Kracker. “Drift Away” peaked at #9 and later placed at #19 on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 2003.
On December 6, 2011, Dobie Gray died of cancer which he quietly battled for some time. He was 71.