Dobie Gray performing in 1974
|Birth name||Lawrence Darrow Brown|
|Also known as||Leonard Ainsworth
July 26, 1940|
Simonton, Texas, U.S.
|Died||December 6, 2011
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
|Occupations||Singer, songwriter, record producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, piano, keyboards, guitar|
Dobie Gray (born Lawrence Darrow Brown on 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 towards 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, Dobie 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. 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 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.
On December 6, 2011, Gray's official website stated that he had died. 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)
|Year||Single||Peak chart positions||Certifications
|US R&B||US AC||US Country||CAN||CAN AC||CAN Country||UK|
|1963||"Look at Me"||91||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1965||"The 'In' Crowd"||13||11||—||—||8||—||—||25|
|"See You at the Go-Go"||69||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Good Old Song"||103||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1974||"Watch Out for Lucy"||107||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1975||"Out on the Floor"||—||—||—||—||—||—||—||42|
|1976||"If Love Must Go"||78||—||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|"Find 'Em, Fool 'Em & Forget 'Em"||94||71||—||—||—||—||—||—|
|1979||"You Can Do It"||37||32||—||—||58||—||—||—|
|1986||"That's One to Grow On"||—||—||—||35||—||—||—||—|
|"The Dark Side of Town"||—||—||—||42||—||—||48||—|
|"From Where I Stand"||—||—||—||67||—||—||—||—|
|1987||"Take It Real Easy"||—||—||—||82||—||—||—||—|
|"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released to that country|
|Year||Single||Artist||Peak chart positions||Album|
|US||US Adult||US AC||US Pop||NZ|
|2003||"Drift Away"||Uncle Kracker||9||2||1||10||25||No Stranger to Shame|
- List of best-charting U.S. music artists
- List of soul musicians
- List of disco artists (A-E)
- List of Decca Records artists
- "Biography by Steve Huey". Allmusic.com. Retrieved January 13, 2010.
- Some other sources give a birth year of 1942 or 1943.
- Biography at official Dobie Gray website
- Biographical article and interview in Memphis Commercial Appeal, 2000. Accessed January 13, 2010.
- Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 291. ISBN 0-89820-155-1.
- Discography at Dobie Gray website
- Dobie Gray at Oldies.com
- Gene Page at Allmusic.com. Accessed January 13, 2010.
- Fred Darian website. Accessed January 13, 2010.
- Pollution at "Play It Again, Max". Accessed January 13, 2010.
- Classic Tracks: Dobie Gray's "Drift Away", at Mixonline.com. Accessed January 13, 2010.
- "Allmusic ((( Dobie Gray > Charts & Awards > Billboard Singles )))".
- Roberts, Kev, The Northern Soul Top 500, Rocklistmusic.co.uk
- "Dobie Gray Official website". Dobie Gray. Retrieved December 6, 2011.
- Edwards, Joe (December 7, 2011). "Pop singer Dobie Gray dead in Nashville at age 69". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. Retrieved December 8, 2011.
- Dobie Gray official website discography
- Whitburn, Joel (2011). Top Pop Singles 1955–2010. Record Research, Inc. p. 373. ISBN 0-89820-188-8.
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 235. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
- "RIAA - Gold & Platinum - November 21, 2010: Dobie Gray certified singles". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved November 21, 2010.