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Day after day, I’m more confused

December 8, 2011
by

I’m sorry to tell you this, not just because a man is dead, but because now I won’t be able to get this song out of my head for weeks.

Dobie Gray, who sang “Drift Away,” has, indeed, drifted away. Oddly, beyond his musical career, it seems we don’t know much about Mr. Gray.

“Drift Away” was recorded in 1973 after Mr. Gray, attempting a comeback, secured a contract with MCA Records. He was teamed with the songwriter and producer Mentor Williams (the brother of Paul Williams), who had produced it for another artist with no success. Mr. Gray’s strong, raspy tenor, schooled by years of gospel choir duty as a child in the Texas Baptist church where his grandfather was minister, gave Mr. Williams’s song the soulful treatment it apparently needed, sending it to No. 5 on the Billboard charts that year and carving a permanent place for it in later years on oldies radio.

Mr. Gray’s early life is not well documented. Different sources give the year of his birth as 1940, 1942 or 1943, though all agree on the date of Sept. 26. His given name has been reported as Leonard Victor Ainsworth and Lawrence Darrow Brown. By all accounts he was born into a sharecropper family outside Houston, in Brookshire or Simonton, Tex. Mr. Reneau said that as far as he knew Mr. Gray, who never married, was 71, and that his survivors included a sister and a brother. No immediate family member could be reached. In interviews, Mr. Gray credited his Baptist minister grandfather with sparking his interest in singing. Mr. Gray left Texas in the early 1960s for Los Angeles, where he worked with Sonny Bono, then an executive with Specialty Records.

The eternal catchiness of “Drift Away” is confirmed by the fact that I can’t get it out of my head, as well as by the fact that Dave Marsh put it #145 in the roster of greatest singles of all time, and that it’s been covered over and over again.

And without further ado, here’s Dobie (apparently lip-syncing his way through the Botanical Garden). Rest in peace.

And the Stones:

And, if you insist, Uncle Kracker.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2011 12:28 pm

    I had never heard that version by The Rolling Stones. It’s great, thanks for posting it. R.I.P. Dobie Gray. And please, let’s leave Uncle Kracker out of this and everything to come!

    • Fat Al permalink*
      December 8, 2011 6:50 pm

      It is pretty good, no? Apparently never released, and there is a durable (but pretty certainly wrong) rumor that that version has the Beatles on it with the Stones. Timing doesn’t work.

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