Dobie Gray - Singer, actor, and artist
Dobie Gray was best known for his 1973 smash hit "Drift Away", which is still popular today. His unique and versatile sound revolved around soul, country, and pop styles of music. With sources listing his birth name as Leonard Victor Ainsworth, and Laurence Darrow Brown, it seems that his origins are somewhat ill-defined. He was born in either Brookshire or Simonton (a few miles west of Houston) on July 26, 1940 (or 1942 or 1943). It is certain that he grew up in a family of sharecroppers in Texas, with his life revolving around family, church, and music. Gray's grandfather, a Baptist minister, introduced him to Gospel music - but in the early 1960's he strayed from Gospel and moved to California to pursue his passion for the contemporary styles of soul and folk music.
He recorded several singles using the names Leonard Ainsworth, Larry Curtis, and Larry Dennis before finally adopting the name Dobie Gray. In 1963 after meeting Sonny Bono, (before Cher, when Sonny was the A&R manager for Specialty Records) Dobie's seventh single "Look At Me" became his first hit, remaining on the billboard charts for five weeks. In 1965, Gray hit the Top 20 with "The In Crowd", which stayed on the charts for three months. His follow-up album "See You at the Go-Go" was the most soul-oriented album of his career, achieving only moderate success. Pursuing a concurrent acting career, Dobie enrolled in acting classes in Hollywood. He appeared in several group stage productions including a leading role in the smash hit "Hair", which he performed for more than two years. At this time Dobie's voice was also being heard on a number of motion picture sound tracks, among them Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier's "Uptown Saturday Night" and Dick Clark's teen musical extravaganza "Out of Sight". In 1971 Gray recorded two albums with the band "Pollution", which were well received by critics but commercial failures. He resurfaced as a solo artist in 1972 when he toured and made numerous television appearances.
With growing success and a beautiful home overlooking the Sunset Strip, Dobie was truly in with "The In Crowd". Some of his many friends included Harry Nilsson, the Beach Boys, Ben Vareen, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis and Paul Williams. The tune "Drift Away" became the biggest hit of Dobie's career, soaring to the top 5 on the charts in early 1973. "Loving Arms", although not a big success for Dobie, was covered by everyone from Elvis to Ray Charles. After permanently relocating to Nashville and recording with a new songwriter, Dobie shifted more towards a country sound.
Touring Europe, Australia, and Africa, Dobie Gray's standing-room-only appearances earned him eight gold singles, four platinum albums and an unprecedented seven concert tours. He became the first artist to play to an integrated audience during the apartheid era after persuading South African authorities to allow him to do so. With his popularity steadily increasing in Europe and Africa, he remains as one of South Africa's most popular and enduring stars.
Gray's increased activity as a songwriter has resulted in covers by such artists as Don Williams, Charley Pride, Ray Charles, George Jones, Conway Twitty, Three Dog Night, Julio Iglesias, and several other major performing artists. Dobie's voice can also be heard on a number of radio and TV commercials associated with major companies, including Procter & Gamble, Chrysler, Oscar Mayer, Coca-Cola, Allstate, Royal Caribbean, and Budweiser, among many others.
"You Can Do It" became his final Top 40 hit, in 1978, the same year he recorded the first of two albums for Infinity. When Infinity went bankrupt, Gray concentrated exclusively on songwriting for a few years, then re-emerged on Capitol Records in the mid 1980's as a full-fledged country artist. He managed to reach the country charts with singles like "That's One to Grow On" and "From Where I Stand," but was unable to break through to a mainstream country audience, and again faded from view after two albums.
In 1997, Gray released "Diamond Cuts", a mix of new songs and re-recorded past hits. The new album featured songs including "Slip Away", "Lean On Me", "Cupid", and his version of the Roy Orbison classic "It's Over".
With Dobie's career continuing to evolve, he recently recorded in Memphis and released "Soul Days" spotlighting vintage R&B and hits from the 1960's. In 2003, nearly 30 years after it was first released, "Drift Away" became a hit all over again when it was covered by Uncle Kracker.
Dobie Gray spends his time in Nashville when he isn't touring, but he has been known to show up at a show or benefit in the hill country from time to time.
He is reportedly working on a gospel project at a Nashville recording studio.
Cindy Miller for TxHome.org