Two-hundred days ago, while I was busy turning 23 and carefully evaluating my existence, a man I regard as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time was becoming a casualty of cancer. It somehow managed to escape my attention, and I am just finding out today after enduring the awkward silence and inexplicable embarrassment of asking a fellow audiophile whether Dobie Gray was still performing.
Dobie was born in the small Texas town of Simonton [or nearby Brookshire], into a family of sharecroppers. His birth name is not certain, it is acepted as Lawrence Darrow Brown but he has also been credited as Leonard Victor Ainsworth, Larry Curtis and Larry Dennis. He died at the age of 71, according to his official website but several news sources reported he was 69.
The details of Dobie’s birth and death are shrouded in mystery but his long and dynamic career as a singer and songwriter was an indisputable success. Dobie’s career in music started in the early 1960s when he moved to Los Angeles with hopes of becoming an actor but he enjoyed greater success in writing and recording music. He started off in Los Angeles working with Sonny Bono and Specialty Records. He recorded several songs under each of the names listed above until shortly before his first hit “Look at Me”, when he joined the independent Stripe Records, who suggested he took on the moniker Dobie Gray.
Dobie Gray’s most resounding hit, “Drift Away”, has been covered by many great singers including Ray Charles, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Uncle Kracker, Michael Bolton and Roy Orbison (who managed to die on the exact day I was born). His other signature songs “Out on the Floor”, “Loving Arms” and “The In-Crowd” are equally timeless. Dobie wrote a semi-autobiographical song “City Stars”, performed by David Ruffin. He has also written for Julio Iglesias, Johnny Matthis, Ray Charles and Charley Pride among others.
Dobie used his fame to help support political causes. He campaigned for Jimmy Carter in his 1976 road to presidency. According to his official website1, Dobie Gray, upon his own insistence, was the first artist to perform in South Africa before an integrated audience.
To Dobie, two-hundred days later, I dedicate the words of Mentor Williams that I learned through your distinctively soulful, soothing and inspiring voice.
Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along makin’ me strong
Thank you for the love and strength, through music.