Jan 222012

In a recent Dugout Chatter, Mr. Moderator mentioned the passing of two great names in music history: Johnny Otis and Etta James. I’d like to mention the recent death of another notable if minor artist. Born in Texas in 1940, Dobie Gray started out in the 1960s as a soul singer. His most notable early hit was his 1965 cover of “The ‘In’ Crowd” (written by Billy Gray), a manifesto of pre-hippie coolness that reached #13 in the Billboard Hot 100. His smooth singing was beautifully complemented by the counterpoint of the backing vocals and a big-sounding, punchy horn section.

Gray continued to record as the 1960s wore on without major success. He also became a stage actor, most notably in the Los Angeles stage production of Hair. However, lightning struck again for Gray in 1973 with his recording of Mentor William‘s “Drift Away.” With a gentle groove and a gospel-influenced chorus, the  song became a big hit in the late spring and reached #5 in the Billboard charts. This is probably his single most-popular song and it still gets wide airplay. It’s not hard to understand why.

Though Dobie never scored another major hit again, he kept on performing and recording and his singles occasionally reached the Billboard charts. After “Drift Away,” he transitioned into becoming a country singer—an unusual move for an African-American artist at the time. Gray also became a notable songwriter, providing material for country and mainstream artists. He toured overseas as a performer with some success and became (at his own insistence) one of the first performers to appear before an integrated audience in apartheid-era South Africa. Gray kept on working over the next few decades. He died of cancer on December 6, 2011, at the age of 71.

So there you have it. Dobie Gray might not be the most famous or most-remembered name in rock history, but he had two genuinely terrific classic hits in him. For that, he deserves a tribute here on Rock Town Hall. Rest in peace, Dobie, and we’ll do our part to make sure you’re not forgotten.


  8 Responses to “You Ain’t Been Nowhere ‘Til You’ve Been In”

  1. Thanks for covering this, tonyola. I hadn’t heard about Dobie’s death until just the other day. “Drift Away” and “The ‘In’ Crowd” are both cool. My wife’s old boss, who was more of a folk and jazz than rock ‘n roll/soul guy, once told me that he considered “Drift Away” the perfect song.

  2. My wife’s old boss, by the way, is a dead ringer for old character actor and bon vivant Monty Woolley!

  3. tonyola

    More than glad to do it – the man is worth remembering. By the way, if we ever do a “Greatest Chins of Rock and Roll” feature on RTH, Dobie’s impressive chin might well be the winner.

  4. tonyola

    Did he ever slip on the ice in front of your house and move in by threat of lawsuit?

  5. Ha! That movie sounds mighty familiar. Woolley was one of those “instant offense” character actors.

  6. ladymisskirroyale

    Thanks for covering this, tonyola. I played a sum total of about 4 seconds of “The In Crowd” and Mr. Royale id’d it – he’s a big Dobie Gray fan. He also shared that Mr. Gray’s song, “Out on the Floor” (almost) single-handedly spearheaded the British Northern Soul movement.

  7. Happiness Stan

    I’d like to add my thanks as well, I saw that he’d left us and wanted to put a piece together but life has been insane for the last couple of weeks.

    The “In” Crowd was on an album of soul classics I picked up at the height of punk from the bargain bin at our local Woolworths. It had a terrible, terrible cover, but the songs were absolutely fantastic, and came as close as anything ever has to convincing me that brass instruments have any place in popular music. Drift Away is gorgeous, I’m not a particularly overtly emotional chap but it’s a song which can move me almost to tears when I hear it.

  8. Now that is a recommendation I can get behind. Northern Soul – a genre defined after-the-fact by folks digging in the crates. They all sound alike but I have a soft spot for that stuff.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkpenzFNbpk&feature=related Indeed I do.

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