Songwriter, Exile Member Mark Gray Dead at 64

Gray penned Alabama's hit "The Closer You Get" and was a member of the band Exile from 1979 to '82

Songwriter Mark Gray has died in Tennessee at 64. Credit: David Redfern/Redferns/Getty

Songwriter Mark Gray, who penned Number One tunes for Alabama and Janie Fricke and had a string of Top Ten solo hits in the Eighties, died Friday, December 2nd, in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was 64.

A native of Vicksburg, Mississippi, Gray sang gospel music in church as a youngster. After being discovered by the Oak Ridge Boys, the then-gospel act persuaded Gray to move to Nashville. He then began writing for their publishing company and toured with the group as a back-up singer.

Gray went on to co-write a pair of Number One hits for Alabama, "Take Me Down" and "The Closer You Get," in addition to Fricke's 1982 chart-topper "It Ain't Easy Being Easy." A member of the pop-country group Exile from 1979 to 1982, Gray eventually launched a solo career, recording three albums for the Columbia label. There he notched five Top Ten hits, including "Left Side of the Bed," which was accompanied by one of the first music videos to be presented as a mini-movie, running more than nine minutes, according to CMT.

That hit was followed by "If All the Magic Is Gone," "Diamonds in the Dust," and his highest-charting record, a duet with Tammy Wynettte on a remake of the Dan Hill hit "Sometimes When We Touch." In 1984, he also earned a Number Seven hit for Gary Morris with "Second Hand Heart."

Gray's stint with Columbia ended in 1986, after which he charted two more singles, a pair of duets with Bobbi Lace, on an independent label.