Mentor Williams, the award-winning writer of “Drift Away,” the easygoing pop classic recorded by Dobie Gray in 1973, died Wednesday morning, according to the Taos News. A longtime resident of Taos, New Mexico, Williams was the younger brother of songwriter-actor Paul Williams and was preceded in death by brother John Williams, a distinguished NASA engineer. He was 70.
Williams was the longtime partner of “Rose Garden” singer Lynn Anderson, who died in July 2015. Re-recorded by Anderson as “Drift Away Gospel” and released shortly after her death, “Drift Away” was a Top Ten pop and Number One Adult Contemporary hit in 2003, when recorded by Uncle Kracker, with Gray contributing the song’s final verse. A Top Ten country hit for Narvel Felts the same year Gray recorded it, others who recorded the song include Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Tina Turner and more.
In 2014, Paul Williams recalled that his brother, who lived in Los Angeles in the early Seventies, took the bold step of moving to Nashville, while Dobie Gray was at the same time in his eighth year between hit singles. While visiting with songwriter Harry Nilsson, Williams received a phone call from Gray, who was thinking of quitting the business. Williams encouraged him to persevere.
“[Dobie] hadn’t had a hit since his much earlier recording of ‘In Crowd,'” Williams told the Hollywood Reporter. “[Gray] was being treated by the industry as yesterday’s news. Mentor took Dobie with him to Nashville, walked into Quadrafonic Studios on Music Row and put together a group of brilliant musicians to record a new Dobie Gray album. Almost all of the songs were Mentor’s. The label wasn’t impressed with the blend of country and rock and had to be coerced into releasing the first single. Mentor begged them to trust his judgment. They did, and the world was treated to a rock & roll anthem that will be playing when all of us are long gone.”
Among other songs Williams wrote was “A Few Ole Country Boys,” which was penned with Troy Seals. It was recorded late in 1990 as a duet by Randy Travis and George Jones and reached the Top Ten in 1991. Williams was the recipient of more than a dozen writing awards, including a special one from performance-rights organization ASCAP honoring his 30 years of songwriting.
Funeral arrangements are unknown at this time.