Soul singer Dobie Gray, known for the 1973 hit “Drift Away,” died yesterday at the age of 71, his website reported. The cause of death was not revealed.
Gray was born in 1940 to a family of sharecroppers in Simonton, Texas, and moved out to California in the early Sixties. He met Sonny Bono, then an A&R manager, who gave Gray his stage name inspired by the television series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. (His birth name has been listed alternately as Laurence Darrow Brown and Leonard Victor Ainsworth.)
Gray’s first single, “Look at Me,” was covered by the Righteous Brothers, and his first breakthrough hit was “The In-Crowd” in 1965. He is best known for “Drift Away,” which has been covered by Rod Stewart, Ray Charles, Waylon Jennings and, more recently, Uncle Kracker. The song was so pervasive that it even inspired a Nancy comic strip – featured in the biography on Gray’s website – that referenced a frequently misheard part of the chorus: “Gimme the Beach Boys and free my soul.” (The actual lyric is “Gimme the beat, boys.”)
In recent years, Gray continued to record and perform. He sang the last verse on Uncle Kracker’s 2003 cover of “Drift Away.”