obie Gray never had the consistent recording career that, judging from his output, he surely deserved. Poor promotion, contract difficulties, bankrupt record labels...something always seemed to creep up and crush his career in its tracks. But with indefatigable energy, he kept on pushing, with the net result being only three Top 40 songs spanning fifteen years. "Drift Away" was the kind of song that had to make it, no matter how many curveballs it needed to dodge, simply because it was such a great record. Other great records of his fared much worse, but "Drift Away" was tenacious enough to float to position #5 on the strength of its lingering melody and Gray's melancholy but soulful voice.
Gray survived during his off years by doing a few acting stints and recording demos for songwriter Paul Williams. It was through this association that he met Williams's brother, Mentor, who was also a songwriter and, more importantly, a record producer. On the strength of his relationship with Mentor Williams, Gray obtained a contract with MCA Records and recorded an album in Nashville that is now considered a minor classic. "Drift Away" was the title song and was both written and produced by Mentor Williams. It sold 1 1/2 million copies and was later covered by Rod Stewart, among others. Although his subsequent records were also topflight and memorable ("Loving Arms" sold over 100,000 copies), Gray drifted away from the public eye and into obscurity. He would resurface again six years later with his last minor hit (#37), "You Can Do It."
Gray continued to perform in and around Nashville, and he died there in December 2011 at age 71. "("Drift Away") is a song that's almost impossible to do better than the original, so I just grabbed the guy that did it originally and had him co-sing it," said Detroit rocker Uncle Kracker, who took the song, which featured co-vocals by Gray, to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2003. The remake also topped Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart for a record-setting 28 weeks. "Dobie will not be forgotten," Uncle Kracker Tweeted upon learning that Gray had died.
- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.
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