Singer and songwriter Dobie Gray, who had a top 5 hit in 1973 with the song "Drift Away," has died. The news came on the evening of Dec. 6 via his official website, although no cause of death was listed.
Born near Houston in 1940 to a family of sharecroppers, Gray, whose real name has been listed as Leonard Victor Ainsworth and Laurence Darrow Brown, discovered gospel music through his grandfather, a Baptist minister. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s where he met Sonny Bono, who dubbed him Dobie Gray after the then popular sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.
Gray saw his first music industry success in 1965 with the single "The 'In' Crowd," which reached No. 13 on the charts, but it was 1973's country-soul "Drift Away," whose chorus pined, "I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away," that would make him a radio staple for decades to come.
The song was covered by scores of musicians including Roy Orbison, Rod Stewart, Waylon Jennings, Ray Charles and Michael Bolton, but perhaps the most famous contemporary version was by Detroit rocker Uncle Kracker in 2003. A collaboration with Gray, it reached No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Adult Contemporary chart for a record-setting 28 weeks (watch videos of both versions below).
Asked about the song's inclusion on his album, No Stranger to Shame, Kracker said in 2003, "This 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. I learned [from him] that you can be an older musician and not be bitter. I meet a lot of older musicians that are bitter about everything. He's definitely a nice gentleman and he's very down to earth."
Soon after news broke of his death, Kracker tweeted, "My heart goes out to Dobie's family this evening. RIP Dobie Gray. Thank you for the music. You will not be forgotten."
Gray's last website update appears to have been around March 2010. In the post, Gray wishes "farewell and blessings" to some 20 deceased stars including Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Heath Ledger, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Swayze, Walter Cronkite and Marlon Brando.