by Sean Maloney
A moment of silence, please, for one of the greatest voices to ever call this town home. Dobie Gray — singer, songwriter and purveyor of the most comfortable record cover of all time — lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday, according to the LA Times. While I'm sure every person reading this knows every single word to his signature tune "Drift Away" — it really doesn't get more omnipresent than that one — the man had one of the more interesting careers in pop music and certainly Nashville. Starting out in the early-'60s West Coast pop scene — running around with cats like Sonny Bono before more or less defining the mod-soul era with "The in Crowd" — before making the move to Nashville, pioneering the country-soul song and then writing some of the biggest country hits of the '70s. Or, more accurately, making the move to Hendersonville, at least according to the note he wrote to someone named "Barbara" on my autographed copy of Loving Arms.
Gray was a singular vocalist, combining elements of rock, soul and country, forging a sound that is still as visceral today as it was when it first hit tape. Seriously folks, if all you know is the hit, do yourself a favor and sit down with his catalog — his body of work has something for just about everybody. One of the strongest characteristics of Gray's catalog is that he was a great collaborator, almost always finding himself in the room with other amazing musicians and performers, eventually even writing for George Jones, Tammy Wynette, David Ruffins and Etta James after he receded from the spotlight. Despite having one of the most recognizable jukebox anthems of all time, Gray isn't quite as revered in hip circles as he should be — I blame Uncle Kracker — but maybe the silver lining to his passing is that he'll get the canonization he deserves.
Also, if anybody has any information about the song "Trouble With a Woman," which Gray wrote for a group named The Camptown Singers, I would really appreciate it. I have the 45, but there is literally no info about this track on the Internet. It's maybe my favorite track in his catalog, and I'd like to clear away a little of this mystery.