Dobie Gray of 'Drift Away' fame has died

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Dobie Gray, a smooth balladeer who recorded the timeless hit "Drift Away" in 1973, is dead at age 69...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Dobie Gray, a smooth balladeer who recorded the timeless hit “Drift Away” in 1973, is dead at age 69.

Charlie Andrews, Gray’s attorney and friend, said Wednesday that Gray died at his Nashville home in his sleep early Tuesday after being in declining health for several months. The death also was reported on the singer’s web site.

“Drift Away” also was recorded by rap artist Uncle Kracker in 2003 and became a hit again.

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Gray’s silky tenor also was heard on other hits including “The In Crowd” in 1965 and “Loving Arms” in 1973. His songs received radio airplay on several formats including Top 40, country, AOR and adult contemporary.

He toured extensively in Europe, Australia and Africa, and insisted on performing for integrated audiences in South Africa, according to his web site. After that declaration, he became especially popular in South Africa.

“I guess what you call my ‘signature songs’ will never die, thank God,” he told The Tennessean newspaper in 1988. At the time, he was the only major black vocalist to call Nashville home.

He also was a songwriter, with compositions recorded by an array of artists including Ray Charles, Johnny Mathis, Etta James, Three Dog Night, Julio Iglesias and John Denver.

Gray sang on several motion picture soundtracks including “Uptown Saturday Night,” ‘’Out of Sight” and “Casey’s Shadow.” Additionally, he sang advertising jingles for companies such as Clorox, Budweiser, Hardee’s, Honda and Buick.

“I talked to him the day before he died,” Andrews said. “We just talked about life and living and general stuff.”

Gray was born into a family of sharecroppers in Simonton, Texas. He moved from Texas to California in the early 1960s where he met Sonny Bono, then an executive with Specialty Records. This led to his first record, “Look at Me,” in 1963. While in Los Angeles, Gray appeared in a production of “Hair.”

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.