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Singer Dobie Gray dies

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Dobie Gray, a versatile singer and songwriter who had a handful of hits in various pop genres but who was probably best known for his enduring 1973 soul anthem, ?Drift Away,? a wistful paean to all songwriters and their songs, died on Tuesday in Nashville. He was believed to be 71.

The cause was complications of cancer surgery, said his friend and fellow songwriter George Reneau.

Mr. Gray, who sang and wrote songs in a range of styles including rhythm-and-blues, country, disco and gospel, had his first Top 20 hit in 1965 with ?The ?In? Crowd,? an upbeat hymn to hipness that captured the social restlessness of the time. Written by Billy Page and based on an idea suggested by Mr. Gray, the song struck a special chord in the music industry and was performed by many others, including the Ramsey Lewis Trio (whose 1965 instrumental version was an even bigger hit than Mr. Gray?s), Petula Clark, the Mamas and the Papas, Lawrence Welk and the Chipmunks.

Management problems left Mr. Gray without much to show for his early success, he told Billboard in 1974. He said he received no royalties for ?The ?In? Crowd.? With his recording career stalled, he spent two years in the cast of the Los Angeles production of ?Hair? in the late 1960s.

?Drift Away? was recorded in 1973 after Mr. Gray, attempting a comeback, secured a contract with MCA Records. He was teamed with the songwriter and producer Mentor Williams (the brother of Paul Williams), who had produced it for another artist with no success.

Mr. Gray?s strong, raspy tenor, schooled by years of gospel choir duty as a child in the Texas Baptist church where his grandfather was minister, gave Mr. Williams?s song the soulful treatment it apparently needed, sending it to No. 5 on the Billboard charts that year and carving a permanent place for it in later years on oldies radio.

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"Thanks for the joy that you've given me,

I want you to know I believe in your song,

And rhythm and rhyme and harmony,

You help me along,

Makin' me strong, "

-Dobie Gray's Drift Away

R.I.P. Dobie

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