I learned today of the death of Dobie Gray. Each and every obituary of Dobie Gray needs to contain only two words: Drift Away. And those two words are reason enough to commemorate his contribution to recorded music.
I’ve written in this space about my preference for music by Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and other bands with electric guitars and driving beats. But Dobie Gray’s signature song isn’t anything like that. And perhaps that’s the reason I love it the way that I do.
There’s a mellow, laid back groove that serves as the base for his soothing vocals. The lyrics are a recognition of the power of music–and particularly rock and roll–to transform our lives, if only for a moment or two. Wherever you are, there’s some other place you can go, to make things better–or at least different–from what you are accustomed to. We all need to have that escape in our lives.
Dobie Gray didn’t write the song, and he wasn’t the first one to sing it, either. That title belongs to someone named John Henry Kurtz, and his version of the song is here. There are 44 recorded versions of the song, by everyone from Ike and Tina Turner to Rod Stewart to Ray Charles to Barry Williams/Johnny Bravo. I haven’t heard them all, but I can say with confidence that nobody will ever sing it better than Dobie Gray.
It’s so ironic that when Dobie Gray sang the line “I believe in your song,” his vocals made it into his song. The Uncle Kracker version, which had much success a few years ago, had the benefit of Dobie Gray’s vocals at the end of the song. It felt like something of a benediction, where the song was being passed onto a new generation who, like myself, were too young to appreciate the song when it first came out. But we have discovered it since, and we’ll hear it time and again in the years and decades to come. And, because life often imitates art, we’ll find ourselves getting lost in the song and, well, drifting away. And that’s exactly how it was intended to be.