Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"...You Just Gotta Know That Somewhere Tonight, He's Wrapped Up In Some Lovin Arms..."

You're liable to hear a lot of "Drift Away" for the next day or two.

Dobie Gray has passed away.

When a celebrity dies, it's customary that whatever most identifies that celebrity for the public becomes, at least at first, that celebrity's media epitaph.

In Dobie's case, that would be "Drift Away."

Not too shabby, as epitaphs go.

But narrowing the focus on an amazing and diverse career that spanned five decades down to a single song might do the man proud but it hardly does him justice.

And while cliche' is always anathema to this word guy, it's only fair, and totally on target, to say that Dobie Gray truly was a one of a kind vocal talent.

In a culture that seems, sometimes, to pride itself on being the newest version of the current next big thing, Dobie was a singer who could not be mistaken for any other singer.

Even if you tried.

And while Dobie's career rebirth performance of Mentor Williams' amazing "Drift Away" deservedly belongs in the list of iconic pop songs, you're cheating yourself out of some wonderful discovery if you don't seek out his larger body of work including, but certainly not limited to, his seminal performance of Tom Jan's stunning "Lovin Arms".

Not to mention a little ditty from the hip and happening sixties that was, to Dobie, "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" was to a young Michael Landon, that which brought fame but, along with it, a latter day cringe factor of ten plus.

"The In Crowd".

As for this baby boomer, I was doubly blessed by Dobie Gray's time on the mortal coil.

First as a young fan of both that cheesy sixties stuff and the seventies rebirth that produced "Drift Away", et al.

Then in the early eighties as a friend and peer who was honored to be asked to sing backup with him on stage at the 1982 Volunteer Jam in Nashville.

That was quite a night on a couple of counts.

First, I had just, about two hours earlier, married the lady who was standing next to me in that backup group on stage, a wedding that Dobie was gracious enough to announce to the thousands in the hearty partying crowd jammed into the Municipal Auditorium.

Second, don't let anybody kid ya. Singing the high harmony part live on "Drift Away" ten feet from the star and in front of thousands of hearty party-ers and actually hitting the notes is no small feat.

You can't buy memories like that, I'm here to tell you.

And not to tarnish the tribute, but the irony isn't lost on me that today another Nashville name has been in the news.

John Rich was thrown off a Southwest jet because he was too drunk to act like a civilized human being, not the first time Rich has made headlines with one low rent incident or another.

The contrast is both pitiful and poignant.

Because Dobie Gray was not only a one of a kind vocal talent.

He was a class act.

Classy enough, in fact, to share only with friends and enthralled, honored, newly married back up singers that he couldn't stand doing "The In Crowd" while always graciously thanking those fans who said they loved it.

Including enthralled, honored, newly married back up singers.

So you're liable to hear a lot of "Drift Away" for the next day or two.

I suspect Dobie is just fine with that.

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