Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Drift Away

First recorded by John Henry Kurtz (1972).
Hit versions by Dobie Gray (US #5/R&B #42 1973), Narvel Felts (C&W #8 1973), Uncle Cracker & Dobie Gray (US #9/MOR #1 2003).
Also recorded by The Rolling Stones (unreleased 1974).

From the wiki: “‘Drift Away’ was written by Mentor Williams (brother of songwriter Paul Williams) as a lament of the difficulties being a Nashville songwriter. John Henry Kurtz was the first to record ‘Drift Away’, for his own album, Reunion (1972), on which he was backed by some of L.A.’s finest: Skunk Baxter, Kenny Loggins, Michael Omartian, Jim Gordon, and others. Kurtz was a man of many talents: Broadway, movie and TV actor; Civil War collectibles buff (some of which were filmed for Ken Burns’ PBS-TV series, Civil War); voice-over artist (NBC Nightly News, and countless commercials); musician.

“In 1973 the song became Dobie Gray’s biggest hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was the final pop hit for Decca Records in the United States. In the early 1960s Gray had moved to Los Angeles, intending to pursue an acting career while also singing to make money. Born Lawrence Darrow Brown, he recorded for several local labels under the names Leonard Ainsworth, Larry Curtis, and Larry Dennis, before Sonny Bono directed him toward the small independent Stripe Records. They suggested that he record under the name ‘Dobie Gray’, an allusion to the then-popular sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis

“Gray’s first taste of success came in 1963 when his seventh single ‘Look At Me’, on the Cor-Dak label and recorded with Wrecking Crew bassist Carol Kaye, reached #91 on the Billboard Hot 100. Greater success came in early 1965 when his original recording of ‘The ‘In’ Crowd‘ (recorded later that year as an instrumental by Ramsey Lewis). Gray’s record reached #11 on the US R&B chart, and #25 in the UK.

“A Country version of ‘Drift Away’ was recorded by Narvel Felts in 1973. Felts’ version — which changed the lyrics ‘I wanna get lost in your rock and roll’ to ‘I wanna get lost in your country song’ — peaked at #8 on the Billboard’ Hot Country Singles chart in mid-August 1973, about three months after Gray’s version reached its popularity peak.

“A cover version was released by Uncle Kracker in 2003 from his album No Stranger To Shame. This version, which featured Dobie Gray singing the final verse, reached #9 on the Hot 100, one week to the day after Gray’s 63rd birthday. It spent a record-setting 28 weeks atop the Adult-contemporary (MOR) chart in the U.S.

“There is an unreleased 1974 recording of ‘Drift Away’ by the Rolling Stones. This production features all of the members of the then-current lineup of the Stones with the addition of keyboardist Nicky Hopkins.”

Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” (1973):

Narvel Felts, “Drift Away” (1973):

The Rolling Stones, “Drift Away” (1974):

Uncle Cracker with Dobie Gray, “Drift Away” (2003):

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