Passings: Country Singer & Songwriter Mark Gray (1952 - 2016)

by VVN Music

Mark Gray, a country songwriter who also had five top ten singles on his own, died on Friday in Lebanon, TN at the age of 64.

Sonny LeMaire, who was Gray's bandmate from 1979 to 1982 in the group Exile, wrote:

Yesterday my band mates and I lost a brother and a friend, Mark Gray. I will be forever grateful to him for his generosity as a musician, songwriter, and most importantly, his gift of friendship!

Exile will be posting more about Mark soon. For now, please extend prayers to his caring wife, Janice, his children and extended family.

God and his angels have another soulful face singing in his heavenly choir! Goodbye my brother... Rest In Peace.--Sonny LeMaire

Born in Vicksburg, MS, Gray began playing piano at the age of 12 and sang with his church's gospel choir leading to his forming his own gospel group, the Revelations, in 1972.

Gray was discovered by the Oak Ridge Boys who saw him performing, bringing him to Nashville to write for their publishing company and hiring him as a background singer. He stayed with the group for two years before returning to Mississippi to write and work in a number of local groups.

In 1979, he joined Exile as their keyboard player while still honing his craft at songwriting. Finally, in 1981 he tasted his first real success crafting songs as his The Closer You Get went to number 27 on the Country Singles as sung by Don King. Rita Coolidge also recorded the song that same year.

The big breakthrough came in 1982 when Alabama took Gray's Take Me Down to number 1 on the Country singles along with 5 on the Adult Contemporary and 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. He followed the next year with another number 1 with Janie Fricke's version of his song It Ain't Easy Being Easy and, later that year, Alabama went to the top again with their version of The Closer You Get.

Having left Exile in 1982, Gray soon signed with Columbia where he recorded three albums and hit the Country top twenty seven times including a duet with country legend Tammy Wynette on the Dan Hill song Sometimes When We Touch):
  • Wounded Hearts (1983 / #18)
  • Left Side of the Bed (1984 / #10)
  • If All the Magic is Gone (1984 / #9)
  • Diamond in the Dust (1984 / #9)
  • Sometimes When We Touch (with Tammy Wynette) (1985 / #6)
  • Please Be Love (1985 / #7)
  • Back When Love Was Enough (1986 / #14)
In the late-80's, he left Columbia and recorded two duets with Bobbi Lace for an independent label.

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