Mark Gray, ‘80s Hitmaker, Dead at 64

Songwriting Credits Include Alabama’s “Take Me Down” and “The Closer You Get”

Songwriter and recording artist Mark Gray died Friday (Dec. 2) in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was 64.

Among the No. 1 songs he co-wrote were Alabama’s “Take Me Down” and “The Closer You Get” and Janie Fricke’s “It Ain’t Easy Being Easy,” as well as his own Top 10 hits, “Left Side of the Bed” and “Diamonds in the Dust.” Another of his co-writes, “Second Hand Heart,” was a No. 7 single for Gary Morris.

Gray was also a member of the group Exile from 1979 to 1982.

He was born Oct. 24, 1952 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and raised there and in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He began playing piano when he was 12 and continued with that as his instrument of choice.

Used to singing gospel music in church, he formed his own gospel group — the Revelations — in 1972. After the Oak Ridge Boys — at that time still a gospel act — saw him perform, they persuaded him to move to Nashville to work for their publishing company and sing on their tours.

Following his nearly two-year stint with the Oaks, Gray returned to Mississippi and sang both as a soloist and with various groups. More importantly, he began songwriting in earnest.

One of his demos fell into the hands of Mike Chapman, then producing Exile, who invited Gray to join the band.

By the time Gray departed Exile in 1982, he had established himself as a songwriter and soon after signed to Columbia Records as a solo act.

His first single for Columbia, “It Ain’t Real (If It Ain’t You),” a co-write with Eddie Setser, went to No. 25 in 1983. He would chart eight more singles for the label, five of which would go Top 10 or better.

But his biggest hit for Columbia came in 1985 when he teamed with Tammy Wynette on the Dan Hill-Barry Mann lyrical extravaganza, “Sometimes When We Touch.” It rose to No. 6.

Gray emerged on the national entertainment scene just as country music began to get serious about the quality of its music videos. Columbia went all out in the one it commissioned for his “Left Side of the Bed” in 1984. Essentially a full-fledged mini-movie, complete with cast and production credits, it ran over nine minutes.

Gray left Columbia in 1986. He charted two more singles after that on an independent label, both duets with Bobbi Lace. His last single to chart came in 1988 with “It’s Gonna Be Love,” which peaked at No. 70.

Funeral services are scheduled for Monday (Dec. 5) in Lebanon, Tennessee. He will be buried in Learned, Mississippi.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.