Blind Arvella Gray
The Singing Drifter
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Blind Arvella Gray (born James Dixon in 1906) was a street musician who often performed his gospel and blues at the open-air market on Maxwell Street in Chicago. He recorded a handful of 45s in the 1960s, and his only LP was released in 1972 on Birch Records, at the encouragement of a young fan named Cary Baker. Now, 25 years after Gray's death, his LP is seeing a CD-reissue on Baker's brand-new label, Conjuroo.
The Singing Drifter is a collection of traditional gospel numbers ("Take My Hand Precious Lord"), original songs ("These Old Fashioned Alley Blues"), and a few a cappella tracks steadied by Gray's sparse clapping. But it's the rolling melodies of Gray's dobro that capture his essence: as he punctuates instrumental verses of "When the Saints Go Marching In" with a jubilant "Hallelujah!," it's easy to imagine the crowds that must have clustered around him on that Chicago street, ears inclined.
-Catherine P. Lewis
.: Originally published: Paste Issue 18: October/November 2005
.: The Singing Drifter on Amazon.com