Country songwriter and recording artist Mark Gray died on Friday (Dec. 2) in Lebanon, Tenn. He was 64 years old.

Known across the industry for his talents as a songwriter, Gray was responsible for a host of Top 10 country songs, including Alabama's "Take Me Down" and "The Closer You Get," Janie Fricke's "It Ain't Easy Being Easy" and Gary Morris' "Second Hand Heart." He also saw great success as a solo artist, and as a member of the country-pop band Exile. Friend and former bandmate Sonny LeMaire announced Gray's death and expressed his sadness on Saturday (Dec. 3).

"Yesterday, my bandmates and I lost a brother and a friend, Mark Gray," LeMaire writes on Facebook. "I will be forever grateful to him for his generosity as a musician, songwriter, and most importantly, his gift of friendship! ... [P]lease 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! Good-bye, my brother ... Rest In Peace."

Born on Oct. 24, 1952, in Vicksburg, Miss., Gray spent much of his childhood involved with music. CMT reports that he began playing the piano when he was 12, and was a regular singer in his church's gospel choir, which led Gray to form his own gospel group in 1972, the Revelations.

Gray's first big break would come when the Oak Ridge Boys saw him perform and convinced him to move to Nashville, work for their publishing company and join them on tour as a backup singer. Following his time with the quartet, Gray threw himself into songwriting and recording demos, one of which landed in the hands of Exile producer Mike Chapman, who invited Gray to join the band. He recorded and toured with Exile for three years, from 1979 until 1982, honing his skills and establishing himself as an accomplished tunesmith.

In 1982, Gray signed to Columbia Records as a solo artist and went one to released three albums and eight Top 40 country hits, five of which landed in the Top 10. His biggest chart success was a cover of Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch," which Gray performed as a duet with Tammy Wynette; the song reached No. 6 on the country charts.

Gray departed from Columbia in 1986, but went on to record two more singles on an independent label. Both were duets with Bobbi Lace, released in 1988: "Song In My Heart" and "It's Gonna Be Love."

Gray is survived by his wife and children. Memorial services are scheduled for Monday (Dec. 5) in Lebanon, Tenn.

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