“Family Bible” Singer, ‘The Tall Texan’ Claude Gray Has Died

He stood 6’5″ tall, which is why people referred to him as “The Tall Texan.” He wrote, recorded, and performed songs for decades in country music. He was the first performer to record and release the song “Family Bible” written by Willie Nelson, and the success of the song helped put Willie Nelson on the country music map. His real name was Claude Gray, and for many years he was beloved for his classic country and Countrypolitan songs.

At 91, Claude Gray was also one of country music’s oldest living legends, even older that Willie Nelson. On April 18th, Gray entered hospice care after doctors found a large tumor on his brain that had left him non-cognitive. He died on Friday, April 28th.

Claude Gray’s recording of “Family Bible” was the native Texan’s first hit, and came in 1960. The story of the song is one of country music legend, where a struggling and hungry Willie Nelson sold the song for $100 to Paul Buskirk shortly after moving from Vancouver, Washington to Houston, Texas. Willie had no money and needed to feed his family, so he “sold” the song, meaning that Willie agreed to let Paul Buskirk claim he wrote it with Claude Gray and partner Walt Brelin. The rest is history.

Born in Henderson, TX on January 25th, 1932, Claude Gray served in the United States Navy from 1950 to 1954. When he returned home, he took a job as a salesman, but got into music in 1959 while working as a radio announcer in Kilgore, TX. Showcasing a voice perfect for country music, Gray was signed by D Records and recorded a few singles, but failed to garner much attention until “Family Bible” hit #10 on the country charts.

The success of “Family Bible” was not only partially responsible for inspiring Willie Nelson to move to Nashville to become a professional songwriter, it also got the attention of Mercury Records, who signed Claude Gray and released the album Songs of Broken Love Affairs in 1961. The album included “I’ll Just Have a Cup of Coffee (Then I’ll Go)” that hit #4 on the charts, followed by “My Ears Should Burn (When Fools Are Talked About)” at #3, and suddenly Claude Gray was one of the most promising voices in country music.

But Claude struggled to find the same chart success from there. He co-wrote a song called “The Ballad of Jimmy Hoffa” that Mercury wanted nothing to do with due to its pro-Hoffa stance. It was eventually recorded by Smokey Stover. Gray moved on from Mercury to record a successions of singles for Decca, Hilltop, and later Koala, landing a Top 10 hit with the song “I Never Had The One I Wanted” on the album Claude Gray Sings from 1966. Even though he didn’t have a lot of big radio hits, Claude Gray still enjoyed a strong following from those who felt his voice and songs were the essence of true country music.

The Claude Gray song “How Fast Them Trucks Can Go” originally released by Decca in 1967 has become a standard in the world of country trucker songs. Claude’s 1982 “Who Sent My Ex to Texas” is considered by some a precursor to George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas.” And many country fans consider Claude’s recording of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” from 1986 to be the definitive country music take on the song.

Claude Gray continued to tour well into older age in the “Claude Gray Roadshow,” and was active in the industry up until his death. A proud Texan and a towering individual, Claude Gray left a big impression on country music, if only from his success with the now country music standard, “Family Bible.”

Willie Nelson said in his autobiography, “After “Family Bible’ hit the top, I knew that all my other songs were good .. I needed that money in a big way when I sold those songs, and I was real glad to get it. I appreciate that Paul [Buskirk] and his partners knew a bargain when they saw it.”

It was a bargain that paid off big from Willie Nelson, Claude Gray, and country music.

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