At the age of 18, Henry Gross stepped onto the stage of the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair as a member of rock’n’roll revival romp Sha Na Na and into the history books as the youngest performer at that era-defining event. It’s fair to say the festival changed his life, but not in the way his fellow performers used it to go on to fame and fortune. While Henry stood and watched Jimi Hendrix, who Sha Na Na had preceded at seven in the morning before the guitarist’s closing set, he decided he wanted more than just slicking his hair back and charging around the stage singing ‘At The Hop’.
After quitting Sha Na Na in 1970, he signed to ABC-Dunhill, releasing the low-flying “Henry Gross” album while playing clubs and colleges. He signed to A&M in 1973, issuing another self-titled set which was much more well-received. It was followed by 1975’s acclaimed “Plug Me Into Something”. By now an in-demand session guitarist for artists including Dion and Jim Croce, Henry moved to Lifesong Records, founded by Terry Cashman and Tommy West.
The first track Henry issued on the new label was his single, ‘Shannon’. While touring in the mid-70s, Henry often shared the bill with the Beach Boys, a major influence on his songs since his obsession with their music, beginning with ‘Surfer Girl’, ‘When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)’ and ‘California Girls’ and then “Pet Sounds”, which knocked him sideways.
The two albums gathered here stand as early pinnacles of the lone mission he still pursues today. 1976’s “Release” and the following year’s “Show Me To The Stage” are overlooked, some might even say lost, gems from an era dominated by noisier musical strains, studded with gorgeous, diverse studio creations all dominated by one of the most distinctive voices in music. Tremulous, soulful and often achingly beautiful, Henry’s way of caressing his often highly personal compositions is a masterclass in delivery and perfectly placed nuance.
A major but under-rated talent, Henry Gross deserves more recognition for his honest, beautifully executed outpourings, particularly the albums we feature: two of his finest creations.
By Kris Needs