Fabulous Flip Sides – Henry Gross Interview - Sha Na Na to Shannon and Beyond

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We discuss early Sha Na Na at Woodstock, Henry Gross' Top 10 solo hit “Shannon,” his Show Me to the Stage album, John Lennon, Carl Wilson, Felix Cavaliere, John Sebastian, Nicolette Larson, Jonathan Edwards, Henry Paul, Steve Goodman, and Lindisfarne.

By Warren Kurtz

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One Hit Wanderer photo by Steve Satterwhite, courtesy of henrygross.com

GOLDMINE: Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Fellow Goldmine writer Mike Greenblatt’s book on Woodstock memories will be released. People who haven’t seen the film will experience what I witnessed at the theater in 1970, with your exciting performance as a member of Sha Na Na. What a classic soundtrack triple album too. Side one begins with John Sebastian’s beautiful “I Had a Dream,” which was the finale on his first solo album. My favorite Arlo Guthrie flip side, “Coming into Los Angeles,” is included and then comes that exciting finale for side one, “At The Hop,” with your guitar playing at the end, while I envision the singers running around the stage in a frantic circle.

HENRY GROSS: I bought a Gibson 345 guitar at Manny’s Music on West 48th Street in Midtown Manhattan. We played ten songs at Woodstock, as the second to last act, right before Jimi Hendrix’s finale for the festival. There were nine vocal songs and one instrumental, “Wipe Out,” the intense song that destroyed my guitar.

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GM: I first learned the song “Remember Then,” with you singing The Earls’ song on Sha Na Na’s debut album, from an oldies show in Richmond, Virginia in the ‘80s. DJ Bob Keeton told me, “On Saturday nights, when WRVA handed me a microphone and turntables, actually ITC Cart machines, most folks like me had done a week's worth of 9 to 5 and wanted recreation. The Gold Show reflected that goal and the choice of music was completely mine. Sha Na Na would take a song, polish it, shape it, punch it up and put it out in a way that preserved all the original feeling and added sparkle. The tunes popped, they bounced, they were just plain fun, and none were more fun, or more appropriate to what I intended on air than, "Remember Then.”

HG: That was recorded at 1650 Broadway at Allegra Studios in the basement, where Tommy James and the Shondells recorded, from our debut album Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay! It was produced by Artie Ripp, who was involved with Woodstock, and there is a Woodstock crowd photo as part of the album cover.

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GM:After leaving Sha Na Na for a solo career, you recorded another cover song that I enjoy, your version of Lindisfarne’s folk-rock “Meet Me on the Corner,” on your second solo album. I’m a big Lindsifarne fan, especially their first three albums.

HG: Bob Johnston was the producer on that song. He had produced Bob Dylan, but he also produced Lindisfarne’s second and third albums, Fog on the Tyne and Dingly Dell. Elliott Cahn, from Sha Na Na, went to England and came back with Lindisfarne albums, which is how I was introduced to their music. I was flown to Nashville and introduced to that music scene. I learned from and was challenged by talent that I saw in Nashville. On my trip there, at the hotel was a small performance room called “The Roger Miller.” I heard a guy at the bar, who I thought was great. It was Steve Goodman, who would end up giving Arlo Guthrie his biggest hit recording Steve’s “City of New Orleans.” We did a demo session with Charlie Daniels on guitar. He was amazing. I still see him here in Nashville, where I moved to in the mid-‘80s. ABC Dunhill was interested in “Meet Me on the Corner” for my first album. It wasn’t until my second album, which was on A&M, that we recorded it.

GM:In early June of 1976, as I was graduating high school, “Shannon” and John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” were back to back in the Top 10.

HG: I still enjoy singing “Shannon.” I had toured with the Beach Boys and Carl Wilson invited me to his home in Beverly Hills for lunch, but two husky dogs knocked our intended meal to the floor. Carl apologized, and I told him not to worry about it as I have an Irish setter at home, named Shannon, and it could have happened there too. Then Carl got quiet. He said that he also had an Irish setter named Shannon and that she was hit by a car and killed a month ago. That was the inspiration for the song on Terry Cashman and Tommy West’s Lifesong label. Now, whenever there is an animal shelter opening or fundraiser, I am asked to perform, which I try to do as much as possible. I also tell the story in my One Hit Wanderer shows.

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GM:My wife Donna and I listen to the Sirius XM ONEderland station, driving around central Florida. What a variety of one hit wonders they play. We were reminded that even though John Sebastian had hits with The Lovin’ Spoonful and Felix Cavaliere with The Rascals, their solo hits were limited to “Welcome Back” and “Only a Lonely Heart Sees.” It was also good hearing you on ‘60s on 6 with Phlash Phelps, talking about Woodstock.

HG: I’ll be back on Sirius XM, starting on November 1 with segments on ‘70s on 7. John, Felix and I did reminisce about the hits over dinner.

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Felix Cavaliere, Henry Gross, John Sebastian, henrygross.com

GM:Recently I spoke with Burleigh Drummond of Ambrosia about the soundtrack All This and World War II, packed with interpretations of Beatles songs. I had heard and enjoyed slow versions of “Help” by Deep Purple, The Carpenters and Michael Stanley, then I heard your high vocal notes and the orchestra on your take on the song, making yet another unique and enjoyable recording.

HG: I received a call from Cashman and West about an opportunity to be on a soundtrack of Beatles songs. I later heard that John Lennon preferred the slower and serious versions of his song, like what we had done. I also recorded a version, without strings, for my next album, Show Me to The Stage. We got a very good mix and had it delivered to the Record Plant recording studio, for use there, when it was time to do the album. For two months it sat by the door and then it went missing. We tried to recreate the mix. Studio A was taken by Bruce Springsteen, so we went to Studio C where John Lennon worked, and that is the version you hear at the end of the first side of the album.

GM:In the summer of ’77, I heard “What a Sound” on the radio. It sounded like The Beach Boys to me. Donna and I had seen them earlier in the year and they were fantastic. Then the DJ announced that you were the artist on the song. My friends were home from college. I read that a new big record store named Peaches had just opened on the other side of town, where JC Penney had been. I grabbed a map, rounded up my friends, who were home from college, and we took a trip west to this new huge store, where we spent an hour in awe. I left with your album and began playing side two, which starts with “What a Sound,” when I got home.

HG: Speaking of college, some college chorus has since done a recording of “What a Sound.” They sent me a tape of it, which I really enjoyed hearing. I begin with the line, “What a sound the rain makes,” which was due to a humongous thunder storm, like a Florida storm that you are probably used to. I was sitting there, writing and it came together. Phil Aaberg, on keyboards, added a special bass line to it.

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GM:That Beach Boys sound continues to the next song on the album, which also served as the flip side of “What a Sound,” the beautiful “I Can’t Believe.” You hit some high Lou Christie-type notes. What is Phil playing on it?

HG: Phil is playing a harpsichord that we rented and had to tune also, giving the song a bit of a baroque sound, yet that big Phil Spector production sound too. Side two was a departure for me, which I enjoyed.

Henry Gross

Flip side: I Can’t Believe

A side: What a Sound

Chart Debut: July 2, 1977

Peak Position: 110

Lifesong 45024

GM:The ‘70s gave us Top 10 hits, early in the decade, with “Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards, your mid-‘70s hit “Shannon,” and as the decade was ending, “Lotta Love” by Nicolette Larson. In the early ‘80s I was in New York City and saw the off-Broadway musical, Pump Boys and Dinettes, which was so entertaining, including the songs “Highway 57” and “The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine.”

HG: I enjoyed being part of that musical road company. Nicci sadly has passed but John is still one of my dearest friends.

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Pump Boys and Dinettes: Henry Gross, Jonathan Edwards, Nicolette Larson, henrygross.com

GM:You and John joined Henry Paul from The Outlaws and BlackHawk for a trio with three-part harmonies like Crosby, Stills & Nash.

HG: Yes, we did a record and I would like to do another one and call it This, That and the Other. We joke around and pick on each other. Henry is a great guy.

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GM:You have also written a song for your Nashville neighbors Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere, “When You’re with Me,” which has a soulful / Motown feel.

HG: Felix is a fan of my lyrics. I came up with the title of their Nudge it up a Notch album. Felix is a fun entertainer and what an iconic guitarist Steve is.

GM:Thank you for the variety of music you have given us over the years. I will listen for you on ‘70s on 7 in early November.

HG: Thank you, too. I hope to do some shows your way too.

http://www.henrygross.com/

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Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.

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