Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I Hardly Know What to Say

Shannon - Henry Gross

The early 1970's saw the rise of the "sensitive male" singer-songwriter, from James Taylor to Jim Croce, Cat Stevens to Paul Simon. From its beginnings in acoustic folk music, this genre evolved into a radio friendly form that was immensely popular at the time and remains a favorite for many a Baby Boomer.  What it lacks in edge and hipness it makes up for in melody, heart and facial hair.   Like any style, it generated a lot of forgettable songs, but also a number of classics that have endured.  Such is Henry Gross's #6 hit from 1976, "Shannon."

Event though the lyrics never specify who/what Shannon is, it became common knowledge that the song is about losing a beloved dog.  That subject resonated deeply with listeners who could relate to the difficulty of such a life event - and the deal was sealed by a memorable melody, heartfelt vocals, and lush production.

Though he is best known for singing a song so sincere that it's taken a fair amount of guff for being "corny," Henry has a great sense of humor, as evidenced in many of his other songs as well as in his answers to my questions about "Shannon" below.

1 - One of the most distinctive elements of "Shannon" is your soaring falsetto in the chorus. Did that happen spontaneously or was that a conscious choice?

Henry Gross: It was spontaneous but I'm quite comfortable singing in either high or low registers. My mom was a fine operatic singer & helped me expand my range.

2 - Judging from recent YouTube clips, you still have a great falsetto voice. What's the secret?

HG: No drugs... little booze... little coffee.... no dairy, and did I mention... NO DRUGS!

3 - You titled your one-man show (and album) "One Hit Wanderer," which is a nice example of your self-deprecating humor. But your career has been much more than that, from founding Sha Na Na, performing at Woodstock, writing hit songs in Nashville, singing with the Beach Boys, playing slide guitar on Jim Croce's "Workin' at the Car Wash Blues," and more. (Editor's note: I now realize that I never asked a question here.  Hats off to Henry for graciously coming up with an interesting answer anyway.)

HG: Thanks for the kind words. I think of myself as a songwriter who performs. Hopefully I've gotten better over the years. People tend to focus on your biggest hit because it's, in the sense of publicity at least, the low hanging fruit. I believe in John Lennon's button "Be here now!" Unfortunately radio won't play guys my age no matter how compelling the new work. So I rely on blogs and word of mouth to tell people about all of my CD's. (available at henrygross.com) Long live shameless self promotion!

4 - What was Beach Boy Carl Wilson's reaction to the song, given that it was inspired by a sad story he shared with you about his dog getting hit by a car? You said you sent him the demo tape you made on a big cassette recorder (do you still have this demo, by the way?) but that it was too late for the LP you were finishing up at the time.

HG: Carl loved the song and over the years said many kind things to me about it. He was a gem! I sent him the only cassette. I had no way to copy it and it wouldn't have occurred to me to make one.

5 - Online comments to lyrics and to video clips include some by Shannons who were named after your hit single. Do you have a particular memorable story about a fan's reaction to the song, which obviously has touched so many so deeply?

HG: While some critics, bless them, thought the song was corny, I still get amazing letters from pet owners worldwide who find the song's message helps them find peace after losing a beloved pet. I think I'll take their opinions as evidenced on the You Tube video "Shannon unplugged" from a performance I did at my dear friends Tony & Charlotte Silliman's wedding! 

I guess the weirdest story was as I was about to go onstage one night a couple came up to me and thanked me for the song, telling me they named their daughter after it........ adding that she had died!!!! Talk about a quick reversal of fortune!

6 - From Elvis's "Hound Dog" to "Who Let the Dogs Out," a lot of hit songs have featured canines. Interestingly enough, "Shannon" never explicitly lets on that it's about a dog. The only other popular songs I can think of that pull this off are the Beatles' "Martha, My Dear" and Guns'n'Roses' "I Used to Love Her." All of which is a long-winded way of asking you, what is your favorite dog song? 

HG: Don't forget Paul McCartney's "Jet," named after a puppy of his. My favorite dog song is undoubtedly "Shannon" as it's been such a big and wonderful part of my life. It's really hard to top Elvis singing "Hound Dog" though!!!!

7 - Your website says that you currently have 3 dogs (and 3 cats). What can you tell us about them and can you share a photo?

HG: They are the lights of my life! 

My dogs are Cleveland, Remy and Nanabelle. 

The Litterati (cats) are: Willie Hobbs IV, John Robie and Semba (a Bengal). 

All adopted from Humane Societies or folks who couldn't keep them!

Henry continues to make music, which you can check out at his website as mentioned above.  One of his most recent projects was a collaboration with pals Jonathan Edwards ("Sunshine") and Henry Paul (the Outlaws/BlackHawk).  Here is a sample from that album.  Support independent artists when you can.

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