HENRY GROSS-RELEASE/SHOW ME TO THE STAGE.

HENRY GROSS-RELEASE/SHOW ME TO THE STAGE.

In 1969, Henry Gross was the youngest person to perform at the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair. Henry was just eighteen when he took to the stage with Sha Na Na. However, Henry Gross, whose albums Release and Show Me To The Stage were recently rereleased by Chiswick, an imprint of Ace Records, was no newcomer to music.

Henry Gross was born on 1st April 1951, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother was a music lover who encouraged Henry’s nascent career. By the time Henry was thirteen, he played at the World’s Fair with his first band. Then by the time Henry was fourteen, Henry was a familiar face in the clubs of New York. This was a tough musical apprenticeship.

One of the clubs Henry’s band played was owned by a major New York gangster. He encouraged Henry to pursue his musical career. Playing the tough, rough and ready clubs of New York meant Henry was ready for anything. However, when the summer came, Henry played to a very different audience.

When the school term ended, Henry headed to the Catskill Mountains where he played at the resort hotels. This was Henry Gross’ musical apprenticeship. 

By the time Henry graduated from high school in 1969, his music apprenticeship was complete. Henry headed to Brooklyn College, where he founded Sha Na Na. 

Sha Na Na were unique. Realising the importance of standing out from the crowd, Sha Na Na billed themselves as a group “from the streets of New York.” They wore leather jackets and gold lame. Their hair styles ranged from a pompadour to slicked back ducktails. Similarly unique were their shows. 

When Sha Na Na walked on stage they combined song and dance. Their music was a mixture of fifties rock ’n’ roll and doo wop. They simultaneously revived and sent up rock ’n’ roll. This proved a popular draw. Before long, Sha Na Na were opening for some of the biggest names in music. This included Dr. John, Grateful Dead, B.B. King, Canned Heat, Santana, Taj Mahal and The Kinks. That’s how highly Sha Na Na’s peers thought of them. For Sha Na Na, this was just the start of their rise and rise.

Later in 1969, Sha Na Na released their debut album Rock ’N’ Roll Is Here To Stay. Although it only reached number 183 in the US Billboard 200, word spread about Sha Na Na. This lead to Sha Na Na being asked to play at the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Fair.

The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair took place between 15th and 17th August 1969. It was advertised as “three days of peace and music.” For Sha Na Na this would launch their career. They played on the main stage. For a relatively new band, this was like hitting a home run in the World Series. However, Henry Gross didn’t see it like this.

Standing at the side of the stage, Henry watched some of the biggest names in music play. Then as Jimi Hendrix brought the Woodstock Music and Arts Fair to a close, Henry realised Sha Na Na wasn’t what he wanted to be doing. 

He thought about Sha Na Na. Here, were twelve men and women dressed as if they’d stepped out of the fifties. However, psychedelia was King. The fifties were another country. Musically, it was the past. The members of Sha Na Na were happy doing what they were doing. They were good guys Henry knew, but they weren’t taking things seriously. Henry was different. He wanted to make a living out of music. Furthermore, he was a talented singer and songwriter. So, in 1970, Henry Gross left Sha Na Na.

Having left Sha Ne Na in 1970, Henry Gross signed to ABC-Dunhill Records in 1971. While working on his eponymous debut album, Henry did some session work. One of the albums he played on was Jim Groce’s I Got A Name. It was released in 1973, and reached number two in the US Billboard 200. By then, Henry had left ABC-Dunhill Records.

Henry Gross.

Having recorded his debut album Henry Gross for ABC-Dunhill Records, it was released in 1972. Henry Gross was reasonably well received by critics. Tracks like My Sunshine and Loving You-Loving Me showcase what Henry was capable of. Some critics however, felt Henry Gross was a couple of tracks short of being a fine album. Prayer To All and You’ll Be Mine disappointed critics. Looking back, Henry Gross showed the potential that Henry had. Sadly, record buyers failed to spot that potential and  Henry Gross failed to chart. As a result, Henry was dropped by ABC-Dunhill Records. He wasn’t without a record contract long and signed to A&M in 1973.

Henry Gross.

ABC-Dunhill Records seemed to have been hasty getting rid of Henry. He wasn’t allowed to develop and mature as an artist. That takes time. Sometimes, an artist doesn’t hit his stride until his second or third album, which confusingly, was also entitled Henry Gross. It found favour amongst record critics.

On the release of Henry Gross in 1973, it was apparent that Henry was maturing as a singer and songwriter. Accompanied by a tight, talented band, Henry works his way through ten tracks. Without doubt, one of the highlights was Meet Me On The Corner. It gave Lindisfarne the biggest hit of their career. Apart from Meet Me On The Corner, Simone, The Ever Lovin’ Days and Lay Your Love Song Down showcased Henry Gross as he evolved as a singer and songwriter. So it’s no surprise that Henry Gross was released to widespread critical acclaim. Sadly, commercial success eluded Henry. 

Despite the undoubted quality of Henry Gross, the album failed to chart. For Henry, this must have proved frustrating. After all, singer-songwriters were in vogue. James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell and Carole King were enjoying critical acclaim and commercial success. Soon, so would Henry Gross.

Plug Me Into Something.

For Henry, the commercial failure of his sophomore album was disappointing. However, it made him even more determined to succeed. So, he returned him and began work on his third album, Plug Me Into Something.

Plug Me Into Something proved to be a coming of age for Henry. On it release in 1975, Plug Me Into Something was hailed a career defining album for Henry Gross. With every release, Henry seemed to mature. What many people forgot, was that when Henry release his debut album, he was only twenty-one. When he released Plug Me Into Something, he was still only twenty-four. However, he’d grown as a singer, songwriter and storyteller. That was apparent on Plug Me Into Something.

When Plug Me Into Something was released in 1975, it reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200 charts. Over at ABC-Dunhill Records, someone had some explaining to do. After all, it was obvious that they’d cut Henry loose too early in his career. Henry thought he was about to hit the most fruitful period of his career, starting with Release, which featured the biggest hit single of Henry’s career, Shannon. 

Release.

By the time Henry began work on his fourth album Release, which is one of the two albums to be rereleased on one CD by Chiswick, an imprint of Ace Records, he was in-demand as a session guitarist. Henry had also left A&M Records. He decided to move to Terry Cashman and Tommy West’s Lifesong Records. 

Signing to Lifesong Records must have been a culture shock for Henry. He’d previously been signed to large labels like ABC-Dunhill Records and A&M Records. At Lifesong Records, the roster was smaller and meant each artist was treated as individual. They weren’t part of the corporate machine. Co-owners Terry Cashman and Tommy West would produce Release, Henry’s Lifesong Records’ debut.

For Release, Henry penned a total of ten tracks. This included a song he wrote about the death of Carl Wilson’s red setter dog, Shannon. To onlookers, this seemed a strange subject for a song. Little did anyone know the effect Shannon would have. However, before Shannon was released as a single, it had to be recorded.

Recording of Release took place at The Record Plant, New York. Between September and November 1975, the ten tracks were recorded by a band of talented musicians accompanied Henry. He played electric and acoustic guitars and backing vocals. The rhythm section included drummers Allan Schwartzberg and Steve Gadd, bassist Warren Nichols and guitarist Hugh McCracken and Bucky Pizzarelli who played a seven-string guitar. Phil Aalberg played electric piano, piano, celeste and synths, while Larry Packer played fiddle and mandolin. Percussion came courtesy of George Devens, Steve Gadd and Tommy West. Backing vocals were added by Tommy West, Terry Cashman, Marty Nelson, Tasha Thomas and Mike Corbett. A horn and string section adding the finishing touches to Release, which was released in 1976.

When critics heard Release, they were won over by Henry’s fourth album. Release received widespread critical acclaim. Henry’s blend of pop, soft rock and A&M pop went down well with critics. Dissenting voices were very much in the minority. So, everything looked good for the release of Release.

That proved to be the case. Shannon was released as a single. The song about Carl Wilson’s red setter gave Henry Gross a huge hit single. In America Shannon reached number six in the US Billboard 100, number one in Canada and number thirty-two in the UK. Eventually, Shannon was certified gold in America alone. The sophomore album Springtime Mama, then reached number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100. When Release was released in 1976, it reached number sixty-four in the US Billboard 200. However, there’s more to Release than two singles.

When people mention Release, they always mention the beautiful,  poignant and wistful ballad Shannon. It showcases the soulful side of Henry Gross. The keyboard driven introduction to Springtime Mama always reminds me of The Who. Then when Henry’s vocal enters, it’s the Beach Boys all the way. Partly, that’s down the the harmonies. It’s also a result of Henry’s vocal versatility. It runs through Release.

Juke Box Song explodes into life as Henry shows his rocky side. Driven along by blistering guitars, Henry and his band grab your attention. Henry seems determined to find his inner rocker. They become one during this explosive start to Release. Later, on Release, Henry returns to his rocky sound on Some Thing In Between. He and his band relish the opportunity to kick loose. Henry’s vocal is a mixture of power and sass. However, that’s just one side to Henry Gross. The variety keeps on coming.

Lincoln Road sees Henry throw a curveball. It has a laid- back reggae hue. That’s down to Hugh McCracken’s reggae tinged guitar playing. Then there’s Henry Gross balladeer.

On Overton Square Henry delivers a tender, heartfelt ballad. There’s a nod to David Gates on this beautiful paean. On One Last Time, Henry’s at his best. It’s a mid tempo ballad, featuring a needy, hopeful vocal full of longing. Someday is another understated ballad. Henry’s band provide a slow, beautiful backdrop. It allows his vocal to shine as he delivers a seductive vocal.

Moonshine Alley has Celtic and country influence. The understated arrangement sets the scene for a compelling vocal from Henry.

Pokey closes Release. It’s country rock. He’s accompanied by a rocky arrangement. It features a slide guitar and piano. They’re at the heart of the song’s success. So is Henry’s charismatic vocal. It ensures he finishes release on a high.

As I said earlier, there’s much more to Release, than the two singles Shannon and Springtime Mama. Throughout Release, Henry Gross keeps you on your toes. He’s a musical chameleon. Unlike many artists, Henry is capable of  seamlessly changing style. One minute he’s discovering his inner rocker, the next he becomes the seducer in chief. Then on Lincoln Road Henry turns his hand to reggae. Variety Henry Gross believed was the spice of life. This eclecticism works.

Quite simply, Release oozes quality. There’s no padding on Release, just quality music. That’s why Release was Henry’s most successful album. Obviously, Release was helped by the million-selling single Shannon. However, Henry Gross’ career had been building up to Release. Release saw critical acclaim and commercial success come Henry Gross’ way. It should’ve been the start of the most successful period of his career.

Show Me To The Stage.

After the commercial success and critical acclaim of Release, Henry started work on his fifth album. He wrote ten tracks. They became Show Me To The Stage. It was recorded at The Record Plant, New York.

Recording took place between October 1976 and Jaunary 1977, at The Record Plant. Some of the musicians who played on Release returned for Show Me To The Stage. The rhythm section included drummers Allan Schwartzberg and Rick Marotta, bassists Warren Nichols, Don Payne, Tony Levin and Will Lee. Henry played guitars, Phil Aalberg keyboards. Percussionists included Allan Schwartzberg, George Devens and Jimmy Maelens. Backing vocals were added by Tommy West, Terry Cashman, Marty Nelson and Henry. Once recording of Show Me To The Stage was completed, in was released in 1977.

Five years after releasing his eponymous debut album in 1972,  Henry released Show Me To The Stage. Critics regarded Show Me To The Stage as an album of two sides. Side one was something of a slow burner, cumulating in an intriguing cover of The Beatles’ Help.  It showcases the not just the production skills of Cashman and West, but their harmonies. Then on side two of Show Me To The Stage Henry can do no wrong. Hooks are in plentiful supply as side two has an uplifting and joyous with a feel-good, summery vibe. Critics forecast great things for Show Me To The Stage.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Show Me To The Stage stalled at just number 176 in the US Billboard 200. For Henry, his career had stalled. Worse still, he was back to where he was after his sophomore album. However, Show Me To The Stage is an underrated album.

Faux applause greets Henry on the title-track, Show Me The Stage. It’s a melting pot of influences. There’s AOR, West Coast Sound and rock. Sample spotters will notice a riff that’s been inspired by Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina’s 1972 hit Your Mama Don’t Dance where Henry is determined to grab the audience’s attention. He continues to do that the rocky String Of Hearts. Henry swaggers his way through the track combining blues and rock ’n’ roll. Add to that harmonies and hooks and it’s a heady brew.

On the beautiful, heartfelt ballad Painting My Love Songs there’s similarities with Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina’s Thinking of You. Having said that it’s a truly gorgeous track. That’s down to the lyrics and Henry’s tender delivery of them. Then there’s the harmonies and crystalline guitars.

Come Along sees Henry return to his rocky side. Having discovered his inner rocker, he struts his way through the track, with blistering, searing guitars for company. During the breakdown percussion and the rhythm section combine, before Henry heads kicks loose and the track heads to  its crescendo.

A cover of The Beatles’ Help closed side one of Show Me To The Stage. It’s a compelling reinvention of a classic track. He veers between transforming the song into a ballad, before heading in the direction of psychedelia, rock, wistful and later, draws inspiration from The Beach Boys. Quite simply, Henry’s take on Help is a Magical Mystery Tour,

Side Two of Show Me To The Stage won over the critics. No wonder. It oozes quality. What A Sound reminds me of Supertramp and later, The Beach Boys. There’s even a brief nod to The Beatles’ psychedelic period. The quality continues on Sometimes and Hideaway. They’re both ballads. This is what Henry does so well. He delivers the lyrics with emotion, breathing life and meaning into them. The balladry continues on Showboat. Some people have compared Henry to Seals and Croft on Showboat. There may be an element of truth. However, what you can’t deny is the quality of music. With harmonies and harmonica for company, Henry delivers a soul-searching, vocal masterclass.

Henry Gross closes  Show Me To The Stage with a quite poignant, wistful ballad, If We Tie Our Ship Together. It’s a slow burner. The song seems loathe to reveal its secrets. When it does, it’s well worth the wait. After a minute, Henry delivers a tender, thoughtful and hopeful vocal. Again, the harmonies add a Beach Boys influence. That’s down to Terry Cashman and Tommy West’s production. They’ve kept one of the best until last, ensuring you want to hear more from Henry Gross.

Show Me To The Stage is probably, the most underrated album of Henry Gross’ career. It stalled at just number 176 in the US Billboard 200. For Henry, his career seemed to be stalling. Just when he seemed to be forging a career as a successful artist, Henry Gross was back to where he was after his eponymous sophomore album. However, despite the lack of commercial success, Show Me To The Stage is an underrated album.

Listening to Show Me To The Stage it’s an eclectic album where Henry has been inspired by a variety of influences. AOR, blues, Celtic, country, pop and rock all feature on Show Me To The Stage. Henry has been influenced by The Beatles, Beach Boys, Seals and Croft, Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina, The Bellamy Brothers, Brian Wison and Carole King. All these influences and more shine through as Henry veers between his inner rocker and balladeer. 

It’s delivering ballads that Henry Gross is at his best on Show Me To The Stage. The final four songs of  side two of Show Me To The Stage are ballads. They feature Henry Gross toying with your emotions. His vocals are tender, needy, hopeful and heartfelt. The lyrics come to life. Their meaning and beauty becomes apparent, as Henry delivers a series of vocal tour de forces. This is just four reasons why Show Me To The Stage is a hidden gem in Henry Gross’ back-catalogue. Partly, that’s because Show Me To The Stage has never been rereleased.

That all changed recently. Chiswick, an imprint of Ace Records rereleased Release and Show Me To The Stage on one CD. This is a welcome rerelease. After all, neither album have ever been rereleased. Their recent rerelease will allow a new generation of music lovers to discover Release, Henry Gross’ most successful album and Show Me To The Stage, his most underrated albums. Release and Show Me To The Stage will make welcome additions to any record collections.

HENRY GROSS-RELEASE/SHOW ME TO THE STAGE.

CDWIKD-104

CDWIKD-104a

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