Gary James' Interview With
Henry Gross






He was one of the co-founders of Sha Na Na, but has carved quite a name for himself as a solo artist. He is Henry Gross.

Q - Henry, you have your own record label by the name of Zelda Records?

A - Yup.

Q - Would that have been inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife Zelda?

A - No. My mom's name was Zelda. Although Zelda Fitzgerald was a very interesting character. Somewhat sad, but interesting.

Q - You're now based in Nashville?

A - Yeah.

Q - You're constantly writing. For yourself or other people?

A - Well, it's interesting. Mostly I write for myself. I was just listening to a playback of two songs, one of which is on my new CD, but we've done another version for the Nashville market. And another song I'm writing with a producer named Tony Battaglia, who has produced acts like Shine Down and Mandy Moore. He's very successful, probably my best friend. He's one of the very successful producer / songwriters in the last few years. We actually write together over the phone. (laughs)

Q - Over the phone?

A - Well, yeah. He'll e-mail me a melody and I'll write words to it or we'll do it together and talk about it and do changes over the phone. It's real easy with the e-mail.

Q - Does songwriting come easy to you then?

A - Sometimes. Sometimes you just sit down and it flies out. Other times it's real work. (laughs) I'd say the inspiration is quick when it comes. But, the actual work of bringing the inspiration to something that's kind of good, takes a lot of work.

Q - Are you a word man or a melody man?

A - Both. For the first twenty years of my career I never co-wrote a song. When I came to Nashville, I started co-writing. I'm general. I've been most successful with songs I've written myself. But, it depends on who you're writing with. I've found certain writers, Roger Cook here in Nashville and a guy called Tommy Rocco who I've had a lot of success, at least what I consider great songs, writing with, and Tony Battaglia, who I've had great luck writing with. I was co-writing a long time here and decided to get back to writing on my own again. I don't like to work in a certain time frame. People get together and they book a few hours to write a song. I don't work that way. It just comes to me. I'll think about it all day and night. I'd rather have the thing to work on, get a few ideas together and then talk to whoever I'm writing with, as opposed to the pressure of sitting there in a room and having to come up with the goods in two minutes. I can do that, but I don't find I do my best work that way.

Q - So, you probably wouldn't have been too successful in the old days at the Brill Building in New York then.

A - I might have been. What I might have done is just come back the next day and had it. It just depends on how it goes. Sometimes that works. Everybody works differently. Some people are very successful writing in short bursts like that. I have been myself. I wrote "Shannon" in about twenty minutes, but it wasn't twenty minutes that I had booked. It wasn't twenty minutes that was pre-set to write. It just kind of happened. It doesn't mean that it couldn't happen in the twenty minutes you had booked. It just seems like you're lowering the odds.

Q - How do you sell your new material? Are you going to satellite radio?

A - Let me put it this way: I'm just a one person label. I make these CDs and we sell them on the website. It's amazing how many people buy them. I'm shocked. You would think people would not be aware of me that much. I guess in the scheme of things for major labels, probably it is un-important and small, but a lot of people really enjoy the music I've been making, and we sell quite a few CDs from earlier in my career and from current CDs that I keep making. I don't have a staff of people to go and send things to radio. It's a full-time job and it' very expensive to employ people to do that. My songs don't get much airplay at all, although we have some on our website and websites like CD Baby, where people can hear songs from the new CD and a lot of people hear them and buy them. It's amazing. You just have to move along with the digital world. On My Space, I have a few songs posted. I have a video up on YouTube that people see of one of the songs from the new CD. Getting songs played on radio is so costly that I can't afford to compete with major labels. And then, their CD sales are down. You do the best you can. We're trying a lot of different things now. I'm working on a one man show that I did the first performance on in December (2006). It was very well received. I did it in a theatre in Irvington, New York which is about half an hour north of Manhattan. We've been filming for the past year; the making of the show, working on the script and rehearsals and just in general the whole process. We have two hundred hours of film. The film director and his partners are editing the film. We're gonna try to do a trailer so that maybe we can get somebody like Bravo or VH1 interested in it, and we'll see what happens with that. So, we're trying that approach too.

Q - I see that by the time you were fourteen, you were playing in local clubs all over New York. Is that as solo act or were you part of a band?

A - It was actually when I was thirteen and it was with a band.

Q - Since you played the Fillmore East and West, you probably met Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

A - I didn't meet Jim Morrison. I saw him in a club I was at. I am a huge fan of his. I believe he is a brilliant guy. I saw him at the Whisky A Go Go when we were out there in L.A.

Q - Besides you, who put Sha Na Na together?

A - Well, it was people who were members of a student organization called Columbia Kingsmen. I was a student at Brooklyn College at the time, but I was in a band with some of the guys who were in this club. It was kind of a social club. They had sung some oldies at one of their performances, songs from the fifties. But, this stuff about Sha Na Na is really ancient stuff to me. There's not much I can add to what's out there about it. It's an old, old story to me.

Q - Was it hard for you to leave that group?

A - No. It wasn't because I didn't want to keep doing the same... I love the fifties music. Actually that was my favorite music that we did and it probably still is. I loved doing it but I wanted to grow musically out of that as a writer and a performer. So, I thought my interests would best be served by moving on and the group's interest would best be served by having someone who wanted to keep doing that right then and there. But, it was no bad thing about it. I love the guys. I love the group. They still go on. I haven't seen them perform in years, but I'm sure they're still great. And, I'm still friends with several of the guys who were in the group. Two of the original member who aren't with the group any more came to my show in December (2006). My one-man show. Rob Leonard was there and Elliot Cahn was there.

Q - I interviewed a gentleman from Syracuse, New York by the name of Duane Hitchings. He remembers seeing the New York debut of Sha Na Na at The Scene, Steve Paul's nightclub. Alice Cooper also made his debut that night as far as New York audiences go. I guess you were using the name The Columbia Popular Music Glee Club. And what really blew me away is sitting in the audience was Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. What a night that must have been!

A - If Jimi Hendrix was in the audience on one of our earliest shows, we would in fact have been called Sha Na Na. It would have been at Steve Paul's Scene. Jimi Hendrix would not have been at one of the very first shows which would have been under the name the Columbia Kingsmen. Hendrix wouldn't have been at that show 'cause I sure would have known about it, 'cause I knew Jimi from before. I would think that whoever is remembering this is mistaken about the name of the group.


© Gary James. All rights reserved.
Official Website: www.HenryGross.com

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