In his own words, Henry Gross’ life has been “kind of an unusual journey.” He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1951 to a musical family, so it was no surprise when he picked up the guitar at age 12. When he was 18, Gross and a few friends formed the ’50s revival group, Sha Na Na, and it was with that group that he became the youngest person to appear on stage at Woodstock. Gross says it was during that performance, at the pinnacle of Sha Na Na’s popularity, that he felt the pull to leave the group and set out on his own.
Gross’ solo career was met with modest success, though he never quite reached the same level of fame he’d had while playing with Sha Na Na. He made a name for himself as a session guitarist and songwriter, playing on tracks with artists like Jim Croce and writing for the likes of Mary Travers and Cindy Lauper. Gross released four albums with three different record labels beginning in 1971 before penning the 1976 hit ballad, “Shannon,” about the death of Beach Boy Carl Wilson’s dog, an Irish setter. Though his future releases fell short of “Shannon’s” international reach, Gross pushed on, spending a year on the road with the Broadway production “Pump Boys and Dinettes” in 1981 and continuing to write and record songs for friends in Nashville.
It was just over a decade ago, however, that Gross took his career in an entirely new direction. He called a couple of producers he knew from “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and pitched a one-man performance about his life as a one-hit wonder and sometime rock star. The company expressed interest, Gross says, but unfortunately cut ties with Gross before they could put the show in front of an audience. Still, a friend in New York who was a veteran actor took Gross under his wing and helped him to develop the performance into what it is today, and then to premiere it at the Town Hall Theatre in Irvington, N.Y. “And the people loved it,” Gross says.
That show led to stints in Jackson, Tenn. and Naples, Fla., and today, in addition to his 60-plus musical performances each year, Gross says that he is performing the aptly-titled “One-Hit Wanderer” about a half-dozen times a year—and that’s without the support of a major production company. In what is a rather divisive time in both United States and world history, Gross says that he is “privileged to be able to bring some joy to a whole lot of people and make a living at it,” adding that his continued career as a musician and performer has been “an amazing gift from God …You don’t have to be the Beatles to share in the joy of that.”
Thanks to the support of his friend, Tucson cardiologist Tedd Goldfinger, and the Next Gen Men’s Group, Gross will bring his one-man, cabaret-style act to the Tucson Jewish Community Center stage for a single performance on Sept. 10, which will serve as a benefit for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and its associated charitable causes. Sponsors of the show will also be invited to take part in an intimate gathering with Gross at the Goldfinger home the night before the show—an event which likely prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for attendees to spend some quality time with a genuine piece of rock and roll history. Goldfinger, who calls Gross “a quintessential ’70s rocker,” hopes to see the show blossom into “an annual program where we are able to create a personal and intimate venue to see some of the greatest musical individuals from the past, present, and future.”
Despite the myriad challenges associated with serving as his own manager, producer and booking agent for the last few decades, Gross says he’s been “blessed” to continually discover a fan base enthusiastic enough to offer him regular bookings based solely on the merits of his performance. Perhaps this is due, in part, to the fact that he maintains a sense of humor about his life as a “one-hit wonder.”
“I’m still here,” he says, “most people don’t even know I that was there, let alone that I’m here. But I’m still here doing it.” And, nearly 50 years after his rock and roll debut, that’s definitely saying something.
For tickets to Gross’ performance Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. (doors open 7 p.m.), visit JFSA.org/henrygross tickets and RSVP by Sept. 1. For sponsorship information, contact Goldfinger at [email protected] You can also watch a five-minute trailer of “One-Hit Wanderer” online at OneHitWander er.com.
Craig S. Baker is a freelance writer in Tucson.