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January 26, 1996 - Image 86

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-01-26

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Henry Gross: A
Zionist Rocker
Navigates Nashville



ashville-based singer-songwriter
Henry Gross is a one-man party.
He is gregarious, firing one-liners
so fast you'd think he took an Eve-
lyn Wood speed speaking course. He often
answers questions with jokes and loves to
stray off the subject, any subject, and
talk politics, especially the Middle
East kind.
Ask why this New York na-
tive left Brooklyn for
Nashville 10 years ago
and he'll tell you he
"found a good


boomers may
recognize Gross'
credits as a founding
member of the retro '50s
group Sha Na Na (he was
18 when the group performed
at Woodstock). He is best-known
for the hit single "Shannon," which
reached No. 6 on the pop charts and
spent three months in the Top 40 in
1976. He also had a Top 40 hit with
"Springtime Mama" and moderate suc-
cess with "Sweet Sassafras" and "Meet
Me on the Corner."
These days he's got a song, "Big Gui-

"Why did the chicken go to the seance? To
get to the other side," quips country rocker
Henry Gross.

tar," on the current hit-filled Black-
hawk album, Strong Enough. The
song comes from Gross' 1993
record, Nothing But Dreams,
which he released on his own in-
dependent label, Zelda Records
(yes, Zelda's his mom). The
record was recognized with a
National Association of Inde-
pendent Record Distributors
(NAIRD) award for excel-
lence in 1993.
Gross recently worked
with Felix Cavaliere (of
Young Rascals fame) and
Michael McDonald on a
jingle for Northwest Air-
lines. He also is polish-
ing 10 songs for his next

album, which he describes as a country-rock
His upbeat tone
changes for a mo-
ment when de-
scribing what
working in the
country-music cap-
ital is like for an
outspoken Jewish
musician whose roots in-
clude Zionism as well as rock
'n' roll.
The handful of Jewish artists making a
living in the music business in Nashville --
mostly as songwriters — are reluctant to talk
about "the Jews of country music." Gross, speak-
ing for several of his Jewish brethren, says they
believe talking about their Jewishness in
Nashville is "a career death warrant."
Gross has had so many career highs and lows
and is such a vocal supporter of Israel, "career
death" is not a great concern.
He even jokes about it, rattling off shtick like
this: "Hey, did I tell you about the TV show I'm
working on down here? It's called `Heeb Haw."'
And there's the ultimate Jewish country al-
bum with songs such as "Rhinestone Rabbi,"
"Son of Son of a Tailor," and "Gotta Sue Some-
body." (He's kidding, but the defunct novelty
act Kinky Friedman & the Texas Jewboys ac-
tually recorded songs such as "Ride 'Em Jew-
boy" and "They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus
Asked why so few Jews are in country music
and why even fewer are willing to discuss it,
Gross poses this question: "Have you ever read
a book called Famous Jews of Rodeo? (There is
no such book.)
Tough talk from a guy who grew up cele-
brating Shabbat in a Reform household in an
Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. His father
was a pharmacist; his mother was a music ma-
jor at Hunter College. His maternal great-great-
grandfather, however, was the head rabbi of
Vilna. And his maternal grandfather made sure
he attended the Orthodox Yeshiva Rambam.
Gross was an outsider there.
He got into trouble for forgetting to wear his
tzitzit and yarmulke. Gross even earned the
nickname the "Tzitzit Bandit" for practically
mugging a younger student for his tzitzit so he
wouldn't get scolded for forgetting his own. He
got caught.
"I'd come into school eating pizza," he recalls.
"I wasn't kosher enough for them (other stu-
dents). But every time they were teased by

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