Find: Henry Gross, Plug Me Into Something
Place: KARM, Bearden
The album cover displays a hirsute man grasping an electric guitar; his exhortation to us is: "Plug me into something."
While you're listening to Jimi Hendrix or the Beatles or the Beach Boys, it's easy to forget that the 1960s and 1970s also urped up some truly execrable performers—remember Bloodrock? Tiny Tim? The Captain and Tennille? So when I find an album by someone I've never heard of I wonder: Is this guy unknown because he's terrible? Or is he overlooked and under-appreciated? In this case, the guy is Henry Gross. I had never heard of Henry Gross until I found Plug Me Into Something among a stack of Martin Denny and Herb Alpert LPs.
The 1975 album reflects a transitional era in American popular music. The 1960s were dead, done in by political cynicism, rock stars choking on their own vomit, and the realization that singing "All you need is love" didn't change a damn thing. Rock and roll was dying. So what was a rock musician to do? Keep the fire burning. Plug Me Into Something veers from style to style—from Black Oak Arkansas-style Southern-tinged rock on "One More Tomorrow" and "Southern Band," to straightforward country-rock on "Evergreen," to Beatlesque pop on "All My Love." In sum, this is American rock 'n' roll music. And American rock 'n' roll music is good.
Class of '77 punk and the New York Dolls and the Ramones were a necessary corrective for a barren musical landscape polluted by coked-up, musically bankrupt has-beens (Rod Stewart bubbles to mind), overblown quasi-mystical progressive nonsense (remember Tarkus?), and hypocritical ex-hippies grown fat on residuals (John Lennon may have imagined a world with no possessions, but he owned several apartments in the ritzy Dakota). But in the years just before punk a lot of talented people put out a lot of good music. Much of it is forgotten. Plug Me Into Something comes from a time when producers concentrated on creating listenable music (face it grindcore fans, anyone can make unlistenable music), musicians played their own instruments, vocal tuning and pitch correction were not around, and radio stations played songs made for adults rather than 13-year-olds.
Henry Gross, I found out after listening to this album, actually scored a hit in 1976 with "Shannon," a paean to a dead Irish setter. The song features Gross' sweet falsetto, and the fact that people in the 1970s took it seriously and purchased it on vinyl redounds to the credit of the American public. Henry Gross also was in the revival band Sha-Na-Na in the late 1960s, and it redounds to his credit that he got the hell out and went off on his own. Plug Me Into Something is well worth what I paid for it.