The Story Behind Shannon by Henry Gross

atkins bookshelf musicThis post is dedicated to our beloved family dog who “slipped the surly bonds to earth to touch the face of God.” He was noble, sweet, and the most loving Golden Retriever we have ever had. He lives eternally in our memories and our hearts.

Although Henry Gross is a talented American musician, one of the original guitarist for Sha Na Na during the late 60s and toured extensively for three decades as a solo artist promoting 15 albums, he is best remembered for his one big hit, “Shannon” from the album Release (1976). Shannon is a tender ballad about the death of a dog that is heavily influenced by the legendary Beach Boys sound. Since its release, a story — in reality, a musical urban myth — quickly developed to explain the song’s inspiration. The story goes something like this: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was suffering from depression, refusing to leave his bed. A family friend thought of providing Wilson with the best therapy — a canine companion. The friend gave Wilson an Irish Setter puppy. The puppy, which Wilson named Shannon, was just what the doctor had ordered; the puppy helped the singer come out of the depression, leave his self-imposed isolation, and venture outside. Wilson and Shannon loved to play on the shores of the Malibu beaches, dodging the waves, running around in the sand. Sadly, tragedy struck — one day while Shannon was swimming in the ocean, a strong tide carried her away; Wilson never saw her again. Understandably, he was heart broken, but worse — he sunk into a deep depression, returning to the safe harbor of his bed.

This is a very poignant story; however it is not the true story behind Shannon. On his website,  Gross (he calls himself the “one-hit wanderer”) dispels the urban myth; he explains, “When I was twenty-one years old, a wonderful girl came into my life by the name of Kathy Reinmann. As if having her in my life as a friend, a wife, and a friend again for the next twenty three years until she died of lung cancer in 1995 was not enough, she brought along with her a two-year-old Irish Setter named Shannon. She was an uncannily human dog whose ability to manipulate her human counterparts cannot be understated. I was touring around the country quite a lot in 1975 promoting an album called Henry Gross [the one with the yellow cover on A&M Records]. I had the pleasure of doing long strings of dates with The Beach Boys, a group whose music always inspired me, Carl Wilson, lead singer on ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations,’ was warm and welcoming from the very first show I played with them. Carl invited me to his house in Los Angeles to spend a day talking guitars, cars and rock & roll. While he was preparing lunch his two Alaskan husky dogs reached up on the counter and inhaled our food. Carl was no nice he couldn’t stop apologizing but I told him, while admiring the military perfection of the raid executed by his huskies, that I had an Irish Setter at home named Shannon and had seen this act many times before! He was quite moved as he told me that he had an Irish Setter named Shannon that had been killed only recently when hit by a car. We spent the rest of the day jamming and driving around Carl’s world, which as a friend — and to be honest, a Beach Boy’s fanatic — was quite a thrill.”

“When I returned to New York City, where I lived,” Gross continues, “I began work on my second A&M album, Plug Into Something. A few weeks later, just as we were about to master the finished album I was sitting on my bed with Shannon strumming my guitar trying to write a song when I was disturbed by the loud bass sounds from the Latin music blasting from the apartment above me. Rather than complain I made an amazing discovery. If I tried to play records of my own choice I could drown out the intrusive bass sounds but was unable to concentrate. But I found that when I played an environments record called ‘The Ultimate Seashore’ I could drown out the bass and have a pleasing and relaxing background sound that didn’t interfere with my writing. In a matter of minutes with the ocean sounds guiding me, and my 1964 Gibson Hummingbird acoustic in my hands, my thoughts drifted to Carl, The Beach Boys and with a glance at my girl Shannon, the indescribable sadness that losing such a beloved partner in life must be. The song seemed to write itself taking no more than ten minutes and with almost no cross outs on the paper. I made a tape of it on my giant Sony cassette recorder and sent it off to Carl. I was hoping to stop the presses and record it for Plug Into Something which Carl had already sung on, adding background vocals to the opening song, One More Tomorrow, but it was too late. I had to wait for the next album to record it. I always wished I could have had Carl sing backgrounds on ‘Shannon’ but conflicting schedules dictated it wasn’t meant to be. I believed after it was recorded for my Release album, that it was destined to be a hit and lobbied hard for it to be the first single. You see, the man upstairs who had played the loud Latin music, beginning the entire chain of events, came down when he heard me playing mixes over and over to decide which I liked. However, rather than hearing the expected complaints, he said he loved the sound of the record and wanted to know where he could buy a copy. I reasoned if a salsa music fan who spoke little English loved the record through the ceiling, Shannon, Kathy and I had a hit on our hands. Fortunately, history and lady luck proved me right. And that is the true story of the song ‘Shannon.'”

Shannon by Henry Gross

Another day’s at end
Mama says she’s tired again
No one can even begin to tell her
I hardly know what to say
But maybe it’s better that way
If Pop-pa were here I’m sure he’d tell her
Shannon, is gone I heard
She’s drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she’ll find an island with a shaded tree
Just like the one in our backyard
Mama tries hard to pretend
That things will get better again
Somehow she’s keepin’ it all inside her
But finally the tears fill our eyes
And I know that somewhere tonight
She knows how much we really miss her
Shannon, is gone I heard
She’s drifting out to sea
She always loved to swim away
Maybe she’ll find an island
With a shaded tree
Just like the one in our back yard
Ah, just like the one in our back yard
Just like the one in our back yard

Read related posts: What is the Meaning of Auld Lang Syne?
The Story Behind Cats and the Cradle by Harry Chapin
The Story Behind Father and Son by Cat Stevens

The Meaning of I Dreamed a Dream
The Most Misinterpreted Songs

For further reading:

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.