New York — For Larry Groce, music has many meanings. Want proof? Just look at his career, which speeds merrily along in three directions at once.
To begin with, he's a pop singer. Wearing this hat, he has made records on the Warner Bros., Motown, and RCA Daybreak labels, and appeared in concert with acts as diverse as Helen Reddy and Martin Mull, Robert Klein and Jean Ritchie. His songs have been sung by such performers as Dinah Shore and Pat Boone. His biggest hit -- the whimsical "Junk Food Junkie" -- has sold more than 2 million discs.
But grownups are not his only audience. Wearing his second hat, he is a specialist in music for children. His song "Winnie the Pooh for President" won him a Grammie nomination for "best children's record of the year." He has also written and recorded 30 songs for book-and-record versions of the renowned Little Golden Books, commissioned by Walt Disney Productions. He conducts music workshops for children, as well, and has even appeared on the "New Mickey Mouse Club" TV show!
Finally, wearing Hat No. 3, he is a dedicated champion of religious music. He has recorded several albums of hymns, working with such sidemen as Emery Gordy Jr. and Garth Hudson. On his "Green Pastures are Before Me," they supplement his own guitar and vocal work with instruments ranging from parlor organ to mandolin, not to mention the prodigiously named Yamaha CS 80 Polyphonic Synthesizer.
Wearing so many hats can be a tricky business, but Groce carries it off with aplomb. "All these activities are importan to me," he said during a recen interview. "It's a lot of fun to perform, to project myself and my songs to a crowd. But hymns mean a lot to me, too, and I feel very strongly about recording them. It's not a secondary thing, at all."
In short, Groce has no "secret identities." They're all right out in the open , where his growing number of fans can see, hear, and enjoy them. And his fans should be downright legion when his youngest listeners grow up -- the children he has worked with in conjunction with arts councils in states from West Virginia to Iowa.
"I don't really know how that part of my career got started," says Groce. "Somebody gave my name to somebody, and somebody else called me, an it just happened." Be that as it may, teaching and coaching soon became an important part of Groce's musical life.
"Most children basically love music, and they can be very responsive," says Groce, who finds that the hardest chores of working with children -- organizing the group and focusing its attention -- are largely alleviated by properties inherent in music itself: organization, fun, and a sense of unity among the participants. "I let them make up the title, and suggest the lyrics," he continues. "We work on the song together, anything they come up with, anything at all, is okay, as long as they really mean it. We've come up with some mighty good tunes this way, and I think I enjoy it as much as the kids do."
Groce was grown and raised in Dallas, Texas, and a Southern softness still runs through his speech. (According to his own publicity material, he's "still a Texan at heart." A Dallas club gave him his first singing job, when he was still in high school. In those days he was part of the Raggedy Sometime Band, the hours were long, and the salary was $40 a week. When the group asked for a the music business."
A reader as well as a singer, Groce studied literature in college, finding time to cut his first album during his senior year. Later he started his own label, Peaceable Records, and it was there that "Junk Food Junkie" -- inspired by little brother Gary who "thought a jellybean was a vegetable until he was about 14" -- first appeared. The song took off when Warner Bros. picked it up, and it became Groce's greatest hit. The club days in Dallas were over, the Groce was on his way to a life divided between California, where his career is based, and West Virginia, where he settled into a 20-acre farm.
Wearing his pop hat, Groce has recorded with such star sidepersons as Ry Cooder, Craig Doerge, and Melissa Manchester, and has played clubs and concerts from Toronto to Chattanooga. Wearing his educator hat, he has participated in the White House Conference on Children, and become a household voice for Little Golden Book-lovers everywhere.Wearing his hymn-singing hat, he has pursued his own love for Christian music.
It's a busy life, and Groce sometimes finds it necessary to reassess the balances and priorities that make it possible -- deciding on the approaches and strategies that will best further his career. Happily, it's a challenge he seems to enjoy thoroughly. "I don't want to neglect any of these different paths," he says. "They're all a part of me, and a part of what I have to say. . . ."