Ok, I figured it out, basically I was operating on the "white is opaque, black is transparent" mode that photoshop uses. To create a gradient mask, you need to change the OPACITY in the gradient, not the colour. So whatever is 100% opacity in your gradient is 100% opacity, whatever is 0% is transparent, and everything else in between. Guess this makes more sense, just needed to wrap my head around it better.
I may be very dense, but is there a way to use a gradient as a mask on a group or object? I’ve been beating my head against the wall here. Maybe I’m just to used to the way it works in photoshop, but I can’t figure this out... Can anyone help?