BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
VAN WERT - For two or three years, radios continuously played the music of a new-found talent from Texas. His debut album contained four hit singles and at the Grammy Awards in 1981, he collected an unprecedented five awards including Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year. No one had seen or heard anything like it. A second album also did well, peaking on the charts at number 11. The music world had a new hero. His name was Christopher Cross."I had great success at the beginning. It started me off, it gave me a name, it gave me a way to tour," Cross told the Times Bulletin. "People know my name from my early songs, so I just do what I do. I've made nine records over the years, and I'm very proud of all of them. I continue to try and grow as a writer, and do more quality work with each record, but I love what I'm doing. I think I've been incredibly lucky."
Cross will be bringing his music and all the memories that are associated with his songs to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center Thursday night for a Valentine's Day concert.
"It should be nice. I think for a lot of folks the music is from their era, so maybe the guys will surprise their ladies with tickets to the show," he chuckled.
The son of a pediatrician who had once played bass with Lawrence Welk, Christopher Cross seemed to come out of nowhere to become an overnight success. But that success did not mean he had not been working hard to achieve it.
"At that time, I was like every other musician, playing local clubs, parties, things like that, playing cover music," remembered Cross. "I was writing and was submitting my music to record labels, but it takes a while. It wasn't until like 1977 that I got the interest from Warner Brothers. We started a dialogue and eventually I made the [debut] album. It was the summer of '78, but it came out in '81."
Cross remembered watching his father come home from a stressful day at work and put on some big band music to get his mind off the day.
He said "He loved music, but he couldn't really sustain it because of the Depression. So that was my first exposure to music. It was my dad's enjoyment of listening to Glenn Miller and that kind of stuff. I started to explore jazz music for younger people, and I was turned on to the Dave Brubeck Quartet and started playing the drums. I got into the jazz and later on I was drawn to the pop and switched to the guitar and started writing. But my dad was really my initial exposure to it and the kind of joy I watched him experience. I was only 10 or 12 at the time, but he had a tough job as a pediatrician. It was a tough time to be a pediatrician, and I think music was a release for him, and watching the job he got out of it triggered something in me."
Now, Cross gets to see others have the joy of hearing his own songs, especially hits like, "Ride Like the Wind," "Never Been the Same," Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," and "Sailing," as well as the many songs he has recorded since the early 1980s.
"You know those are going to get a good reaction with people, and they connect," he admitted. "The nice thing about playing live is that I have these nine albums and 100 songs over 30 years. Not a lot of people are aware of those songs. Certainly we have a lot of diehard fans who are, but for a lot of the general public, they're not aware of those. So this is my chance to play those songs. In the show we certainly play the hits and the songs that people expect; I think we'd be remiss not to do that. But we also have an opportunity to play a sampling from that old discography and I always find that people tell me they love that song or a song from one of the albums. So it's great."
After his second album, "Another Page," faded from the charts, his third, "Every Turn of the World," failed to crack the Top 100 albums, and none of the subsequent releases even charted at all in this country. But Cross said he is not bitter about the lack of radio success, especially after setting the music world on fire in 1980.
"Success is a great thing whenever you have it, however you have it in my business. There so many wonderful musicians, songwriters, artists, who don't get discovered at all. Some of my favorite writers, even my hero Joni Mitchell. Joni's early work was very lauded and applauded, but her later work, which I think got much more interesting as she grew as an artist, was less known and less paid attention to, and that's a shame," he mused. "I feel like being overlooked at radio isn't really evidence of anything."
Cross mentioned that he still likes to tour and play live, but at 61 years of age, the traveling is tougher than it used to be. But the performing is still magical for him.
"I enjoy playing more than ever," he stated. "I love performing in any venue, any size, and I have an audience from somebody as young as 20 to as old as 70."
As for spending Valentine's Day in Van Wert, Cross said he has a few special moments prepared.
"We do an acoustic part of the show, and that's probably going to be my time to talk about Valentine's Day, and a little bit about love and see if I can get some of these fellows in the audience to express their love and raise their hands and stuff. And I have a few stories too. That's the time to play "Swept Away" and some of the songs that are a bit more romantic. There are a couple of songs we can play that will work, he said. "It's a sentimental holiday, and music brings back a lot of memories for people of where they were and who they were with at the time, so I think it's going to be a nice show."
The high-tenor voice is still clear, and Cross' songwriting skills have continued to mature over the years. He noted that he most recent album featured lyrics that are more mature and have more perspective than his songs from the old days. However, the old songs are the ones that most people know. With a new album due out late this spring, Christopher Cross realizes that nothing will top the level of success he has already enjoyed. And he seems alright with that fact. Cross has the same kind of satisfaction sharing his music, old and new, that his father must have felt in escaping into music after a long day at the office.
"That's the greatest thing about playing live. I get to play these songs that are a bit more obscure. I'm just as proud of those as I am 'Ride Like the Wind' you know?" he related. "Fortunately, I still enjoy an audience, and I can play, and I realize now that it's sort of a finite experience, and I want to take it all in."