Happy 40th: Christopher Cross, CHRISTOPHER CROSS
40 years ago this week, Christopher Cross released his self-titled debut album, an LP which was so incredibly successful that it both made him a superstar and made it damned near impossible for his second album.
Although he’s considered one of the predominant names of the so-called Yacht Rock crowd, it’s always worth mentioning that Christopher Cross is a phenomenal guitar player, one who once filled in for Richie Blackmore for a Deep Purple concert and was invited – but passed on the opportunity – to play on a Steely Dan album. The reason he didn’t take advantage of the latter honor wasn’t because he wasn’t a fan, but because he was such a fan that the mere idea of playing something with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker scared the hell out of him.
That said, it was because Cross was such a fan of the band that he agreed to the producer who’d been selected for his self-titled debut, although he was admittedly hesitant until he realized just who this Michael Omartian fella was.
At the meeting when Omartian told Cross that he would be producing him, Cross was less than enthusiastic. Omartian was fairly new at Warner Bros., and he guesses in retrospect that Cross had envisioned someone like Ted Templeman or Lenny Waronker taking the reins. When Cross left his office, Omartian told his assistant he just didn’t know what to make of Cross’s reaction, and she told him to blow him off.
“About a half hour later, I hear a knock on my door,” Omartian recalls. “It’s Chris. He says, ‘Oh, man, you’re going to have to produce my record.’ I said, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘I found out you played on all the Steely Dan stuff, and that’s all I needed to know.’”
Thankfully, the Cross / Omartian combo turned out to be a strong one, though it’s hard to imagine any album containing the degree of talent that CHRISTOPHER CROSS did not being a hit: the list of contributors includes – in alphabetical order – Larry Carlton, Jay Graydon, Don Henley, Eric Johnson, Nicolette Larson, Michael McDonald, and J.D. Souther, not to mention Omartian himself on acoustic piano, synthesizer, and background vocals.
In the end, CHRISTOPHER CROSS went platinum five times over, spawning four top-40 hits (“Say You’ll Be Mine,” “Never Be the Same,” “Ride Like the Wind,” and the chart-topping “Sailing”) and putting Cross in a position to team up with Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer-Sager, and – on a technicality – Peter Allen on “Arthur’s Theme.” Not a bad way to kick off a career, eh?
Plus, the career continues onward even now, and while the albums Cross has released since his self-titled debut haven’t sold as much, the success of that first album was so substantial that he’s found a way to spin the situation with considerable positivity.
“I’ve made eight records, and…after the first two records, those records certainly weren’t noticed as much, by any means. They’re on iTunes, but they’re relatively unknown, and when I play live, one of the things I love about it is getting to play songs from that era that they aren’t familiar with and expose them to those. But, you know, from the age of 10, this was always what I wanted to do. I had more success than I ever imagined I would. I feel really relieved, actually, about the early success and the Grammys and all that stuff. It’s sort of nice to have those out of the way, ‘cause a lot of friends and other artists are wishing they could get one. So I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. I see the cup as half-full, really, and I think it’s great, ‘cause I’ve established my name, as you said, to where most people on the street would respond to a question about who Christopher Cross is with, ‘He’s that guy who did ‘Sailing.’ So it gives me a certain cache to continue to do what I do.
“You know, I’ve got some shelves in my bedroom, and I’ve got my Oscar, my Grammys, and pictures of my kids. The things I’m most proud of in my life. Certainly the children first and foremost! But, you know, I am very, very proud of the awards. I try not to let them dictate my life and career, but I’m very proud of them, especially since they were voted on peers. I’ve put them in their place and tried to move on, and I try not to let them define who I am, but, you know, they’re very treasured things. However you get them or whether you get them all at once at the beginning, I’ll still take ‘em!”
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