It’s refreshing to find a Texas star who isn’t an urban cowboy, a musical outlaw, a suspect in the J.R. shooting, or, better still, a regional chauvinist. “I don’t like Texas,” says Christopher Cross, 29, creator of a remarkable debut album bearing his name and including two giant hits, Ride like the Wind and the current Sailing. Cross’ beef is less with the state (or at least not with the Austin area where he lives) than with the state of mind. “I can’t stand cowboys, cowgirls, cowboy boots, cows, rodeos and such,” he declares bravely.
About the only concessions Chris makes to the Lone Star lifestyle are a Houston Oilers jersey personally bestowed by Earl Campbell, one daytime visit to Gilley’s (“People who frequent that place aren’t the type I want to associate with”) and horseback riding. Indeed, he fled Texas to record in L.A., where he needed 48-track hardware and 700 studio hours to perfect his utterly original sound—feathery voices atop lush folk-rock arrangements. “With record business off, tight budgets and New Wave happening, we had a lot going against us,” he notes. “But everything has sort of fallen into place.”
None of this is to say that Cross has gone L.A. He is portly, wears a scraggly beard, never jogs and favors nondesigner jeans. He’s almost proud of not being pretty like Jackson Browne, and the LP Christopher Cross is adorned not by a picture of the singer-songwriter but by his logo—a pink flamingo. “Certain artists depend very heavily on their look,” says Cross. “When I’m old I’d like to be able to say all this happened because my music was good.”
He was never aimed into showbiz in the first place. Born Christopher Geppert into a clan of San Antonio doctors (his father and four uncles are M.D.s and his mother a registered nurse), he was an “Army brat” raised in places like Japan and Washington, D.C. His family finally settled back in San Antonio, where, inspired by Dave Brubeck records, he took up drumming in seventh grade. At 13, after switching to guitar, he had his first group, called the Psychos. Then, at Alamo Heights High, Cross ignored almost everything else—particularly studying—to play in a local bar and fraternity party band called Flash. Uncomfortable about bucking the family tradition, he briefly tried premed at San Antonio College, but dropped out and moved to Austin in 1972 to pursue music: “My dad’s reaction was ‘Go for it.’ He played bass throughout college and told me those were the happiest times of his life.”
Cross spent much of the Me Decade as leader of a so-called “copy band,” playing everyone from the Beatles to the Eagles and Elton. “We decided not to play our own material but to keep our sanity, pay the bills and wait for soul satisfaction later,” he explains. A fertile writer who can turn out as many as three new tunes on an inspired day, Cross was ready with a bushel of them when Warner Bros, finally showed him the dotted line last year. Once the industry buzz started, L.A. types like Eagle (and fellow Texan) Don Henley, Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and Nicolette Larson helped out at sessions.
When not recording, Cross prefers the sedate life of Austin—which he thinks is far more like San Francisco than Texas. He lives modestly in a newly bought house with his wife of seven years, Roseann, their son, Justin, and a cat named Eddie. Cross rarely drinks, doesn’t smoke, and says he “could take 10 pounds of drugs and it wouldn’t equal the high of writing a new song.” His best friends remain his manager, Tim Neece, and band members Tommy Taylor (drums), Rob Meurer (keyboards) and Andy Salmon (bass). Longtime friend Chet Himes, who engineered Christopher Cross, observes, “He’s weird, but all artists have their little eccentric ways. He’s choosy about his friends and values and jealous of his privacy and family life.” Chris took the stage name of Cross in 1974 not only for its euphony but also to have a private life as Chris Geppert. Aside from that, Himes adds, “Chris hasn’t changed.”
It’s possible that Cross truly is immune to the fevers of star-tripping. His self-diagnosis would do his physician forebears proud: “We’ve gotten over in a short time what most artists take years to go through. It’s like a person getting all of his vaccinations in one big shot.”