Christopher Cross, the winner of five Grammy Awards in a single night, says he caught a wave of change in pop music at the perfect time.
In 1979, as disco and funk were fading, Warner Bros. Records released Cross’ self-titled album debut. The nimbly crafted record includes Cross’ first No. 1 hit, the breezy, transporting “Sailing.” Another song from the album, the dramatic, up-tempo “Ride Like the Wind,” nearly topped the charts, rising to No. 2.
Lightning struck again in 1981. Cross’ bittersweet theme song for the hit movie “Arthur” reached No 1. “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” also won an Oscar and Golden Globe.
Cross signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1978. For decades, a contract with a major label company was the gold ring for aspiring recording artists.
“I pursued Warner Bros., singularly, because they had Van Morrison, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix,” Cross said in a rare interview before his Manship Theatre concert. “I thought it would be a good home for me and it was.”
Right out of the box, Cross and Warner Bros. hit the jackpot with four hit singles and a hit album. On Grammy Awards night in 1980, Cross broke the record for Grammy wins.
“I’d been told that I had a good shot at winning best new artist,” Cross said. “Harry Belafonte and Herb Alpert presented that award to me. That was surreal. I went back to my seat, feeling content for the evening, ready to watch the show. And then, bang.”
Cross won four more Grammys, including song of the year and album of the year.
“It was an out-of-body experience,” he said. “We never imagined beating Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra and all these big artists.”
Despite his quest during the 1970s to sign with a major record label, Cross began with modest ambitions. He hoped his first album would sell 50,000 copies, enough for Warner Bros. to let him make a second album.
“I was hoping, maybe three albums down the stream, I could get something on the radio,” Cross said. “So, when all that Grammy stuff happened, it took everybody by surprise.”
Cross credits much of his success to timing.
“There were many great artists back then who didn’t get a chance to be heard,” he said. “I worked hard and I was talented, but I also was lucky. People were ready for some pop music. It was a perfect storm.”
The Grammys Cross won helped him sustain his career for the past 37 years. He’ll release his 14th album in June. He also feels fortunate to have won his awards so early in his career.
“I’ve been validated by my peers,” Cross said. “I made what many people perceive to be a classic record. I got that stuff out of the way, so now I can just make music.”
Cross and his band are enjoying a busy year, performing in the U.S., Mexico, the United Kingdom, Europe and South America.
Cross’ new album, “Take Me As I Am,” is his answer to fans who’ve asked him for guitar-centric songs. The album features "Roberta," a song for Mitchell, the recently ailing singer-songwriter who is Cross’ biggest inspiration.
“It’s a way for me to tell Joni how much she’s meant to me,” Cross said. “Joni gave me a path to live my life, a path of my own. She helped me believe that I had the right to do this. That’s a huge gift.”
The new album also features “Truth,” Cross’ final collaboration with Rob Meurer. Cross’ decades-long songwriting partner and friend, Meurer was killed by a hit-and-run driver last year.
“There’s a lot of personal sentiment in this album,” Cross said.
Cross doesn’t sweat the fact that the recordings he’s made after his debut and second album, 1983’s “Another Page,” haven’t matched his first burst of success.
“When Rob Meurer and I got ready to make my 2014 album, ‘Secret Ladder,’ I asked him, ‘Why do we keep doing this?’ Rob said, ‘Because it’s what we do,' ” Cross said. "It’s true. The work is the reward.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 1
WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge
COST: $63-$83, plus fees