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Dec. 5, 2021

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Christopher Cross ‘Sailing’ on 40th anniversary tour

After COVID-related paralysis, musician doing ‘OK’

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Christopher Cross is known for two things: The first artist to sweep the “Big Four” Grammy Awards in one year (best album, song, record and new artist, in 1981) and the unwitting father of yacht rock.

The voice of “Sailing” and “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” can now claim another distinction. He apparently was the second person to become paralyzed with Guillain-Barre syndrome after contracting COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I was paralyzed — initially I had facial and hand paralysis, too — but mainly my legs. I was in ICU for three weeks, and I was in a wheelchair for about five months,” said Cross, who is currently on tour.

“I’m doing OK. The neurologists don’t know if I will heal more than I have because usually people with GBS don’t heal completely. My disability as far as my legs probably won’t get better.”

In concert, Cross sits for an acoustic segment and stands for the rest of the show. He can walk a short distance, but stairs are challenging, and he uses a cane on uneven terrain. His fingers have returned to normal. His voice wasn’t affected.

“We’re in fighting shape,” the 70-year-old said. “I plan on touring for some more years. My legs will constantly be an issue, but it doesn’t keep me from standing for 90 minutes.”

Cross caught COVID-19 on a trip to Mexico in March 2020. Cross said his doctors told him that he was only the second person at the time to get Guillain-Barre from the coronavirus. The condition and subsequent treatment prevented him from getting vaccinated until just before his 34-city tour started in mid-September.

This is a resumption of a 40th anniversary trek that marks the 1980 release of his smash debut album.

In an hourlong conversation from Ohio last week, Cross discussed everything from sailing to Billie Eilish, who last year became the only other person to sweep the Big Four Grammys.

On Billie Eilish

“I posted a note on social media saying congratulations and welcome to the club, and I never heard back. They’re young, they probably don’t know who I am. I tried to make a connection.”

Cross admitted he’s never listened to Eilish’s music.

“Lizzo was up for all those awards, and I felt she deserved to win something,” he said. (She did, just not any of the Big Four.)

On writing with Burt Bacharach

“They needed a theme song [for the Dudley Moore movie ‘Arthur’], and I was the hottest commodity at the moment because I’d just won all the Grammys, but I had no illusions,” Cross said.

“When I got up to their house — he was married to [songwriter] Carole Bayer Sager at the time — I arrived at midnight and I walked in and there were already two Oscars on the mantel. It was very, very intimidating. Burt is very charming and welcoming.”

Bacharach ended up adding another Oscar in 1982 for the song he co-wrote with Cross, Bayer Sager and Peter Allen. “It was one more mind-blow,” said Cross. “I never imagined winning a Grammy, much less winning an Oscar.”

On yacht rock

He’s frustrated by that label, inspired by the title of his Grammy-winning song “Sailing” and applied retroactively to an assortment of 1980s lite-FM pop-rock.

“It pigeonholes you into one time in your career. I continue to make records. I’ve made 12 albums. It precludes people from hearing or being aware of your later work. For me, it’s about writing and making music. That’s why I got into it and that’s why I do it. With my new boxed set [‘The Complete Works’], I’m trying to draw people into my later catalog.”

On the other hand, Cross is well aware that yacht rock is one of the most popular channels on SiriusXM.

“If somebody put on a yacht-rock tour with the five big players — myself, Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, Toto — it would be massive, but too expensive to hire all those acts.”

On sailing

Even though Texas native Cross did a little sailing on a single-mast boat in his younger days, he wrote the song “Sailing” as a metaphor. It was about a pal who became like a big brother.

“It was more about the camaraderie and kinship and the escapism from my father’s alcoholism and family problems rather than the actual activity,” Cross explained. “I joke that he could have taken me bowling.”

Of course, fans show up to Cross concerts wearing skipper caps. He often receives offers to go sailing.

On performing Beatles albums live

In 2019, he toured with Todd Rundgren, Micky Dolenz, Joey Molland and others, performing the Beatles’ “White Album” in its entirety. Cross got to showcase his guitar chops as well as his voice.

“Usually, the foundation of the show is Todd and I,” said Cross, who has done a few of these Beatles tribute tours. “We’re going to do another one in late February or early March. I think we’re doing ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver.’ The Peter Jackson film [“Get Back,” due Nov. 25-27 on Disney+] could convince us to do ‘Let It Be.’ I’m kind of lucky ‘cause I get all the Paul [McCartney] songs.”

On playing with Deep Purple

In 1970, when Deep Purple was on its first U.S. tour, lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had a reaction to a flu shot and was too ill to play a concert in Cross’ hometown of San Antonio. Then 19, Cross was a big fan of Blackmore. His manager was promoting the concert, so he asked Cross to fill in on guitar.

“Everyone was into it except the [Deep Purple] singer,” Cross recalled. “It was an out-of-body experience. I met Ritchie later at the airport and he gave me a guitar pick.”

On his next album

“I’m not going to make any more Christopher Cross records. They’re too expensive to make. And given the numbers I’m going to sell, it’s not financially practical. But I still have music to offer.”

So he brings new songs to soundcheck, works them up with his stage band and records the soundchecks.

“It’s very spontaneous. I don’t need any more awards and accolades.”

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