In the great transition from the raw and often bluesy rock ‘n’ roll of the ’60s and ’70s, San Antonio-based Christopher Cross came across the airwaves in 1980 with his eponymous debut, and took the music world by storm. Classics like “Sailing” and “Ride Like The Wind” helped earn Christopher Cross and his ensemble of musicians five Grammy awards that year, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year.
A key member of that ensemble was synthesizer player, keyboardist, and founding member Rob Meurer, who contributed a great deal to the songwriting and creative direction of the group. A hit-and-run incident last Friday, reported fully here by the LA Daily News, resulted in the tragic loss of Meurer’s life in a Studio City hospital. Meurer was still actively creating and making music with Cross, and his sudden loss left a gaping hole for all those who have been touched by his music over the years.
One of those individuals is local playwright, poet, and journalist Gregg Barrios, who came to know Meurer over the course of the last 46 years. He graciously shared his thoughts with the Rivard Report on his friendship with Meurer, giving a unique and personal San Antonio perspective on a man from our midst who made it onto the national stage.
See Barrios’ account below.
Rob Meurer was the closest friend I’ve had that actually made it onto the national stage.
He was a founding member of Christopher Cross, the rock group that he and fellow musician Chris Geppert started back in the day in San Antonio. Chris sang and played guitar and Rob was the group’s keyboard wiz and lyricist.
I met Rob in 1970. I was teaching at Lanier High School and Rob was a student at Antonian High School. We came together to help Antonian’s drama teacher Bro. Alexis Gonzales with the staging of The Who’s Tommy, one of the first rock operas. What I enjoyed about working with Rob was his innate encyclopedic knowledge of popular music. I think that is what he liked about me as well. We’d have long conversations and do silly things like get a bunch of our friends to make a short film on whether Paul McCartney was dead. Yeah, even playing Sgt. Pepper backwards, etc. It was then that I realized I had found a true friend who enjoyed music as much as I did.
We collaborated on more serious stuff. When The Flying Burrito Brothers came to San Antonio’s JAM Factory, we went backstage to interview Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke. We were prepared since we were also fans of The Byrds, which the Burritos had been part of previously. Two weeks later, Parsons broke up the band and became a solo artist. This was in 1970, and there was no local zine or news media to send our “exclusive” interview to. But I contacted the premiere rock magazine at the time: Crawdaddy. They published our interview. Later, after Parsons died at Joshua Tree, we sold the audio tape to an indie record that released early Gram stuff.
When I moved to Crystal City a year later, I lost track of Rob, but he was playing gigs for a gaggle of local bands. He had begun to experiment with his homemade studio and moved to Austin. He’d send me audio tapes of stuff titled “Beached Whales” singing “Little Green Gremlin.” He did all the instruments and vocals, and you’d swear it was Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Actually, the Whales referred to Wilson’s weight gain and his sitting on the beach on LSD playing in a sand box. The Little Green Gremlin was a reference to Rob’s own trusty AMC car, and the song a parody of “Little Deuce Coup.” Pure Doctor Demento genius.
When he and Chris started Christopher Cross, I moved to Austin in 1978 to teach at St. Edward’s University. So I got a chance to see the guys perform on 6th Street at Steamboat Springs 1874. Whenever I’d show up, they’d dedicate a song to me, usually Procol Harum’s “Conquistador.” Afterward, I’d buy everyone a round. I also moonlighted as a columnist at the Austin Sun – from politics to Todd Rundgren at the Armadillo. I did a piece on Christopher Cross, one of the first to give the band its due. They were in negotiation with Warner Bros. for their first LP, after suits from Burbank appeared to have checked out the band.
The rest is history. I moved to Los Angeles the following year. The LP Christopher Cross appeared. It was a double platinum megahit and swept the Grammy’s that year. Rob called me later in 1981 and invited me to their concert at LA’s outdoor Greek Theater where they headlined several nights on their first world tour. Soon after I lost track of Rob. He was in Austin, then he remarried, and he was living in California. By 2000, I was back in San Antonio as a book editor at the Express-News.
In the last few years, Rob and I reconnected. He invited me to a show at Sam’s Burger Joint where Margaret Moser’s South Texas Popular Culture Center was honoring early San Antonio rock and roll legends. My friend Rob, of course, was one of the honorees.
A funny thing happened as we caught up on the past decades of our lives. He was doing musical theater in Los Angeles while I was a playwright doing a play called I-DJ that centered on a young Latino who falls in love with the music that becomes the soundtrack of his life. Just a few weeks ago, Helldrivers of Daytona, the musical comedy he wrote the lyrics for, premiered in Chicago.
One year ago I sent him a DVD of The Who’s Quadrophenia – Live. We had an email conversation about its merits. He in return sent me a copy of a live Van Dyke Parks concert. (We were both great fans of Parks’ music). And just last month I was about to send him an autographed copy of Elvis Costello’s memoir. Sadly, the priority mail box was still on my desk when I heard the tragic news of his death.
Rob had an online blog called Tunaday! where he’d send out a daily MP3 music selection and have us devotees listen and converse about its merits. He did this until the last week of his life. So in the same spirit, I’ve just selected a song to say farewell. It’s his recording of “Hey Kid.” It’s addressed to the next generation of music lovers. Yeah, he liked Randy Newman, too.
I lost an irreplaceable friend, a musical brother. The music world has lost a great musician.
Editor’s note: The introduction to this piece was written by Adam Tutor.
Top image: Rob Meurer at Steamboat Springs 1874 in Austin, 1978. Photo by Gregg Barrios.