Monday, February 13, 2017

Rob Meurer: Overlooked by The Recording Academy but Remembered by Music Lovers

When the 59th Annual GRAMMY Awards broadcast reached their “In Memoriam” part of the show Sunday night, I had hoped to see one name in particular, that of songwriter Rob Meurer, an immensely talented, gifted musician and lyricist from San Antonio, Texas. Sadly, his photo and name were not included on the broadcast. If you know the music of five-time GRAMMY winner Christopher Cross, chances are good that you know the name Rob Meurer. Anyone from “back in the day” in San Antonio and Austin certainly know the talented lyricist and musician.

Rob was the ‘other’ side of the ampersand in the frequent songwriting duo—Christopher Cross & Rob Meurer—on the credits of some of the best songs Cross ever released. On Rob’s official web site, it is noted:

“In terms of pop songwriting, though, my closest and most frequent collaborator by far has been my old friend Christopher Cross, with whom I’ve written nearly 50 songs that are in release throughout the world. When we began writing together I often joined in on the music, but in recent years my concentration with Chris has been as lyricist.”

You likely know “Back Of My Mind,” “Alibi,” “Deputy Dan,” “In The Blink of An Eye,” “Open Up My Window,” “Love is Calling,” “Walking in Avalon,” “Rendezvous”—most of which were early in Cross’ performance years following the multi-Grammy winning album “Sailing” that skyrocketed Cross and his touring career. Although the highly respected GRAMMY winner Michael Omartian played most of the songs he co-arranged and produced, Rob Meurer contributed synthesizer and keyboards to “Sailing,” the album that went 5x Platinum status. Then, too, Rob was Cross’ most prolific coauthor of songs on his subsequent albums.

So, as I watched the 55 photos go by on the late-in-the-show “In Memoriam” segment, seeing Keith Emerson and Greg Lake jammed into one slide for economy’s sake, I kept searching for Rob. Not there. Ones I did see showcased included many I knew had not been part of music careers of over 30 years. In fact, the omission of many far more relevant names patently clear. Those not qualifying for a 3-second TV photo image/name include Gary Loizzo (American Breed founder, and early Styx Producer), Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire), Jerry Corbetta (Sugarloaf), Tommy Allsup (Buddy Holly & The Crickets), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), Al Caiola (guitarist on film/TV themes and scores), and Julius La Rosa (singer, mainstay on Arthur Godfrey’s show) just to name a few. Although their names were on the official Grammy list, but they belonged on TV as well, in my opinion.

Not seeing Rob’s name on the “In Memoriam” segment, I quickly abandoned watching the GRAMMY program (a better use of time) and went online to learn how a recording artist, record executive or member of the NARAS foundation gets on the consideration list. Turns out that Laura Bradley of Vanity Fair had asked Ken Ehrlich, the executive producer of The GRAMMYs, that exact question early. Quoting Ehrlich’s response to Bradley’s question in her story:

"…the research stage takes far longer than actually putting together the video itself. Out of the hundreds of artists and industry professionals who may have passed away, only about 50 can make it into the montage itself—and each can only be displayed onscreen for a few seconds. Who makes it in is decided by a committee of about 12 or 13 people from the recording academy, just one more way that the ceremony tries to make the system democratic and objective—and driven primarily by musical influence. “There are people that I would put in there, but it’s not about me,” Ehrlich told the A.P.. “It’s about the music industry as a whole and all of its parts: classical and rock and pop and Latin and jazz. So it’s a difficult process.”

Clearly, it’s a difficult process, and only the top 50 make the slates on the broadcast. I hoped that at least the head office would have Rob’s name listed on the official complete list of the “hundreds of artists and industry professionals” who’d died this past year.

Sadly, Rob Meurer’s name is also currently missing from that official list (click here). Their introductory remarks explain:

“The 59th GRAMMY Awards telecast on CBS will feature an In Memoriam segment highlighting some of these individuals via a video tribute, and all of these individuals who died prior to Jan. 11 are included in the official 59th GRAMMY Awards program book. The Recording Academy salutes each individual for their respective talents and contributions to our culture and community.”

To be fair, given the vast nature of the music industry, and those who pass away during the course of a calendar year, it’s invariable that some names will escape notice. But then, it’s on the shoulders of their friends and colleagues in the music business to submit their names to The Recording Academy just to make certain they’re not omitted, one would think.

Another favorite Cross & Meurer co-write is "Alibi":

Rob had been a vital part of new music for well over 30 years. It’s not like anyone is asking for something undeserved; his work deserved remembrance, if not recognition. After a 12-year hiatus from making a studio album, Cross would return with “Doctor Faith.” As a May, 2011, promotional YouTube video notes Cross reflected:

“This album has 13 new songs that were written by myself and my good friend and collaborator, my long-time collaborator, Rob Meurer. Rob and I met each other when we were about 16 and we were in San Antonio playing in bands and he was the keyboardist in the early band, the early records, and then he and I started collaborating as songwriters first in 1988 with “Back of My Mind.” It’s a relationship and a friendship that I feel very blessed to have and I just look forward to continuing the work that Rob and I do.”

Arguably one of Cross’s most successful tours was for the “Dr. Faith” album, and a DVD/CD recording of “A Night in Paris” was released. Rob remained at home in California, and singer-songwriter Kiki Ebsen handled keyboards and vocals on that Dr. Faith tour, as she’d toured frequently with Cross over the years.

Cross’ stock rose from that tour and it wasn’t long before he was destined for revisiting classic rock favorite-type Yacht Rock tours and enjoys continued popularity on the road today. Good music lives forever and audiences want to hear it.

Although Rob was not on the road for “Doctor Faith,” he was busy with one of his most important passions, writing musical theatre and working with promising young musicians in the Rising Star group that his wife, Beth, founded. Of the Los Angeles-based Rising Star, Rob described on his web site “…kids age 8 to 18 learn the art of Musical Theatre and have a whole lot of fun in the process. I also participate, and have found it to be more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.”

Rob remained steadfastly creative, as he also worked with individual promising young musicians, some the progeny of his former Texas colleagues and friends. For one musical theatre project, Rob was again lyricist on a production called ‘Helldrivers of Daytona,” and it was well received. He was a frequent contributor of time and talents to their church home, and his work Rising Star proved to be among the most fulfilling of all his achievements.

Even though he was living in Studio City, Rob and Christopher continued to work together on Cross’ 12th album, “Secret Ladder.” Yet, this time it was working across the Internet, rather than in person, as the duo would send files back and forth over the Internet as they worked on the songs.

Eleven of the 13 tracks on this album were billed as “Music & Lyrics by Christopher Cross & Rob Meurer.” Cross released this album in September, 2014, on his own label. A modest offering, still it was given a great launch with a national broadcast of the CBS “Sunday Morning” program prior to release.

One or more songs should have naturally found their way to radio play, but the state of terrestrial radio is almost as sad as some of last evening’s GRAMMYs segments. Even if they have a string of GRAMMY awards on their mantle, a solid artist can’t seem to catch a break. It’s up to the artist to tour, play every venue they can book, and provide the PR for their own music, but Cross didn’t tour with “Secret Ladder.”

At Rob’s memorial service in Studio City, Christopher Cross delivered an emotional eulogy that included humor, honesty, and truth:

“Rob was so many things but most of all a devoted friend, he forgave all my trespasses….we were brothers. We were also very dedicated to our work. It’s a rare gift to meet somebody so young in life to be able to sustain that kind of kinship for 40 years. We shared the mystical journey of songwriting. It was like God let us in on a secret no one else knew about. I got a much-needed chuckle out of Beth and Anne the other night at the house when I told her about a conversation I’d had with Rob after our “Secret Ladder” had come out, and had sold 12 copies. I said to Rob, ‘Why do we keep doing this?’ And he answered in a very reverent tone, ‘It’s because it’s what we do.’ And I was humbled to think that he could feel like that. And then he followed that immediately with ‘You didn’t think that we were doing this for the money, did you’?”

Scrolling back on Rob’s Facebook page back last summer and early fall, 2016, whenever visitors would comment, even if not his personal Facebook friends, frequently they’d post a thank-you to Rob for writing lyrics for several of their favorite Christopher Cross songs that they had just heard in concert the night before.

Some even remarked ahead of attending a Cross concert: “Hope they play some of your songs, Rob,” even though that was a likely given. To all posts, though, Rob replied personally, with thanks, and the most humble and gracious remarks you’d ever hope to read. In fact, some of them bordered on slightly self-deprecating as they might include, “Thank you for even remembering these songs!” It was overwhelming to think that the collective genius he possessed was something he was entirely unaware of. He just wrote because “it’s what we do.” They were his songs, too.

At the time of Rob’s passing, Christopher Cross posted this message on his own web site:

“To try and explain how I feel, or to try to imagine how his wife Beth and daughter Anne feel at this moment is impossible, but I felt I wanted to share with you the tremendous love and respect I had for this man,” Cross said. “He was quite simply the smartest guy I ever knew, funny, kind, devoted to his family and friends, and talented beyond measure. Not just with the work he and I did, but his own solo work, and his musical theater projects. His love of the craft was as deep as anyone I’ve ever known.”

One of the best examples of Christopher and Rob in sync is their duet on “Minstrel Gigolo,” on the stage of the Galaxy Theatre. Christopher is playing guitar and Rob is playing dulcimer. Two great friends making beautiful music. That’s the way I want to remember them, like the 66,000 other people who watched this particular video, of hundreds online.

To watch this video (pictured right) click here.

Rob’s time on Earth passed far too quickly. And it would be beyond poignant that, on the other side of the ampersand, the Cross & Meurer compositions would include “Blink of an Eye”:

…'Cause it could be gone in the blink of an eye

It could be dawn in the blink of an eye

Isn't it time that you reached for the sky

And let yourself go

There's a fire deep inside

I said baby baby

Let's steal the moon and let love have its way

Burning like a falling star until we are

A million miles away"

Journal archive Music Dish noted

“Rob Meurer first came to prominence as a keyboardist and arranger on the Grammy-sweeping debut album by Christopher Cross, with whom he has since written and produced several albums. He served as Music Director for Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre and Billy Crystal's A Comic's Line and has also worked with Carole King, J.D. Souther, and Van Dyke Parks, and written with Paul Williams & Jennifer Warnes as well as Nashville hitmakers Rory Feek and Sandy Knox…Rob has written books and lyrics for four musicals…and he taught a songwriting course, Lyric Lab for the Music Talks Educational Center.”

“And” Rob Meurer, indeed.

Three separate memorial services were held for Rob: a life celebration service was held in San Antonio, Texas, hosted by Rob’s sister Margaret Ann Hill and her family in October, 2016, for family and longtime friends from the area to remember him.

A private service for family and close friends was held in November in Studio City, California, and the children of the Rising Star Musical Theatre outshined themselves and the other musicians and speakers present with their amazing gifts of music. A video of the service is also posted online.

In December 2016, in Austin, Rob’s wife, Beth, and their daughter, Anne, hosted a celebration of life which allowed so many of their Austin friends to pay their respects.

One exceptional tribute well worth the time to read is by Gregg Barrios (click name to read), a journalist and longtime friend of Rob’s from their high school days in San Antonio (Rob went to Antonian College Preparatory High School and Cross went to Alamo Heights High School as teenagers).

Anyone who wishes can make a tax-deductible contribution to the Rob Meurer Scholarship Fund. His widow, Beth, wrote a beautiful tribute to his work (click here).

Rob may well be “a million miles away” now, and he may not have made it onto the GRAMMY broadcast or even onto the official list of The Recording Academy (yet), but he is forever remembered. It’s not always easy living on “the other side of the ampersand” in any talented duo, but perhaps in the future, lyricists and musicians who are integral to the music we all love and buy will be heralded and championed during their lifetimes more prominently, so we don’t have to worry about them being forgotten upon their passing. Rest in peace, Rob…and…thank you for all the music.

Robert Alvah Meurer

September 28, 1950 - September 24, 2016