Chet Himes, engineer who worked with Christopher Cross and others, dies at 73
Chet Himes, a recording engineer who worked on Christopher Cross’ 1979 debut album that swept the major categories at the Grammys, died Saturday at his home in New Braunfels after collapsing from an apparent heart attack. He was 73.
Himes also engineered several albums for Rock & Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Carole King as well as records for several other prominent Austin artists, including Joe Ely, Eric Johnson, Marcia Ball and Jerry Jeff Walker.
Born in California on April 15, 1947, Himes grew up in San Antonio and played bass in the late 1960s and early 1970s with the progressive-psychedelic rock band Homer, which had a minor regional hit with a cover of Willie Nelson’s “I Never Cared for You.”
Himes relocated to Austin in the early 1970s shortly after Cross moved here in 1969. “When I moved to Austin, I found some really good bass players and decided … I would never be that good,” Himes said in a 2012 YouTube interview. “I had always been attracted to engineering anyway, so I just moved from one side of the glass to the other.”
Himes and Cross had become friends when playing in different San Antonio bands and quickly became close in Austin. “We struck up a friendship based on the fact that we both liked gear and recording,” Cross said Tuesday. “It was one of those really innocent times when not much got in the way of the process.”
They worked together at Pecan Street Studios, also called Odyssey at one point. “There wasn’t really another 24-track studio of that caliber in town,” Cross said. “That’s where the original Christopher Cross demos were done.”
When Cross got a record deal with Warner Bros., he brought along not only his band but also Himes to Los Angeles for the sessions with producer Michael Omartian. That’s uncommon, “but Chet really was an audio genius,” Cross said. “He was clearly as good as anyone in L.A., and Omartian realized that.”
Released in December 1979, Cross’ self-titled album went on to win album of the year at the 1981 Grammy Awards. The single “Sailing” won record of the year and song of the year. Himes’ work was recognized with a nomination in the best engineered recording category (Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” won).
“It was a magical, fulfilling time that worked because we were doing it for the love of the music,” Himes told Margaret Moser of the Austin Chronicle in 2012.
Himes also engineered and mixed Cross’ 1983 follow-up album “Another Page” and spent several years on the road mixing live sound for him. “You don’t really see that a lot these days,” Cross said. “There’s studio guys and live guys, but Chet was both.”
Himes lived in Los Angeles for a stretch in the 1980s, co-owning and operating a studio there, before returning to Austin. In the 1990s and 2000s, he engineered records for such local artists as Jon Dee Graham, Trish Murphy, Omar & the Howlers, and the late Stephen Bruton.
“Chet was one of the handful of Old Guard music people who took me under their wing,” Austin musician Jon Dee Graham wrote in a social media post about Himes. “He saw no dissonance between my punk-rock roots and my outsized aspirations. He was unfailingly kind and spent many hours with me in the studio helping me figure out what was what.”
Austin rocker Van Wilks first did a living-room recording with Himes in 1971 and worked with him on many occasions over the ensuing decades. Himes was scheduled to mix the sound for Wilks’ livestream show from the Studios at Fischer on Friday.
“Chet influenced countless engineers, and they’ll all tell you that, too,” Wilks said Tuesday. “He had the patience of a saint, which most musicians, certainly me, don’t have.”
Wilks recalled Himes relying on kind ways to let artists know if a take wasn’t up to par. “When someone was really not doing something good, he’d say, ‘I appreciate what you’re trying to do with that.’”
When the pandemic hit Himes hard earlier this year, resulting in a move to New Braunfels, he set up a crowdfunding page that drew nearly $17,000 in contributions, almost twice the goal he’d set.
“He left a big impression on everybody,” Wilks said. “He’ll be so missed in the music community and by all his friends.”
Survivors include his longtime significant other, Kathleen Vick; his first wife, Debbie Sherrill; and his sister, Christal Harper.