As the guitarist in the San Diego band Phenomenon in the mid-1970s, La Jolla native Robbin Crosby dreamed of becoming a rock star. By 1984 the handsome blond guitarist had achieved his dream as a member of Ratt, the hard-rocking Los Angeles band that scored such hits as "Round and Round" and "Lay It Down," and sold several million albums.
But Mr. Crosby's fame turned into a drug-fueled nightmare that saw him spiral into heroin addiction. On Thursday the Los Angeles-based musician died of complications from AIDS, a disease he had battled for eight years. He was 42.
"Robbin had everything kids dream of growing up," said Bill Decker of La Jolla, Mr. Crosby's brother-in-law.
"He was married for a while to a Playboy Playmate, he had a Ferrari, a Laurel Canyon house with a pool that overlooked L.A., a personal assistant. . . . But then he started getting heavily into the drugs and his marriage started to fall apart. He lost his way."
Mr. Crosby publicly disclosed that he had AIDS in July 2001 during an interview with Los Angeles radio station KNAC. He speculated that he contracted the disease when he started using heroin as a member of Ratt in the mid-1980s.
"The first time I saw Robbin, he was playing at a party at La Jolla High School, and he totally had it together," De Martini recalled from his Los Angeles home. "He had the focus, and he already looked like he'd been doing it for 20 years. Even then he had the idea of going all the way, and he did, beyond probably what he thought was possible."
Mr. Crosby was born Aug. 4, 1959, in San Diego. He attended Bird Rock Elementary School and Muirlands Middle School, and graduated from La Jolla High School in 1977. Two years later he moved to Manhattan Beach, where he lived with Decker.
Mr. Crosby found fame and fortune a few years later after teaming up with fellow San Diego musicians De Martini and Stephen Pearcy in Ratt. The band's 1984 debut album, "Out of the Cellar," reached No. 7 on the national Billboard sales charts. By the next year Ratt was headlining arenas across the nation. The quintet's first four albums all sold more than 1 million copies each, but changing musical trends and a declining market saw the group disband in 1992.
"Fame was the worst thing that ever happened to Robbin, and it was his downfall," Decker said. "He loved to kid around and do practical jokes. He was the life of the party, and kind to a fault.
"But the heroin got in the way, and the cocaine, and all the other stuff. At some point he just gave up; there wasn't a will anymore to go on."
Decker said Mr. Crosby spent time in several recovery homes for drug abusers and alcoholics, including Pathfinders near Balboa Park. But he was never able to overcome the demons that drove him to drugs.
"Robbin was extremely generous after he became very successful; he was a very giving person," Boaz said. "But if he hadn't become a famous rock star, I suspect he would've had the same drug addiction. He lost it all to drugs."
A memorial service, open to the public, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Windansea Beach, just south of the Pump House shack.
"We'll say a few words in Robbin's honor," De Martini said. "Then everybody will get on surfboards and paddle out to spread his ashes in the ocean."
Donations can be made to the Robbin Crosby Memorial Fund, c/o Regents Bank, 875 Prospect St., Suite 100, La Jolla, CA 92037. All donations will benefit Pathfinders of San Diego Inc.
Ratt coming home as the big cheese
Aug 3, 1984
By George Varga
San Diego Union
When it comes to achieving stardom in the world of rock 'n' roll, San Diego does not rank high as a springboard to success.
Witness Ratt. Three of the heavy-metal rock group's five members — lead vocalist Stephen Pearcy and guitarists Robbin Crosby and Warren De Martini — had to leave their San Diego homes for Los Angeles to make their mark in the music industry.
Now, less than three years later, Pearcy, Crosby and De Martini (together with Los Angeles bassist Juan Crocier and drummer Bobby Blotzer) have turned Ratt into one of the major success stories of 1984.
Their Atlantic Records album, "Out of the Cellar," recently went platinum, making it the first debut record by a new band to sell more than a million copies this year — an unusual achievement in any year.
Buoyed by the hit single "Round and Round," "Out of the Cellar" is presently ranked 7th on the Billboard national sales charts just 20 weeks after its release. It seems poised to crack the Top 5 by next week.
Currently in the midst of a nationwide tour that brings them here to headline a Tuesday evening concert at SDSU's Open Air Theater, Ratt has plied its youthful exuberance, carefully plotted sexy image and hard-driving music into a winning formula.
Of course, given the fickle tastes of many rock fans, it's possible that this band may be unable to duplicate "Out of the Cellar's" success with any of its subsequent albums. For now, though, the members of Ratt are as happy as a group of mice set free in a cheese factory.
"Everything that's happened to us has been like something out of a fairy tale," declared guitarist Crosby in a recent telephone interview from Houston, Texas. "We're all very excited."
A native of La Jolla, Crosby met Ratt's lead vocalist Pearcy more than ten years ago when the two were playing in competing San Diego bands. By 1981, both musicians had moved to Los Angeles with their respective groups, each hoping for fame and fortune.
"The only bands that were getting signed (to record contracts) in San Diego at that time were new wave-type bands, so I decided to take my band, Mickey Ratt, to Los Angeles," recalled Pearcy, in a subsequent interview, also from Houston.
"At that time, it was impossible to sell a hard rock band in San Diego. "There weren't any decent places to play, and for our kind of music L.A. was more of an open field, especially given the success of (Los Angeles-based) bands like Van Halen and Quiet Riot."
"There's almost no opportunity to play all-original music for a hard rock band in San Diego," agreed Crosby. "All the places in San Diego want you to play four or five sets a night of dance material, so that people will come and dance and buy drinks. Also, in San Diego, kids under 21 can't come to see you play if (it's a club where) alcohol is being served.
"Whereas in L.A., if you're under 21 they just stamp your hand so you can't buy drinks but you can still go to the show. That's very important to a band like Ratt, because most of our fans are definitely under 21."
Soon after Crosby and Pearcy had relocated to Los Angeles, their respective groups split up. It wasn't long before the two San Diegans decided, in late 1981, to join forces. Since then, neither has had more than a moment to look back.
"After our original lead guitarist, Jake Lee (a native of Imperial Beach, currently in the band of English heavy metal singer Ozzy Osbourne) quit to join Quiet Riot, I gave Warren (De Martini) a call in La Jolla," said Crosby. "The next day he showed up in L.A. with all his stuff and moved in with me. Then we got Bobby and Juan on drums and bass, and it's been the same lineup ever since."
While working as the house band at Los Angeles' famed Whiskey A Go Go — job held 15 years earlier by such rock luminaries as The Doors and Love — Ratt was approached by manager Marshall Berle, a nephew of the famed comedian. Under Berle's guidance, the group cut an independent record that sold remarkably well and attracted the attention of several major record companies.
Atlantic Records' talent scout Kenny Ostin was so impressed with Ratt that he had the president of the company, Doug Morris, fly out from New York to hear them in December 1983. The next day, the group signed a contract with Atlantic.
The release of "Out of the Cellar" coincided with the recent resurgence of hard rock and heavy metal. Combined with heavy exposure on MTV: Music Television for their "Round and Round" video —which features Milton Berle in a dual role as a man and a woman — Ratt's record began a slow but steady climb up the charts.
"The timing was just right," opined Pearcy. "Also, we're really a live band, and we've been on tour for four months now, which has really helped push the album."
"There's no denying that MTV has really helped, especially at the time that Ratt's video came out," added Crosby, who said a second video is due shortly. "When you're a brand new, image-conscious band and nobody has a clue what you're about, MTV exposure is very important."
To the uninitiated listener, it would probably be difficult to distinguish Ratt's music from that of any number of young rock bands pursuing a similar stylistic path. Loud and raucous, if hardly visionary in its approach, Ratt's appeal stems as much from its members' clean-shaven good looks as from its sound.
Atlantic Records' Ostin attributes Ratt's phenomenal success to "good melodies and harmony vocals, a great guitar player (De Martini) and nice looks." Crosby and Percy point to another factor: sex appeal.
"We definitely try to be melodic so that we don't get caught up in the heavy metal shuffle," noted Crosby, "but I think our music is aimed more at a female audience than a lot of contemporary hard rock bands. Part of our plan was to attract a female audience. We try to come off with a lot of sex appeal in our lyrics and our look, rather than having a violent or rebellious image."
"We want to look sexy — nice but aggressive — and the music has to be the same," agreed Pearcy. "We don't want to be pigeonholed as a heavy metal band, even though anybody can call us that and we'll accept it. We want to be a band that's going to last for a few years, like a Van Halen or Led Zeppelin."
"At the time when heavy metal became popular again a few years ago, we noticed that everybody sort of looked the same," said Crosby. "We didn't want to become part of that. Basically, we're all good looking guys in our early 20s, and we've always been into fashions that girls like and that young guys might think is cool. So we just incorporated that into our look.
"It's definitely a conscious effort, but our stage appeal is really no different than our street appeal. Maybe it's a little more exaggerated on stage, but we always look the way we look. It's not a put-on."