Then Along Comes Cetera
Former Chicago frontman and rock legend Peter Cetera plays the hits at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
It’s a world of homogenous singing voices in today’s pop music. But Peter Cetera has one of the most distinctive voices in rock history in an era that was full of them.
From 1969 to 1985, Cetera played bass and was one of the three lead vocalists for Chicago, which was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. He kept Chicago’s hit machine going in the 1970s with songs like “Happy Man,” “Baby, What a Big Surprise,” and the Grammy Award-winning “If You Leave Me Now.”
In the MTV generation of the 1980s, the hits continued with “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “You’re the Inspiration,” and “Along Comes a Woman,” among others. He began his solo career in earnest in 1986 after his first solo effort was suppressed by his record label. Leading up to his show in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre on Feb. 18, Cetera also talks to 435 about being nominated for an Academy Award and having David Foster as a writing partner.
435: Are you approaching things differently with your songs? Are you kind of taking a fresh look at them every time you tour?
Peter Cetera: You know, to me, people come to hear the songs they want to hear. And if they’re anything like I am, I know when I go to hear somebody, I love their singing and playing, but I want to hear the songs that I associate with them. And I want to hear them the way I associate with them. There’s nothing like seeing somebody actually do that song that’s locked in your memory. So I’m really not a big one with oh, let’s see if we could change this song around and sound different. No, I prefer to do the songs the way we recorded them, with the obvious updates of modern technology and better sound. Basically the songs are what they were.
435: Could you tell me about who’s backing you up in your band, The Bad Daddies, and how long you’ve been playing with them? How did they get their name?
PC: Some guys have been with me, geez I don’t know, 15, 16, 17 years. Probably the most recent is maybe three years. It’s a seven-piece band, it’s a great group of people from Nashville and we just have fun on stage. I think it definitely comes across to the audience.
We were rehearsing in the basement of my friend’s studio. That’s where he had all the old instruments stored, there were colored lights and it was a vibey place. Back then, a bunch of us had young kids, you know. A couple of us started bringing the kids to rehearsals, and one day the kids were running around and we were eating doughnuts and rehearsing and I just said, “Gosh, we are really bad daddies.”
435: I love your work with Chicago, but I want to thank you for two albums that were a big part of my childhood, and those are Solitude/Solitaire and One More Story. Those are great albums.
PC: They are, and it’s kind of a shame. When I went solo, I never really had anybody fully behind me as far as a record company or anything. If anything, everybody was trying to get me to go back with Chicago back then. So I didn’t really get a lot of help. I love those albums, but they never got pushed the way they would if a record company or management would’ve been behind them.
The one I did when I was still with Chicago was strange. That’s when I knew there were going to be problems, because I had a song on there called “Livin’ in the Limelight,” which at the time was a big AOR [album-oriented rock] hit. I had a number-one song on that, and the album just wasn’t selling. I went into Warner Bros. at the time and said, “Hey, look, I have a number-one song, and my album’s not even in the Top 75. How is that possible?” “I don’t know.” And this is the head of Warner Bros., Mo Ostin, telling me this. I just stayed there for about 30 minutes going, “How is this possible?” Finally, he said, “Alright, I’ll tell you the truth. We didn’t push it. We really want you back with Chicago.” I went, “What?” I did more one more album with Chicago and kind of left on a sour note. They didn’t want me to do recordings, and I did.
435: And for those of my generation, “Glory of Love” was absolutely huge. Did you write and record that song and then realize it would be in Karate Kid II, or did you write it specifically for Karate Kid II?
PC: I wrote that song for Rocky IV, actually, the one where he fights the Russian. So they sent me the script and they sent me part of the film, and I wrote “Glory of Love” for that movie. We got into a little contractual difficulty. The last thing that they always thought about was music and how to pay for it. They didn’t want to live up to the contract, so I didn’t give them the song. A few weeks later, the people from Karate Kid came looking for a song and I said, “I happen to have this one!” And I played it for them, changed a couple of words here and there, and there you go.
435: “Glory of Love” was of course nominated for an Academy Award. Did you ever think that when you got into this business that you would have “Oscar nominee” in your list of accomplishments, and that you’d be singing that song at the Oscars?
PC: No, you don’t think about those things! Actually, when I wrote that song, I thought you know, this is a good song. I was really thinking I was going to win, because I thought it was a fabulous song. “Take My Breath Away” won from Top Gun, by Giorgio Moroder. And doggone it, I was so disappointed. I was just in Germany a month ago, and at one of the shows, Giorgio Moroder came. First time I had ever met him. And I said, “You rat, you took my Academy Award!” And we laughed about it.
435: I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about David Foster, who pretty much defined the music of the 1980s with his producing and songwriting. What makes him such a great collaborator and what do you appreciate about David in your years of working together?
PC: I don’t really know what he does with other people, but he hasn’t had as much success with anybody else as he’s had with me. He’s written some wonderful songs, but man, we had four or five smash hits. Something just clicked with us. We did it time and time again: “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “You’re the Inspiration,” “Glory of Love,” “Stay the Night.” There’s just a bunch of things we wrote that were big hits. You’d like to think you could capture that in a bottle. It’s hard to explain when it happens, and it’s a lot of work. I’m not a writer that breezes along.
He’s one of the truly great artists. I think together we made each other better. I like a good hook, and to me, it’s the melody. I’m a pretty melodic type of person when I write, and that’s how we just happened to hit it off, you know.
435: You’re a beast of a bass player, and I love listening to your bass lines while you were with Chicago. How much bass do you play now?
PC: I sort of got out of bass playing, actually when I started working with David, because he was such a great Moog bass player. It was infinitely easier to have him lay down a Moog bass and concentrate on writing. I don’t really play too much, although I started including it in the act and people get a kick out of it.
435: Is there a song of yours that’s a personal favorite that you just don’t get a chance to perform?
PC: You know, there’s a lot of songs I’d like to do. But like I said before, I tell people, “Some of you probably know my name. Some of you might know my face. Probably a lot more of you know my voice. And this is the night when we’re going to put it all together.” I think that’s what my show is. It’s a chance for people to go, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize he wrote that.” In that vein, there’s so many songs I could do, and I try to pull a couple different ones every now and then out of the bag. But I know the people come to hear the hits, and I don’t mind doing them, to tell you the truth. I love them all.