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Q&A: Peter Cetera

Peter Cetera’s setlist balances material from both his solo albums and time in Chicago, while helping the audience put a “face” to the songs that probably jump-started plenty of relationships.

G.K. Hizer
January 29, 2018

As a founding member of the band Chicago and a successful solo artist, bassist and vocalist Peter Cetera’s career has spanned six decades. As fantastic a musician and songwriter as he is, however, he’s perhaps most well-known for his distinctive voice. A colorful tenor who has painted the airwaves with hits across his career, Cetera owned a staple of radio hits in the mid-‘80s and early-‘90s.

Although he departed Chicago in 1985 and has never looked back, his career has continued to thrive. The awards have also come as a member of the Grammy Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Even now, 50 years after joining Chicago in 1967, Cetera is still on the road and bringing the hits to fans who never tire of his voice and positive spirit.

Q: What's it like to be the voice that launched a thousand mix tapes?

A: You know, it’s taken me years to grasp that fact. I had a couple of years where I had some big hits, but really had no record company support behind me. I lost a little faith and confidence in the whole process. I stepped away from it all for a little while.

People kept telling me how much they loved the songs and the music and it got me enthused again. Yes, I had a few big ballads, but there were some upbeat songs in there too. People love the songs just the same now as they did back then, so it’s been really nice to get back out in front of the audiences and see them happy.

Q: Last year you toured as part of the "Night of Proms" tour. What was that like, and how did it go for you?

A: It’s not like I’ve just started touring again. I’ve been playing 15-20 years with The Bad Daddy’s. They are a great bunch of guys from Nashville. What I’d really like to do is take this group to Europe. With Chicago, we only toured Europe once in 1982, and after that, we kind of had our resurgence and never went back.

People need to know who you are and remember you in order to tour Europe. So my thought was to do this tour and get them to recognize me again. Hopefully they’ll want me to return with my band.

Q: The success of Chicago 16 (1982) and Chicago 17 (1984) and working with David Foster seemed to set the stage for a transition to your solo career. How much did Foster's production help influence or shape your career at that point?

With "If You Leave Me Now," a song written and sung by Cetera on the group's 10th album, Chicago garnered its first Grammy Award. It was also the group's first No. 1 single.
With "If You Leave Me Now," a song written and sung by Cetera on the group's 10th album, Chicago garnered its first Grammy Award. It was also the group's first No. 1 single.

A: I don’t really think it was Foster’s production that made the difference. We immediately had a musician’s bond. Chicago was at something of a low ebb and we got together and pretty much decided we’re going to make this thing happen and work. We wrote some fantastic songs in a short amount of time and they turned out to be enormous hits like “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “Love Me Tomorrow,” “Stay the Night,” and “You’re the Inspiration.”

With Chicago 18 (1986) and Chicago 19 (1988), David took more of a producer role and they went outside for songs. So he wasn’t as involved in the writing process. I think that’s maybe where the group lost its way again.

On 16 and 17, David and I were writing the majority of the material and there was a real synchronicity to it. To this day, we’re still friends and we still talk. I even go out and play a couple of his shows on occasion.

Q: Over the years, the list of people you've collaborated with is staggering. In working with other artists, what have you taken away or learned from those experiences?

A: When you collaborate with someone, I think it lets you go someplace you wouldn’t necessarily go by yourself and gets you to try different things. As far as favorite people I’ve worked with, obviously, David is one of them. There’s also a gentleman, Andy Hill, who lives in England, who I wrote a couple of songs with who not many people here have probably heard, but they were great songs and a great experience. Also Mark Goldenberg, who I wrote “Daddy’s Girl” and “Along Comes a Woman” with.

Sometimes it just works and you go with it. There are also people who you look forward to working with and think it will all really click, and it just doesn’t work. If I don’t like a song, I don’t finish it, because what’s the point in doing something you don’t like or enjoy?

Q: You joined Chicago in 1967, and you're still going strong. That's an incredible career. To what do you attribute your longevity and sustained popularity?

A: For me, I think it’s maybe that I haven’t always been in the limelight. I took some time off and stepped back from it all for a bit and enjoyed some time with my family.

Even with my solo career, I had some big hits, but no real backing from my record company. Not being in the limelight all of the time, my career kind of went up and down. I’m not sure if that has really helped me, but there’s been no chance for everyone to get sick of me.

Now I feel great, I’ve got a fabulous band, and we have a great time onstage. When we go onstage, people always wonder what we’re going to play. We do songs that I’ve written and recorded, some that I’ve produced, some Chicago songs I wrote and sang on. I hit all of the songs people want me to play. I always hear people say they didn’t know I sang certain songs.

Q: When writing or picking songs, what do you look for? What makes a song timeless? Is it the structure, the lyrics, the melody, or just some undeniable chemistry?

A: I think it’s all of that, but for me, it’s really all about a good melody. No one’s a bigger Beatles fan than I am. I love the Beatles. Now, I might not get all of the words right on occasion, but I never forget the melody. I think that’s what really sticks in people’s heads.

Q: Clearly, there's more touring, but will there be new music coming in the new future?

A: I would love to do a new album — or another three or four or whatever. It’s just a matter of finding the right vehicle, or person, or whatever, to make it happen. I’m not very good with the internet marketing or whatever, so it’s more a matter of finding the right avenue to get something out. I’ve been working on a couple of songs. Right now we’re doing one new one in our live show.

When the right opportunity comes along, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to start writing and looking for new ideas all of the time.

Peter Cetera
The Joint | Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa
777 W. Cherokee St. | Catoosa
Feb. 14: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend