Peter Paul Cetera (// sə-TERR-ə; born September 13, 1944) is an American singer, songwriter, bassist and producer best known for being an original member of the rock band Chicago, before launching a successful solo career. As a solo artist, Cetera has scored six Top-40 singles, including two that reached number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
In December 1967, Cetera arrived early for a show to watch a band called The Big Thing. Impressed by their use of a horn section combined with rock and roll, Cetera left The Exceptions to join The Big Thing within two weeks. The Big Thing, which soon changed its name to The Chicago Transit Authority (and eventually shortened it to Chicago after complaints by the actual CTA), released their self-titled debut album The Chicago Transit Authority on Columbia Records in 1969. Cetera sang lead vocal on three of the eleven songs on the album, with his tenor voice complementing the baritone voices of the two other lead singers in the group, keyboardist Robert Lamm and guitarist Terry Kath.
His trademark singing style would develop as a result of having to sing for a period of time with a wired-shut jaw after getting into a brawl at a Los Angeles Dodgers game in 1969.
The follow-up album, Chicago, vaulted the band to popular status throughout the world. The song “25 or 6 to 4” was the first major hit single with Cetera singing lead vocals. Chicago is also notable for featuring Cetera’s first songwriting effort, “Where Do We Go From Here?”
As the 1970s progressed, Cetera would become a more prolific songwriter for the group, contributing the hits “Wishing You Were Here” (#11) and “Happy Man” from the 1974 album Chicago VII. His biggest singing and songwriting accomplishment with Chicago came in 1976 with their first worldwide No. 1 single, the ballad “If You Leave Me Now”. Cetera’s next composition in 1977, “Baby, What A Big Surprise” (#4), also became a major hit and cemented the band’s status in the late 1970s as a “ballad band.”
He is credited as one of the background vocalists on the single “My Life”, released in 1978, from the album 52nd Street by Billy Joel.
By the end of the 1970s, with the rise of disco music, Chicago’s popularity declined, culminating in the release of the band’s poorest-selling album Chicago XIV (#71) in 1980. Columbia Records subsequently bought out the remainder of Chicago’s contract.
In 1981, Cetera released his first solo album, Peter Cetera, on Warner Bros. Records, after personally buying the rights from his previous contract with Columbia Records, who would not release the project. The album was, subsequently, a commercial failure, which Cetera attributed to Warner Bros.’ refusal to promote him as a solo artist out of fear that he would leave Chicago, who had only recently signed with the label.
In 1982, David Foster was brought in as producer and the resulting group effort was Chicago 16 (#9). The album represented a major comeback for Chicago, and leading the way was the hit single co-written (with Foster) and featured Cetera on lead vocals, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, which went to #1 in the charts. The song also featured in the movie Summer Lovers starring Daryl Hannah. The second single, “Love Me Tomorrow”, was also co-written (again with Foster) and sung by Cetera, reaching No. 22 on the singles chart. The third single, “What You’re Missing”, was yet again sung by Cetera. In 1983, he took a break from his duties as Chicago frontman to add backing vocals on Paul Anka’s final U.S. Top-40 hit “Hold Me Til The Mornin’ Comes”, which debuted in the summer of that year.
When Chicago 17 was released in 1984, it became the veteran band’s most successful selling album in their history, eventually going on to sell over 6 million copies in the United States alone. All four singles released from the album were sung by Cetera, including three which he co-wrote, and all of them charted in the top 20: “Stay the Night” (#16), “Hard Habit to Break” (#3), “You’re the Inspiration” (#3) and “Along Comes a Woman” (#14).
With the advent of the music video and the growing popularity of MTV, Cetera became the ‘face’ and public leader of the longtime faceless band that was Chicago.
With his new-found notoriety and popularity, Cetera was interested in recording another solo album. In addition, he had stated his lack of interest for the extensive touring schedule of the band, especially to promote Chicago 17. When the 17 Tour concluded in May 1985, Chicago’s management, along with several members of the band, had expressed a desire to book another tour for that summer and start working on the group’s next album. Cetera, however, insisted that they take a break from touring so that he could concentrate on a solo album and spend more time with his family. Cetera then proposed a working arrangement similar to the one that Phil Collins and Genesis had at the time with Collins still being a member and touring with Genesis while also doing some solo work at the same time. Chicago’s management and the rest of the group declined the offer, resulting in Cetera leaving Chicago around July 1985.
Almost immediately, Cetera continued his streak of success. His first single, “Glory of Love” (the theme to the movie The Karate Kid, Part II), was a US No. 1 hit in 1986, and achieved similar success throughout the world. It went on to win an ASCAP Award for Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures and a BMI Film & TV Award for Most Performed Song from a Film. It was also nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe in the category of Best Original Song, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Male Artist.
His album, Solitude/Solitaire, released in 1986, was also successful, selling over 1 million copies and producing another No. 1 hit single, “The Next Time I Fall”, a duet with Amy Grant, which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. Solitude/Solitaire outsold Chicago 18 (#35), the first Chicago album without him.
In 1988 he teamed up with producer Patrick Leonard and released his third solo album, One More Story, who contained the No. 4 hit single “One Good Woman” and “Save Me”, the original opening theme for the television show Baywatch. Leonard co-wrote 8 of 10 songs, including the title song “One More Story”, and he also played piano and synthesizers on the album. “Save Me” was co-written with David Foster, who also co-wrote the previous hit “Glory of Love”.
The album also included another duet, “Scheherazade”, this time with Madonna in cameo as ‘Lulu Smith’. They were brought together by Patrick Leonard who had written and produced several of Madonna’s hits.
The songs “Body Language” and “You Never Listen To Me” both feature David Gilmour of Pink Floyd on guitar.
In 1989, Cetera recorded another duet, this time with Cher, called “After All”, which was included on the soundtrack of the movie Chances Are. It reached #6 on the US charts..
In 1992, his final album on Warner Bros. Records, World Falling Down, was released. It featured the Adult Contemporary #1 hit, “Restless Heart”, as well as two other successful singles: “Even a Fool Can See” and a duet with Chaka Khan, “Feels Like Heaven”.
In 1995, Cetera released his first album for River North Records, One Clear Voice, and featured the hit single, “(I Wanna Take) Forever Tonight”, a duet with actress Crystal Bernard. Following the release of the album, Cetera launched his first solo tour—accompanied by his River North labelmate, country singer Ronna Reeves – lasting into 1996.
1997 brought You’re the Inspiration: A Collection, a collection of all his duets from over the years, along with three re-recorded songs he had written while a member of Chicago, and two brand new recordings.
2001 saw the release of Another Perfect World.
In 2002, Cetera performed a medley of four of his songs at The Concert for World Children’s Day, backed by David Foster and an orchestra at Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. Subsequently, this led to his appearance, in 2003, with the Chicago Pops Orchestra on the PBS music program Soundstage, which was broadcast throughout the United States and released on DVD.
From 2003 until summer 2007, Cetera performed a very limited number of concerts each year with a 40 piece orchestra, playing re-arrangements of songs from throughout his career, including several from his tenure as a member of Chicago.
In 2004, Cetera released a collection of holiday classics, You Just Gotta Love Christmas, which featured background and duet vocals by his eldest daughter, Claire.
Cetera has sung “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at Wrigley Field for a Chicago Cubs game at least three times: in 2003; on August 16, 2007, for a game that was televised on WGN-TV; and again on May 2, 2009 on Comcast Sports Net.
In December 2007, Cetera embarked on the You Just Gotta Love Christmas tour of the United States. It marked his return to a traditional rock band show, his first since 1996, featured songs from his 2004 Christmas album and from throughout his career.
Shortly after Cetera was featured in the cover story of the December 2007 issue of Bass Player magazine he saw Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, playing bass guitar on television. Cetera sent his compliments, along with an autographed copy of the issue, to Huckabee, who was at that time a presidential hopeful in the 2008 Republican primaries. Huckabee said, “I was totally awestruck to get a letter from Peter Cetera. …having one of the greatest bass players in my generation give me a compliment is like winning New Hampshire.”
Cetera was mentioned in an advertisement for Heineken beer that first aired in summer 2010. A young man at an assisted-living home holds up a copy of the World Falling Down LP cover and asks one of the residents why he likes Cetera. The older resident replies that he does not like Cetera, but the ladies do, “and if you like the ladies, then by default, you like Cetera.” Cetera’s song “Restless Heart” from the World Falling Down album is heard playing in the background.
Listen to some of his songs below