Date: Sunday, October 5, 1986
Source: By Lynn Van Matre, Pop music critic.
Section: ARTS Memo: Rock.
Copyright Chicago Tribune
For a man who claims he had trouble mustering up the confidence to launch a solo career, former Chicago lead vocalist Peter Cetera comes across as remarkably self-assured.
Most singers release a record and then start gnawing their knuckles, anxiously hoping their latest effort will hit the big-time (or at least won`t be an embarrassing dud). Not Cetera, who recently released his first post- Chicago single, ``Glory of Love,`` and told his manager to give him a call at his Idaho hideaway when--not if, but when--the song hit No. 1 on the pop charts. At least, that`s what he says. Is this guy joking, or superconfident, or what?
``No, I wasn`t joking,`` says Cetera, who was doing a bit of mountain climbing when his manager called sometime later with the news that ``Glory of Love`` (also known as the theme from the film ``The Karate Kid, Part II``), had, indeed, captured the coveted No. 1 spot. ``I really was expecting a No. 1 hit single.
``Why? Because I just really felt that this song, which meant so much to me, would mean a lot to a lot of other people, too,`` says the singer, who seems quietly confident rather than boastful about the matter. ``You know, there`s an old saying about how if you give yourself 100 percent (to a project), that`s all you can ask. And I really gave more than 100 percent of myself on that song--and on my whole solo album. It was the first time in my life that I worked on an album and wanted to listen to it more than one time when it was done.``
Cetera left Chicago to launch a solo career last year, but waited until ``Glory of Love,`` from his new solo album, ``Solitude/Solitaire,`` was a bona fide smash before scheduling any interviews. These days, he has a second single on the way up called ``The Next Time I Fall,`` a pop duet with Christian music superstar Amy Grant.
``If I had done interviews before now, there would have been nothing to talk about except Chicago,`` he explains. ``It`s not a sore subject, but it`s much easier to talk about (leaving the band) now that I have something else to talk about.``
Cetera`s association with his old band dates to the late 1960s, when he joined some of his fellow students at Chicago`s DePaul University in a jazz- rock outfit that began as the Big Thing, later became known as the Chicago Transit Authority and, finally, Chicago. After leaving the Windy City for Los Angeles, the band had its first Top 10 single (``Make Me Smile``) in 1970 and continued to have pop hits throughout the decade (earning nine gold and three platinum albums), despite creative ups and downs. After a lackluster period in the early `80s, they hit No. 1 in 1982 with the million-selling single, ``Hard to Say I`m Sorry,`` from the film, ``Summer Lovers.``
But Cetera wasn`t happy with Chicago`s rigorous touring schedule, ``and that jazz-rock music never was me,`` he says. ``I was always the rock and roller, trying to get out.
``Actually, I had been trying to make the decision to leave Chicago for years, but I never was in the right frame of mind or had enough confidence in myself to do it,`` adds the singer, who wrote the band`s last half-dozen or so hit singles. ``But after I worked my tail off to get Chicago back on top with `Chicago 16` and `Chicago 17` (the band`s first million-selling albums of the 1980s, which followed several records that sold less than half that), I started looking for a graceful way to exit.``
According to Cetera, his final break with his former bandmates had less to do with ego clashes or creative differences than with management`s refusal to allow him time off to make a solo album.
``Basically, Chicago`s management wanted me to do another Chicago album and go back out on tour with the group immediately,`` he says. ``I said I just didn`t want to do that, and they said if I didn`t, they would find someone else (to take my place). So I said, `OK, go find someone else.` It was a mutual thing. They kind of backed me into a corner, but I think it was actually the best thing for both of us. It was definitely good for me. And it gives the other people in Chicago a chance to do their thing again, because I had been kind of taking over for the past five or six years.
``I`m not going to tell you it was the sweetest of partings,`` acknowledges Cetera. ``But it was time for me to go, and the relationship (between us) is still cordial.``
Cetera, who made one unsuccessful, self-titled solo album in 1981 while still with the band, co-wrote the nine songs on ``Solitude/Solitaire`` with a variety of people, including album producer Michael Omartian and Rufus` Hawk Wolinski. The ballad ``The Glory of Love`` was written specifically for ``The Karate Kid, Part 2,`` but Cetera describes its sentiments (``I am a man who will fight for your honor``) as ``basically me--you know, Don Quixote.
``I think every man sees himself that way,`` he adds, ``and I think that every lady sees that song as being about looking for the man who is going to die for her honor. I think the secret dream of everybody in the world, man or woman, is to be the fairy tale prince or princess.``
Cetera readily agrees that his choice of Christian singer Amy Grant as a duet partner for his new single, ``The Next Time I Fall,`` was a little offbeat. But, he adds, that was the whole idea.
``I was looking for somebody who wasn`t that logical a choice,`` he explains. ``Actually, I was going to use an `unknown` singer until someone at my record company suggested Amy Grant. I thought she was a great choice because she was looking to make a pop crossover, and I like what she stands for. She was real excited about the idea, too. I think I was a good choice for her, since I have a good reputation as a hardworking singer.``
Grant probably also liked the fact that the 41-year-old Cetera is a devoted father and family man whose days in rock`s proverbial fast lane are behind him.
``I think that everybody--well, not everybody, but a lot of people in this business--have that `fast` lifestyle,`` says the singer, who decided to clean up his act a decade or so ago. ``You smoke and drink and dabble in this and that, and before you know it, it`s kind of overwhelming. Either you straighten up and get out of that lifestyle, or you sink and go the way of old rock stars, and I wasn`t about to do that. So, one by one, I picked off my vices, and the next thing I knew, I was writing and singing better and enjoying everything more.``
Did the 1978 death of Chicago lead singer Terry Kath, who accidentally killed himself playing Russian roulette while apparently under the influence of alcohol, serve to intensify Cetera`s desire to shape up?
``No, it didn`t have any effect at all,`` he says. ``As a matter of fact, I think that after that incident, things with us got even worse. The band was on a downward arc then, and Terry`s death just helped push us down a bit deeper. None of us were paying too much attention to the music at that point. We were just into having a good time.``
These days, Cetera`s idea of a good time is ``doing everything that I have always wanted to do but never had the time for--mountain climbing, scuba diving, bicycling, camping, spending time with my wife and three-year-old daughter.``
At the moment, he has no plans for a solo tour. Chicago, meanwhile, recently released its first post-Cetera album and will undoubtedly be hitting the road again soon.
``They`re a great bunch of guys,`` says Cetera of his former bandmates. ``I wish them the best of luck, and I hope that they wish me the best of luck. We had a good run together and a lot of fun. Outside of any musical problems that we may have had, I have never laughed so much for such a long time as I did with them.``
FOR CHICAGO, THERE`S LIFE AFTER PETER CETERA
``Peter (Cetera) really wanted to be on his own, and we supported that desire,`` says longtime Chicago member Robert Lamm about the defection of his former bandmate for a solo career. ``But at this stage, you can`t help feeling that the band is bigger than any one individual.``
In fact, while Cetera`s contributions to Chicago`s renewed commercial success in recent years were considerable, it`s doubtful that most casual listeners will notice all that much difference between ``Chicago 18`` (Warner Bros.), the band`s first post-Cetera album, and its last few albums. New bassist/vocalist Jason Scheff (a songwriter and former session singer whose father, Jerry, played bass for Elvis Presley) fits in perfectly with Chicago`s comfortably mainstream soft-rock and pop sound, which shapes up once again as pleasant and commercially successful, if less than challenging artistically.
The only surprise in the current collection of ballads and medium rockers, nearly all of them about love and none of them terribly original, is ``25 Or 6 To 4``--which, longtime Chicago fans may recall, was featured on the group`s second album and was a Top 10 hit in 1970. What`s it doing on ``Chicago 18``? The answer is that producer David Foster, who also handled production for ``Chicago 17,`` suggested that the band re-record one of their old hits, and the band.....