Peter Cetera’s Holiday Present to You
By David Chiu
Peter Cetera’s distinctive tenor voice is unmistakable and unavoidable. On any pop radio station on any given day, you are most likely to hear either a tune that features his vocals either with his former band Chicago or on his own. For the last 35 years, Cetera has written and recorded hits that have been pop staples including such classics as “If You Leave Me Now,” “Baby What a Big Surprise,” “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” “You’re the Inspiration,” “Glory of Love,” “The Next Time I Fall,” and “Restless Heart.”
Now Cetera is taking on the musical Santa role with his first ever holiday CD called You Just Gotta Love Christmas on the Viastar label. Recorded in Nashville, it features fresh reworkings of familiar holiday songs such as “Deck the Halls,” “The Christmas Song,” “Jingle Bells,”and “Let It Snow.” In keeping up with the holiday spirit, Cetera recently participated in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and is making several in-store appearances to promote the album.
From his residence in Idaho, Cetera explains that the idea of the holiday album came from a benefit concert he did with former collaborator David Foster in the Windy City. “I sang in front of the eight piece orchestra for the first time in front of the Chicago [, IL] fans,” he remembers. “I got the idea that now was the time [for] three things I wanted to do a Christmas CD, going on the road with symphony, and a studio CD.”
In recording the holiday songs, Cetera did not want to merely rehash what has been already done to death, but rather reinterpret the standards in a contemporary spin. “Some songs you just don’t want to tamper with because they’re just beautiful pieces,” he says, “yet I wanted to do my own spin on things. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
The singer also wrote three wonderful new songs on the record: the lush ballad “Alone for the Holidays,” the feel-good title track, and the uplifting “Something That Santa Claus Left Behind,” a potential Christmas standard in its own right. “We started with little scraps of things and I came up with three things,” explains Cetera. “Whether they are classics or not, they are certainly three wonderful Christmas songs.”Something That Santa Claus Left Behind” is a fun song. I ended up playing bass on that one that I haven’t done on tracks in a while.”
On the album Cetera duets with bluegrass artist Alison Krauss on the folkish “Deck the Halls.” “I kind of wanted to do the Irish version of it,” he says. “Since I’ve been doing every thing in Nashville, I got a hold of Alison. We certainly had a grand time doing it.” You Just Gotta Love Christmas also features a duet with his eldest daughter Claire on “Blue Christmas,” a father and daughter moment captured forever on record (his youngest daughter Senna also contributes to the CD’s artwork. “I’m ecstatic that I could include my just my daughters on something that is going to be around for years to come.”
You Just Gotta Love Christmas is the first new Peter Cetera album in four years since Another Perfect World. His output in the last ten years has been less prolific in contrast to the many recordings he made in the ’70s and ’80s with and without Chicago. But he hadn’t completely dropped off the face of the earth; he was recently on a concert tour playing the hits with an orchestra. Cetera admits he is in no hurry to do the record-and-tour grind. “The rut I was in with the people that I had been previously been with it took the heart right out of me,” he says. “I’m the type of person who needs to write for a purpose. I would love to do another studio album and with the Viastar people we are going to do that. So that is the next phase of my ‘Hello world, I’m back.'”
Since leaving Chicago in 1985 as their bassist and vocalist for 17 years, Cetera continued having hit songs, including two number ones “Glory of Love” and “The Next Time I Fall.” Of the six studio albums he recorded as a solo artist, World Falling Down (1992) is probably regarded as his most poignant and personal. “Yeah, without a doubt,” the singer agrees. “To me, I just did love that album. I worked a lot with [producer] Andy Hill in London. I look back with fond memories of that. Part of the bittersweet thing with my solo career that I haven’t been with the right company or people that have helped me to promote this in a way that it should have been.”
As hard as he might try or not, Cetera will be forever linked with Chicago. More than eligible to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1994, Chicago-a group that had many hits and sold millions of records- has yet to even be nominated for that prestigious honor. Cetera’s opinion about that oversight hints at disappointment and indifference.
“I don’t know how I would react. I’ve been now out of Chicago longer than I was in Chicago. If they get inducted, great. But I think it’s ironic that we haven’t been nominated. [Chicago] had so many wonderful songs and has been such a part of people’s lives. When it’s time for me to retire and if they nominate me, I’ll go [to the ceremony]. I’m not ready to retire yet.”
Today Cetera is not looking back but rather ahead with this new holiday album and making more music. “I know there are a lot of people who have been asking, “Are you going to do a reunion [with Chicago]?’ That doesn’t thrill me. When people listen to this Christmas album they’ll understand why I waited and did it the way I did.”
Judging from the very positive reaction of his fans’ postings on his web sites, Peter Cetera’s songs still touch people of all generations, “It’s astounding the number of hits I get from all around the world,” he says. “People are saying ‘Oh I am so happy you are talking to us.’ And I’m excited back. Of course it’s flattering. You realize how important you are to so many people. It’s an eye-opening experience.”
Photo from http://www.petercetera.com