Thursday, June 29, 2006

Peter Cetera

Generally, those who recall Peter Cetera think of his saccharine drenched Chicago and solo ballads like Hard Habit to Break, You're the Inspiration, Glory of Love, and The Next Time I Fall in Love. It's understandable really, as Peter has made a solo career of love songs. He has an excellent voice that gives conviction and passion to even the most obnoxiously saccharine drivel. Even though I don't necessarily care for the style of music he's chosen to perform since his 1985 departure from Chicago-- I can't help but have tremendous respect for him, for he's performing the kind of music he wants to perform. His career, his life, his music-- it's all on his own terms and there's a certain artistic integrity in that.

And even if I don't necessarily agree with or like some of the career choices Cetera has made, I respect the fact that he's doing what makes him happy. After leaving Chicago he as much as gave up the bass, he still picks it back up for a song or two on his few and far between live gigs, but these days his bass is more a novelty than an integral part of his career as a musician.

Listening to the Rhino re-issues of Chicago's Columbia Records catalog, Cetera's skill and ability as a bass player is clearly evident. Because he's such an exceptional singer, his bass-playing talents are usually overlooked. But back when Chicago was still a nameless, faceless band-- back when people knew the Chicago SOUND but not necessarily any of the band member's names Peter was not only an exceptional vocalist, but he showed some incredible bass chops on songs like South California Purples, In the Country, 25 or 6 to 4 (the bass-line was so good Green Day chose to "borrow" it for one of their own songs), Dialogue Pts. 1&2, State of the Union, Goodbye, Rediscovery, Hollywood, What's This World Coming To, Hideaway, Alive Again, and Overnight Cafe.

But Peter HAD to be good out of necessity. The multi-layered textured mixing of Chicago's earlier albums often pushed his bass to the front of the mix where it was quite noticeable. And while it was the horns that set Chicago apart from other bands, it was their tight rhythm section-- Danny Seraphine on drums, Terry Kath on rhythm (and lead) guitar, Laudir de Olivera on percussion, and of course Peter on bass that held their sound together. There was a tightness, a cohesiveness-- a chemistry between Peter, Terry, Danny, and Laudir that was even more prominent than Chicago's trademark horns-- that is, if you knew to listen for it.

In 1981, four years before he opted to leave Chicago, Peter released his debut solo album. Unfortuntely, due to poor promotion it sold quite poorly. It's a shame because his solo debut is probably one of his best albums. It even prompted Chicago to perform it's opener, the driving rocker, Livin' in the Limelight (incidentally it was also good enough to be covered by southern rockers Blackfoot in 1984) on Peter's last few tours with them. What is so surprising about it, and what sets it apart from the rest of his solo material is the lack of any ballads. All of the songs on it are either mid or uptempo rockers. Where most of his eighties output with Chicago and as a solo musician featured pop and A/C radio fodder, his solo debut was an AOR rocker with a kick. Luckily, within the past year or so his solo debut was FINALLY released on CD domestically and is a steal from Amazon at under $15 (a steal, especially considering I paid over twice that for it when it was still only available as a Japanese import-- OUCH).

10 comments:

Ben Heller said...

People forget that Cetera is such a fine bass player. Yep you're right there Perp.

BTW - liked your Ambrosia review.

David Amulet said...

Agreed on the bass. It's a shame when folks like Peter (bass) or Phil Collins (drums)shift away from their instruments, but then I look at myself and think ... would I want to do the same thing, no matter how well, for 35 years, or would I want to branch out?

If you get a chance, please stop by my site -- I want your opinion on the posts question. Thanks.

-- david

Charlie said...

This is a superb assessment of Peter Cetera.

However I must say that I was never a fan of his beginning with "If You Leave Me Now" yet I must admit that for sheer vocal ability Chicago never had a better singer. He could rock (25 Or 6 to 4) and sing ballads (Happy Man) equally well. Unfortunately Mr. Cetera symbolizes to me everything that was beginning to go wrong with with Chicago from the late 70's onward. It may not have all been his doing but his prominence in the band beginning with Chicago X made him the most obvious target for people (like me) who were critical of what was becomming of them.

Perplexio said...

Ben: Thanks for the kind words. As for Cetera's bass playing, the Rhino Re-issues of Chicago's Columbia Records catalog really show off Peter's bass chops. On earlier CD releases his bass was kind of buried in the mix, but on the reissues it's much more in the foreground.

David: I have no problem with the fact that Peter branched out and started to do more singing, I just wish he'd continued playing bass. Drumming and singing (as would have been with Collins) is a bit more difficult a task. There are plenty of bassists/vocalists out there who are able to do both adequately and with ease.

charlie: While I understand your assessment I can't say I agree. Prior to If You Leave Me Now Chicago was doing songs like Colour My World, Just You and Me, and Feelin' Stronger Everyday-- all of which were penned by James Pankow. Chicago WAS a nameless faceless band. At the time of Peter's rise to prominence in the band there were 6 other members who could just as easily have stepped up and prevented that from happening. Peter's rise to prominence in the band was as much his answering the door when opportunity knocked as it was the rest of the band sitting back and basically letting Peter take the reins and lead the band in that direction.

Charlie said...

One more point. I do miss Peter Cetera in the band, mostly because he has talent his successor, Jason Scheff, can never replace. Jason is a poor man's Cetera.

elysian1 said...

Cetera is an unsung bass player. I grew up listeneing to the music of Chicago and recently purchased Chicago CD's 1-5. I am amazed at his ability to remain as the pocket, since Seraphine, the drummer, pushed the rhythmn to the edge with jazz fills. Tery Kath was also unbelievable as the lead and rythmn guitarist, but his solos were usually blended into the mix. A sample of Cetera's best bass playing is on Chicago V Dialogue 1 and 2. In Dialogue 2 he does a cool fill mirroring Kaths voice. You can feel the chemistry this band had and they truly enjoyed playing together. Alot of the credit also goes to the mix. I think James Guercio was the producer, a former bass player, he has the bass upfront in the mix. Cetera's bass playing deserved that position. This is really great music mainly recorded live. You rarely hear or feel this kind of joy/chemistry anymore. It is a shame that Cetera does'nt play anymore. It would be cool to see Cetera and Seraphine play live with the band one day to see if that chemistry is still there. But as a corporate juggernaut Chicago and its record company probably will never let that happen.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I found this two years too late but none the less, I agree 100% about Peter Cetera. Totally (and wrongly) hitched to the ballads of the late 80's - his recent cover feature in Bass Player magazine sheds a lot of light on what was going on in his career (with Chicago) at the time. He didn't feel great about the synth bass lines being added (a sign of the times) so he wasn't comfortable and decided to go another direction.

bassisbest said...

Peter Cetera's playing combined the best balance of James Jamerson's R&B funk chops and Paul McCartney's melodic flow. The way he played effortlessly thru the sometimes challenging time shifts and compound chords gave Chicago a more accessible sound than they would have had with a "jazz" player or a "schooled" musician on bass, such as Jim Fielder of BS&T. It was Cetera's buttery tone and right-on note choices that kept Chicago "hip" for many years after they became producer James Guercio's personal ATM.

bassisbest said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leslie said...

When I watch old videos on Youtube of Chicago back in the beginning, it makes me long for those days of rock purity so hard to find today. The most awesome imo is both Peter's bass and vocals on 'Questions 67 and 68'... there are some great vids of that song from a Japanese concert in 1972, poor quality but man... wow. He is so perfect, so pure and the chemistry and passion of the rhythm section - the whole band -is too...I understand Peter's choices to be his own and respect that, but it is sort of sad... makes one miss the good ol' days. Rip Terry Kath and I would pay a pretty penny to see Peter if I knew he'd pick up the bass...