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Making Tracks : Harley Crash Just a Temporary Setback as Ex-Chicago Singer Peter Cetera Hits the Road to Tout Latest CD

November 14, 1995|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Singer-songwriter Peter Cetera was looking forward during the summer to his first tour since leaving rock band Chicago a decade ago. He had long missed the energy of being on stage, and he also had a new record label and a new album of mostly original material he was eager to play in concert. But on July 2, his plans were postponed.

"I had it all ready to go, and then I got in this pretty serious motorcycle accident," he said in a recent phone interview. "I had 60 stitches in my face, and I spent the next two to three months I was originally going to go on the road just sort of wondering what my face was going to look like--55 miles per hour on a Harley and boom ! I have a couple of manly-man scars now, but I'm lucky to be alive."

Healed and ebullient, Cetera is now in the midst of what he calls a mini-road trip, including a stop Wednesday at the Coach House, "to test the waters."

His first solo album, "Peter Cetera," came out way back in 1981, when he was still a member of the thriving Chicago. His aspirations as a solo artist were largely what led to an acrimonious parting with the group, with whom he played bass and sang on such hits as "25 or 6 to 4," "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and "If You Leave Me Now" over the course of 17 albums.

"I had some music that wasn't suited for Chicago," he recalled. "[Vocalist-keyboardist] Bobby Lamm had an album out when he was in Chicago. Terry Kath [the group's original guitarist, who died in 1978] wanted to do a solo album. But for some strange reason, when Peter Cetera wanted to do a solo album, they didn't want me to do one.

"I was the mainstay, and I guess there was a little jealousy involved," he said. "The only thing I ever wanted to do was what Phil Collins did--do a solo album and stay with the band--but Chicago didn't want that. Some of the guys I was better friends with than others, and some understood. Some still don't, and that's fine with me."

Cetera's first album peaked at No. 143 in Billboard, but he left Chicago in 1985 nonetheless. His second effort, "Solitude / Solitaire," fared better--reaching No. 23 in 1986--and Cetera enjoyed two chart-topping singles with "The Glory of Love" and "Next Time I Fall," a duet with Amy Grant.

Cetera, 51, has enjoyed a steadily successful solo career with a number of middle-of-the-road hit singles in ensuing years, but he was still hesitant to take his show back on the road until just recently.

"After the separation with Chicago came, I really didn't want to tour without a nice, long repertoire of solo stuff," he said. "I knew everybody would be yelling, 'Hey! Play "25 or 6 to 4!" ' . . .

"I'm not an oldies act, and I never want to be in that position, and I never will go that route," he continued. "I enjoy making new albums and having new challenges."

Cetera signed with the fledgling River North Records in 1994, and his latest album, "One Clear Voice," was released earlier this year. The sound is archetypal Cetera--the hallmark high-pitched but sinewy and instantly recognizable vocal style, and predictably commercial production and song craft.

Touring in support of the album after all those years and changes in the music world must surely be a strange experience, but it's one Cetera seems to be enjoying immensely.

"The concerts we're playing are totally bizarre to me," he said. "I didn't know what to expect to see, and I'm seeing the whole [range of age groups]--everything. Mainly, singing and being the front man for the first time is really different, and I'm having one heck of a time."

* Peter Cetera performs Wednesday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. 8 p.m. $39.50. (714) 496-8930.

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