Do you think you know everything about Chicago singer & bassist Peter Cetera? He’s a man with a long and storied career with one of the most famous rock bands of his time. His career is something his fans follow, but his personal life is not always something his fans bother to learn more about. Here we have what you need to know about his life off the stage.
1. He started as an accordion player
Cetera learned to sing in harmony with his siblings from an early age while doing household chores from his mother who was “always singing around the house.” By the time he was 11, the young Chicagoan was eager to supplement his vocal talents by learning to play the guitar. He begged his parents to get him one, but instead, they purchased him an accordion, which was more in keeping with the musical styling of their Polish and Hungarian cultural heritage. While initially disappointed, young Peter applied himself and quickly became a local polka prodigy, winning a local talent contest at age 12 and receiving radio play.
2. He became a teen star with his first band, The Exceptions
After his initial success on accordion, Peter continued to work towards his goal as a professional singer. His vocal talents were already well-known by his high school classmates, and by 15, upperclassmen brought him to a music club to see the local rock group Rebel Rockers, after which point he was inspired to buy his first acoustic guitar. After learning his way around the guitar, Peter took up the electric bass and started several bands with his classmates. His first big break came when he helped form The Exceptions who became local favorites in the Midwest.
3. He developed his trademark vocalization style while recovering from a broken jaw
On May 20th, 1969, while on tour with Chicago, Peter and his bandmates decided to catch an MLB game at Dodgers’ stadium in Los Angeles between the home team and the band’s favorite, the Chicago Cubs. As luck would have it, the Cubs defeated the Dodgers that day in a final score of 7-0. This news elated Peter and his bandmates, but many local spectators were deeply disappointed. This included a group of Marines who may have imbibed a bit too much that day, and became enraged at the long-haired rock and rollers celebrating. They approached Peter, and after a bit of shoving, one punched him square in the face, breaking his jaw in three places. His jaw was wired shut for several months, during which time he learned to speak without moving his jaw, a tactic he’s maintained when singing ever since.
4. That same broken jaw inspired him to become a songwriter
Prior to this time, Peter mostly considered himself a performer, singing and playing bass on tracks written by others. While recovering in the hospital, and later at home, he was unable to perform and had a lot of time to think. He considered his own uncertain position in life as well as that of the wider world. He was particularly moved by the news of the first-ever moon landing as it occurred and Walter Cronkite’s profound declaration: “where do we go from here?” which became the name first song Cetera penned. He later would help co-write some of Chicago’s biggest hits like “If You Leave Me Now,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and “Baby, What a Big Surprise.”
5. Peter tried out his acting chops in Electric Glide in Blue in 1973
In this motorcycle cops and rebels drama, he played a scruffy biker named Bob Zemko as well as contributing to the movie soundtrack with Chicago. He later went on to portray Larry Douglas in the film adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s novel “Memories of Midnight” in 1991.
6. He first wanted to dissolve Chicago in 1978
After the untimely accidental death of guitarist Terry Kath in early 1978, Cetera was convinced that the band had no future together. At that time, he was taking in large amounts of drugs and alcohol to cope with the busy tour schedule and his friend’s death. Ultimately, Doc Severinson persuaded Peter to stick with the band, which he did through mid-1985.
7. Cetera has had songs featured on numerous blockbuster movies and shows throughout his career
He co-wrote and performed the song “Save Me” which became the theme song to the first season of NBC’s Baywatch in 1989, also performing “One Good Woman” on a later episode. Playing with Chicago, he contributed tracks to the films “Summer Lovers” and “Two of a Kind.” As a solo artist, Peter contributed tracks to “The Karate Kid Part II,” “Princess from the Moon,” “Three Men and a Baby,” and “Pretty Woman,” also performing a duet with Cher on the soundtrack to “Chances Are.”
8. Peter’s daughter Claire is also a multi-talented entertainer
Peter’s daughter with Diane Nini (b. 1983) has become a show-stopper in her own right. Before turning to work as an actress and singer full time later in life, Claire was a professional snowboarder and member of the US Snowboarding Team, competing in the World Cup Circuit and the 2002 US Olympic Trials. Sadly, she missed the chance to represent her country at the Games by one spot.
9. He doesn’t like jazz
Despite their influences on Chicago’s music, Peter has never been a fan of jazz or classical music. He’s always considered himself a rock and roller first and foremost, feeling most at home in the intensity of power ballads. The soft rock direction ended up taking was not his intention, and more something he was pressured into doing. In an interview with the Coachella Valley Independent in 2017, Cetera stated, “I am still not a jazz person or a classical person. I respect that music, but I don’t play it. I was sort of forced into playing that, and it wasn’t my forte. I never really cared for it.”
10. Cetera officially announced his retirement from performing in 2019
He specifically expressed a desire to get out of the game before losing his singing voice, not too subtly eluding to other aging rockers attempting to belt out their greatest hits through destroyed vocal cords or with electronic assistance. He also spoke of the physical exhaustion that goes along with touring–especially when flying commercial–and a general need for creature comforts. Peter also admits that there is much about the contemporary commercial music scene that he fails to connect with (the demand for celebrity-hosted music competition shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice” most specifically), and is content to enjoy his golden years in the fresh air of his Sun Valley, Idaho home.