Chicago was the first band I saw in concert. I think I was 10, maybe younger.

The band's tape was in heavy rotation on family car trips along with Sly and the Family Stone, War, ELO and Billy Joel.

Those were the days before I got my own Walkman and Ace of Base, Michael Jackson and "The Lion King" soundtrack tapes.

Go ahead. Judge me.

I like to think that my music taste has improved, but Chicago will always remind me of happier, carefree times.

When the York Symphony Orchestra booked the band's former lead singer Peter Cetera for it's Winter Pops Concert, I knew I had to satisfy one burning question: What the heck does "25 or 6 to 4" mean?

When Cetera, 66, called from Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 14, I got the chance to ask.

Cetera said his band mate at the time Robert Lamm wrote the tune, which was on the group's 1970 self-titled release. Many people try to find hidden messages in pop songs, Cetera said, but the meaning of "25 or 6 to 4" is simple.

"(Lamm) was up late writing a song," Cetera said. "He looked at the clock and it was 25 to 4 (a.m.) and he played around with the words (for) the title."

Cetera said the song is usually part of his set list, along with other Chicago tunes and some of his solo hits.

Later that month, he backed by his five-piece unplugged group the Baad Daddies and the YSO.

Performing with so many musicians has changed Cetera's touring pattern. His Chicago and solo gigs were booked back-to-back. But his symphony gigs can take up to three days.

His conductor flies in from Chicago - the city where Cetera grew up. He usually schedules a three-hour rehearsal with symphonies before each show.

His stint in Nashville included three shows and since many family and friends would be in attendance, Cetera was hoping he wouldn't trip. Cetera spends his time in Music City and Idaho when he's not on the road.

While on the road, he tries to keep things casual, so the symphony members and audience has fun. In between songs, he likes to discuss his music and share anecdotes.

The symphony shows have given Cetera a chance to introduce himself to fans.

Most people would recognize his voice and name, but not his face, he said.

Blogging and Twitter have also given Cetera a new way to connect with fans - when he remembers to post.

"Part of me likes (social media) and part of me doesn't," he said.

He gets off the grid when he can. Idaho winters are great for skiing and snowboarding. He mountain bikes and shoots hoops during warmer months.

But Cetera said he would rather be hanging out with his daughters, who are 27 and 13. They've diversified his music library with hip-hop and Taylor Swift.

What about a Swift/Cetera collaboration? Cetera, who has collaborated with Cher and Amy Grant, said he'd be open to the possibility of sharing the mike with young stars, too.

Since much of Cetera's time is spent traveling, he tries to make the most of it. He's seen most of the sights in Europe and Asia. His Honolulu Symphony show wasn't half-bad.

York - a city that Cetera hasn't visited - will present a new adventure.

And who knows? Maybe there will be a 10-year-old kid in the crowd Saturday who is seeing his or her first concert.

POPeye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an e-mail to

Peter Cetera online



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