It’s been a dozen years since Gretchen Peters has strummed her guitar and sang a song for her Hoosier fans as the second artist to ever perform on the then fledgling “One Night Jam” series at the converted church building now called Chicago Street Theatre.
“It’s been waaaaay too long,” said Peters in a call from her Nashville digs fresh from an afternoon spent in a local studio where she, Suzy Boggus and other friends lent their voices to the latest recordings by her friend Beth Nielsen Chapman. “I’ve written a lot of songs since my last visit to Valparaiso, so we’ve got a lot of catching up to do when I get there.”
Born in New York and raised in Boulder, Colorado, Peters has had a lion’s share of her success in country music, but refuses to pigeon-hole herself in that genre. “Like most people of my generation, I grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll, folk music, jazz, country and everything in-between. When I get in a cab with my guitar the driver inevitably asks, ‘What kind of music do you play?’ and I always respond, ‘I play sad songs’.”
Although Peters has opened wounds to let out some of her more melancholy musical offerings, she also has upbeat and happy-ending tunes in her songbook. It’s Peters’ versatility that has made her a popular well to drink from for famous folks in search of powerful songs.
Among those who have recorded Peters’ songs are: Trisha Yearwood, George Strait, Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Pam Tillis, George Jones, Etta James and Neil Diamond. One of Peters’ biggest fans and closest musical friends is Canadian rocker Bryan Adams who sought her out to collaborate after he heard Peters' demo tape for “Independence Day,” which became a #1 hit and 1995’s “CMA Song of the Year” when recorded by Martina McBride.
One of the earliest Peters/Adams collaborations was “When You Love Somebody” in 1991. That song became a hit after being featured in the major motion picture “Hope Floats,” and was just re-recorded by country music legend Kenny Rogers for his next album. “Bryan and I are both so thrilled and honored that Kenny has recorded it,” said Peters.
“I never set out to write songs for other people,” she said on why she spends so much time recording and touring herself. “This all kind of happened by accident the way it happened. When you make a splash as a songwriter people tend to want to keep you in that box. For me it was a bit of a struggle to get people to understand that what I’ve been doing all of my career form the beginning was just expressing myself as a singer/songwriter. The fact I was so lucky to have all these great artists cut my songs was sort of a by-product of what I was already doing. That was something I’ve had to overcome in some sense, because people say -- ‘Why are you out there on the road? You’re a songwriter, stay home and write songs.’ So it’s a double-edged sword, because I don’t want that perception of being ‘just a songwriter’ or ‘just a country songwriter.’ I don’t fit into any one bag easily or at all. I love performing.”
Peters had just finished recording her third album when she last played the region in 2001. “Now I’m on my eighth or ninth album. At a certain point you kind of lose track,” she said. “My most recent studio album ‘Hello Cruel World’ came out in 2012 so it’s still pretty new. We just released a new live album this May called ‘Woman On A Wheel’ that is a CD and DVD package.”
Although Peters has done some full band performances, she prefers working in a duo or trio format best. “My songs feel more intimate that way,” she said. “I like them to be naked so to speak, not all buried in instrumentation. Before we put out this new live album, for years people would come up to me after shows and ask ‘Do you have an album that I can buy that sounds like what I just heard you do on stage tonight?’ and I took that to heart and now with ‘Woman On A Wheel’ we do have that for them.”
“The guy who accompanied me 12 years ago, Barry Walsh who plays piano and accordion and sings will be back with me on Sunday. We’ve been making music together for about 26 years now, only now he’s my husband. We got married three years ago, so basically he has to go wherever I tell him now,” she joked. “It’s a plus for me, because there is no one I would rather play music with than Barry.”
One of the newest songs likely to be heard at Chicago Street Theatre on Sunday is one Peters said will be heard in the season premier of the ABC-TV hit series, “Nashville” at the end of this month.
“Like I said, a lot of new songs have been written since I was last in Valparaiso, so we’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to coming back to see you all.”