Terry Kath

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Terry Kath

Terry Kath, born in Chicago on January 31, 1946, was the original guitarist, vocalist and founding member (along with Walter Parazaider, Daniel Seraphine and Lee Loughnane) of the band Chicago. He died on January 23, 1978 in a freak self-inflicted accident (see below).

He contributed to their first album, Chicago Transit Authority (1969) with his composition "Introduction". The song displayed many varied musical styles, including jazz, blues, rock, and pop.

This album also included an experimental guitar piece aptly named "Free Form Guitar", which was reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix's most experimental side. The rest of the album displayed master guitar playing almost completely over three of the four sides of the record. The hit "Questions 67 & 68" had incredibly virtuosic guitar lines that became staples of the Chicago sound, and the hit "Beginnings" showed another aspect of his guitar playing — carrying the song in crystal clear rhythm, later emulated by dozens of soft rock bands of the 1970s. But it was in the songs "Poem 58" and "Liberation" that he really revealed all his potential as soloist.

Terry Kath's contribution for the following 10 album releases of the band showed an ever growing musicianship and expanding guitar techniques as can be heard on "The Road," "It Better End Soon, My Friend," and the beautifully scored strings for his "Memories of Love" and its preambles from Chicago II (1970). "Sing a Mean Tune Kid", the suite "An Hour in the Shower" and others from Chicago III (1971) gave complete dimension to the album, which also displayed the more saccharine hits by the other members. The times were changing and Chicago's musical direction diversified, but the original go-for-it approach lived on with Kath's compositions and performances through the years. His "Oh, Thank You Great Spirit" from Chicago VIII (1974) was incredibly swift and dynamic, with guitar solos not heard for quite a time in a pop album. Until his last contributions on Chicago XI (1977) this was the outcome of his creativity.

His singing was also a unique feature. The warmth and passion in "Color My World" from Chicago II (1970) or his screaming in the live version of "Free" from Chicago IV (1971) are good examples of this. His contributions to modern guitar may have been overlooked over the years, since the band survived Terry's untimely death from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head on January 23, 1978 in Woodland Hills, California at the age of only 31, and simply continued to make big hits expanding to two more generations of listeners. Rumors claimed that he was playing Russian Roulette, but his last words of "Don't worry, it's not loaded" imply an accident.

Other compositions by Terry Kath:

  • "I don't want Your Money"(with Robert Lamm), from Chicago III (1971).
  • "Alma Mater", from Chicago V (1972).
  • "Jenny", from Chicago VI (1973).
  • "Byblos", from Chicago VII (1973).
  • "Till we meet again", from Chicago VIII (1974).
  • "Hope for Love" and "Once or Twice", from Chicago X (1976).
  • "Mississippi Delta City Blues" and "LittleOne", from Chicago XI (1977).

A tribute album ("The innovative guitar of Terry Kath") compiled by Chicago containing songs from the various aforementioned albums was not released until recently. Though it doesn't have all the quintessential Kath, it does feature some of his finest moments.


Kath died of an self-inflicted gunshot wound, when he attended a party. He put an automatic gun, which he thought was unloaded, to his temple. However, he forgot that an automatic gun automatically chambers a bullet, so removing the magazine does not disarm the weapon. His tragicomic suicide has brought him a place in the notorious Darwin Awards[1] (http://www.darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin1994-04.html).


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