A legend somehow not so well known to fans of music, but guitarists and rock artists revere him as one of the greatest. Even the man we all idolize as the greatest guitar player of all time, Jimi Hendrix, is known to have uttered that Terry Kath is better than him. Born in Chicago and one of the original founding members of the band Chicago, he is in deserving of some more recognition and we are here for it.
Terry Kath was born in Chicago January 31st, 1946 and was inspired to music by his mother and father who ran a lodge and enjoyed entertaining people, according to Michelle Sinclair, daughter of Terry Kath. He learned how to play the keyboard, accordian and banjo, it was the Ventures and George Bensen that inspired Kath to pick up guitar. Getting older he would play in local band Jimmy Ford and the Executives, where he would begin to meet his future Chicago band mates.
It seemed to be natural for him to get people together as his parents did. Connecting with sax player Walt Parazaider and drummer Danny Seraphine, they would the join the Missing Links. That is when they would meet Lee Loughnane, who would be noted saying that he never saw Kath withouth his guitar. The four would finally link up with trombonist, Jimmy Pankow vocalist, Robert Lamm and bassist, Peter Cetera by 1967 and call themselves the Big Thing. The would play an amazing fusion of Rock N Roll and Jazz and Blues.
Coming to the attention of James Guercio, he signs them to a production company and changed their name to Chicago Transit Authority. CTA would later start recording for Columbia Records to produce their first LP. Their first release was actually a double LP, a rare and bold move by most musicians. It included Kath’s FREE FORM GUITAR, where you can hear where Jimi Hendrix could possibly have gotten his influence. Kath Told Guitar Player magazine one time in an 1971 interview that Jimi was playing all the stuff he had in his head, when he first heard him!
The band actually promoted their album by opening up for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in 1969. Walt Paradaizer would recall Jimi Hendrix quoting “Your guitarist is better than me” upon their first encounter with each other. Kath would inspire many artists like Eddie Van Halen who used a style heard in FREE FORM GUITAR. He was a great leader musically and his originality and innovative work on the guitar may be more recognized than we think, but not enough yet!
Chicago Transit Authority would change their name to Chicago after the actual CTA threatened lawsuit. The band then split off with James Guercio as manager. After six albums with Chicago, Kath began taking heavy use of drugs, parties and developed a liking for guns as well. One night while cleaning his guns with at his friend Don Johnson‘s apartment, Kath did not realize a bullet in the chamber. Johnson noted to be careful and Kath said ro him without the clip it’s harmless. He would wave his pistol around, his last words as told by Johnson being “What do you think I’m going to do, blow my brains out?” Accidentally releasing the trigger by his head, he died instantly January 23th, 1978, just shy of his birthday.