A Rockapaedia Obituary
Terry Kath died aged thirty-one on 23rd January 1978 in Woodland Hills, California, United States of America. Terry, birth name Terry Alan Kath was born on 31st January, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. and had a self-admitted history of drug abuse, including alcohol. Chicago bandmates have indicated that Terry was also increasingly unhappy, however, it has been said that Terry Kath was finishing writing a solo album before he died.
By 1978, Terry Kath was regularly carrying guns around and enjoyed shooting them and at around 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Monday, 23rd January, after a party at the home of roadie and band technician Don Johnson, in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, Terry Kath began to play with his guns. He spun his .38 revolver on his finger, put it to his temple, and pulled the trigger. The gun was not loaded. Johnson warned Terry Kath several times to be careful. Terry Kath then picked up a semi-automatic 9-mm pistol and, leaning back in a chair told Johnson not worry about it and that the clip was not even in it. Those were his last words. To assuage Johnson's concerns, Terry Kath showed Johnson the empty magazine. Terry Kath then replaced the magazine in the gun, put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. Apparently unbeknownst to Terry Kath, the semi-automatic had a round in the chamber. He died instantly from the gunshot, eight days short of his 32nd birthday.
Terry Kath left behind a girlfriend, Camelia Emily Ortiz, whom he had met in June of 1972, as revealed in 'Chicago, The Terry Kath Experience', and a 20-month old daughter, Michelle. He was married to Pamela Robinson in May of 1970 and the marriage ended in divorce, which was finalized in May of 1975.
Terry Kath is interred near his mother, Evelyn Kath, and father, Raymond Kath, in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, in the Gardens of Remembrance.
The group's members were devastated over losing Terry Kath and strongly considered disbanding, but were persuaded by Doc Severinsen, musical director of the Tonight Show band, that they should continue.
Terry Kath was born on 31st January, 1946, in Chicago, Illinois, United States of America. He has an older brother, Rod Kath and was raised in the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago where he attended Taft High School. He was of German, English, and Scandinavian descent.
Tery's brother played the drums and his mother played the banjo and Terry attempted to learn these instruments too. He acquired a guitar and amplifier when he was in the ninth grade, and his early influences included The Ventures, Johnny Smith, Dick Dale, and Howard Roberts but was later influenced by George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix.
Unlike several other Chicago members who received formal music training, Terry Kath was mostly self-taught and enjoyed jamming. In a 1971 interview for Guitar Player, he said he had tried professional lessons but abandoned them, adding "All I wanted to do was play those rock and roll chords." His father wanted him to have a steady career, but he decided he would prefer a career in music.
In 1958, at age twelve, Terry Kath met Nick Morrone, a drummer who started hosting dime dances at his house across town from him. Morrone and Terry Kath practiced together after school and started playing school dances and parties as a Band of Two, as shown in a 4-part Vimeo video series done by Marrone. They added other musicians after a while and became the Vandals. Terry Kath joined his first semi-professional band, The Mystics, in 1963, moving to Jimmy Rice and the Gentlemen in 1965. He then played bass in a road band called Jimmy Ford and the Executives. Considered to be the bandleader, Terry Kath guided the band's musical direction. Ford was the trumpeter, Walter Parazaider played saxophone and other wind instruments, and Danny Seraphine later became the drummer. Terry Kath became close friends with Seraphine as they formed the rhythm section, as well as with Parazaider. The three musicians regularly socialized outside of the band. They were fired from the group, which wanted to merge with another band, Little Artie and the Pharaohs, while leader and guitarist Mike Sistack explained that "it's just business."
In 1966, Terry Kath joined a cover band called the Missing Links, taking Parazaider and Seraphine with him, and started playing clubs and ballrooms in Chicago on a regular basis. Parazaider's friend at De Paul University, trumpeter Lee Loughnane, also sat in with the band from time to time. Terry Kath's compatriot, James William Guercio (who later became Chicago's producer) was lead guitarist in one of two road bands performing on The Dick Clark Show with the Missing Links. Terry Kath received an offer from Guercio to play bass for the Illinois Speed Press and move to Los Angeles, but declined as he considered the guitar his main instrument and wanted to sing lead. He stayed with Parazaider, Seraphine, and Loughnane instead, who quickly recruited trombonist James Pankow from De Paul and vocalist/keyboardist Robert Lamm. Terry Kath sang the lower range of lead vocals in the group in a style reminiscent of Ray Charles. The group practiced at Parazaider's parents' basement and changed its name to The Big Thing. With the addition of singer and bassist Peter Cetera of The Exceptions, they moved to Los Angeles and signed with Columbia Records, renaming the band Chicago Transit Authority. In mid-1969, the name was shortened to Chicago.
Terry Kath was regarded as Chicago's bandleader and best soloist; and his vocal, jazz and hard rock influences are regarded as integral to the band's early sound. He has been praised for his guitar skills and described by rock author Corbin Reiff as "one of the most criminally underrated guitarists to have ever set finger to fretboard".
Chicago's first album, Chicago Transit Authority, released in 1969, includes Terry Kath's composition "Introduction," described as "Terry's masterpiece" by later Chicago guitarist Dawayne Bailey. The song displays many varied musical styles, including jazz, blues, salsa, rock and roll, acid rock, and pop. The same debut album includes an instrumental guitar piece titled "Free Form Guitar", which consisted largely of feedback and heavy use of the Stratocaster's tremolo arm. The album liner notes indicate that the nearly seven-minute piece was recorded live in the studio in one take, using only a Fender Dual Showman amplifier pre-amped with a Bogen Challenger P.A. amp. The guitar's neck was held together with a radiator hose clamp. The song "Beginnings" includes acoustic rhythm guitar by Terry Kath.
For the group's second album, Terry Kath contributed an extended guitar solo on "25 or 6 to 4", which became a live favorite. The same album saw Terry Kath collaborate with orchestral arranger Peter Matz on the four-part suite "Memories of Love", singing the lead vocal.
Terry Kath wrote at least one song and contributed at least one lead vocal to every Chicago album released during his lifetime. While 1976's Chicago X is best known for Cetera's number one hit, "If You Leave Me Now", Terry Kath's "Once or Twice" showed he was still writing and recording rock material. He continued this style on the following year's Chicago XI, contributing the funky "Mississippi Delta City Blues" and the aggressive "Takin' It on Uptown", which balanced out some of the material other members were producing. Terry Kath reunited with Nick Morrone at the August, 1976 Kalamazoo concert, where they made plans to work on Terry's solo album, something he had been planning for a number of years.
After his death, to memorialize Terry Kath and to commemorate the resumption of Chicago, the band composed and published the song "Alive Again" on its first album without him, Hot Streets. Also in Terry Kath's honor, they later published the song "Feel the Spirit".
Terry Kath used several guitars in his early career, but many of these early ones were stolen while on the road. His first main instrument that he used when Chicago were still The Big Thing was a Register guitar that cost $80. When the band started becoming successful, he traded up to a Fender Stratocaster. He also used a Gibson SG Standard, as pictured on Chicago Transit Authority's inner sleeve, a Gibson SG Custom and was one of the few well-known guitarists to make regular use of the 1969 Les Paul "Professional" model, which sported a pair of unconventional low-impedance pickups with a special impedance-matching transformer for use with a standard high impedance-input amplifier. Terry Kath tended to favor light strings, though for the top E string, he used one from a tenor guitar. In an interview with Guitar Player, he said that he used the tenor guitar string for the top E and moved all the regular strings down (top E was used as B, B used as a G, and so forth). For acoustic parts, he played an Ovation acoustic guitar.
I n the latter part of his career, Terry favored a Fender Telecaster, which he heavily modified. The standard blonde Telecaster had its black pickguard and its neck-position pickup removed, and the hole enlarged and fitted with a Gibson humbucker. The guitar control plate was also reversed. He was an early investor in the Pignose company (a manufacturer of guitar amplifiers) and served in the management of the company and decorated his Telecaster with 25 Pignose stickers and a Chicago Blackhawks logo. Most of Terry Kath's guitars had gone missing for many years, including the famous "Pignose" Telecaster. Several were located by Terry Kath's daughter Michelle Kath Sinclair, at the home of her step-grandmother, during her research for the documentary film Chicago: The Terry Terry Kath Experience. Among the re-discovered equipment was his "Pignose" Telecaster, an Ovation acoustic, a Fender Stratocaster, and a Gibson SG Custom with the pickups removed.
Terry Kath experimented with a wide variety of amplification and distortion devices and used a wah-wah pedal frequently. Fascinated by gadgets, Terry Kath was interested in trying to play guitar without using a pick. Lamm recalled him attempting to make an auto-picking device using a modified electrical cocktail mixer.
Terry Kath sang lead vocals on several of Chicago's early songs, including "I'm a Man" from the Chicago Transit Authority, the singles "Colour My World" and "Make Me Smile" from "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon", featured on Chicago II, "Dialogue (Part I & II)" from Chicago V, "Wishing You Were Here" from Chicago VII, "Brand New Love Affair" from Chicago VIII. His vocal delivery was later described by Lamm as "The White Ray Charles". Pankow, who wrote "Make Me Smile", tried rehearsing the song with various members singing lead, but ultimately settled on Terry Kath, saying "bingo – 'that' was the voice." As one of the three primary lead singers of Chicago, along with Peter Cetera and Robert Lamm, Terry Kath's vocal range fell in the middle of the other two, between Cetera's higher tenor and Lamm's fuller, lower baritone. He often collaborated with Cetera on lead vocals, as they did in "Dialogue (Part I & II)" and "Brand New Love Affair".
Terry Kath also played lead guitar and sang lead vocals on the closing song "Tell Me" in the 1973 drama movie Electra Glide in Blue. The song was used in the final episode of the television series Miami Vice.