Terry Kath PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 20 October 2008 21:41

Picture of Terry Kath in concert

Terry Alan Kath

Born: January 31, 1946, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

Died: January 23, 1978, Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California

Age: 31

Cause of death: Accidental gunshot wound.

Notable because: Put a gun to his head saying 'Don't worry its not loaded.'


Terry Kath was born in Chicago, Illinois, was the original guitarist and founding member of the rock band Chicago.

A multi-instrumentalist who also played banjo, accordion, bass and drums, Kath played lead guitar in a band called "Jimmy and the Gentlemen" during the mid-1960s. He played bass in a road band called Jimmy Ford and The Executives. Kath's close friend, Walter Parazaider, played in these bands as well, and they were together in developing the band later to be called Chicago. Being a self-taught musician, he had little music-reading ability. According to interviews, Kath would hum his original compositions to bandmates.

Kath was an important contributor to Chicago, beginning with their first album The Chicago Transit Authority released in 1969. The album includes his composition "Introduction" which was 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 entitled "Free Form Guitar", which was inspired by Jimi Hendrix. The album liner notes indicate that this nearly seven minute piece was recorded 'live' in the studio in one take.

The hit "Questions 67 & 68" contains lead guitar techniques that became staples of the Chicago sound. The song "Beginnings" includes acoustic rhythm guitar by Kath. Another of Kath's more notable highlights as a recording guitarist is his extended guitar solo in the middle of the Chicago hit song "25 or 6 to 4".

Fascinated by gadgets, Kath once owned nearly twenty guitars, though his early staples were a Gibson SG and a Fender Stratocaster. Kath was also one of the few well-known guitarists to make regular use of the unique 1969 Les Paul "Professional" model. He utilized no special tunings or modifications. He is most associated with a specially decorated Fender Telecaster and was connected with Pignose amplifiers. He experimented with a wide variety of amplification and distortion devices and used a wah-wah pedal frequently.

Kath's singing was also an important feature of Chicago's sound. In a group of many song composers who often let other members of the band do the lead singing on their compositions, Kath's vocal style can be heard in "Colour My World" and "Make Me Smile" , both from Chicago. His screaming in the live version of "Free" from Chicago at Carnegie Hall, released in 1971, is another example of his singing style.

Kath reportedly had a history of using alcohol and drugs, including cocaine, in his last few years. Chicago bandmates have indicated that he was also increasingly unhappy. Bassist Peter Cetera even went so far as to say that Kath would have been the first to quit Chicago had he lived (and, according to then-producer James William Guercio, Kath was working on a solo album before he died). But despite his personal problems, this was not the cause of his accidental death.

Around 5 p.m., late in the afternoon of January 23, 1978, after a party at roadie Don Johnson's home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, Kath — being a gun enthusiast — took a .38 revolver and put it to his head, pulling the trigger several times on the empty chambers. Picking up a semiautomatic 9mm pistol, Kath put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger, infamously saying, "Don't worry, it's not loaded." (After showing the empty magazine to his friend.) However, one bullet remained in the chamber, killing him instantly; a week shy of his 32nd birthday. The circumstances of his death gave him the dubious distinction of being one of the first celebrities to be nominated for a Darwin Award.

Kath was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Terry and his wife Camelia Emily Ortiz (married 1974) had one daughter, Michelle, born in 1976. Camelia later married Kiefer Sutherland.



Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 16:08

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