Although Chicago is often thought of as a ballad-based soft rock outfit, early on in their career, guitarist/singer Terry Kath brought a much more rock-based edge to the band. Kath proved to be an integral member of group, who was looked up to as an onstage leader by the other members, but a senseless tragedy silenced Kath's guitar playing for good in the late '70s. Born on January 31, 1946 in Chicago, IL, Kath learned guitar completely by ear, and by his teenaged years, was playing Ventures covers in local outfits.
Throughout the early to mid '60s, Kath played in such forgotten groups as Jimmy Rice and the Gentlemen and Jimmy Ford and the Executives, the latter of which served as the back-up group at one point for Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars (Kath also doubled on bass at times for these bands, as well). By the later part of the decade, Kath had signed on with several other Chicago-based musicians to form a rock band that would utilize a horn section, and during early 1967, the Chicago Transit Authority was born. It was after an early CTA performance that Kath received perhaps the highest accolade any guitarist could obtain, when Jimi Hendrix told sax player Walter Parazaider, "Your guitar player is better than me." Later shortening their name to just Chicago, the band would soon go on to become one of the top rock bands during the following decade.
Kath's fine guitar chops could be sampled on such Chicago hits as "25 or 6 to 4" (from 1970's Chicago II) as well as the lesser-known "Free Form Guitar" (off Chicago's self-titled 1969 debut). Appearing on a total of 11 Chicago recordings from 1969 through 1977 (all of which at obtained at least gold certification) and numerous sold out tours, there was no reason to believe that Chicago's incredible streak of hits wouldn't continue uninterrupted for years to come.
But at a party at his house on the evening of January 23, 1978, Kath (who was a longtime gun aficionado) took out one of his weapons to clean, and when asked to put it away, put the gun to his head. Reassuring everyone that it wasn't loaded, Kath pulled the trigger, and the gun did turn out to be loaded - instantly killing the guitarist barely a week shy of what would have been his 32nd birthday. Chicago would continue on with several different guitarists over the years attempting to fill Kath's shoes, but the results were never quite the same.
In 1997, Chicago compiled a 14-track album that spotlighted Kath's finest performances, the Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath, and several years later, Kath's tragic tale was re-told in an episode of VH1's Behind the Music series that focused on Chicago. In addition to his skilled guitar work, Kath also possessed a fine singing voice, as evidenced on such Chicago tunes as "Introduction," "I'm A Man," "Free," and "Wishin' You Were Here," plus such hit singles as "Make Me Smile" and "Color My World".