Questions often asked about Terry Kath
Minor updates done on Jan. 9, 2005.
Please e-mail me with corrections, additions and additional questions.
Pictured above is Terry Kath's gold record award for the Chicago Transit Authority album.
How did he die?
Kath died Jan. 23, 1978 of an accidental gunshot wound. He was at the home of a Chicago crew member cleaning his guns. Kath enjoyed shooting at targets and was a gun collector. The crew member expressed some concern over what Terry was doing, but Kath told him that because the clip was not in the automatic pistol, there was no need to worry. However, a round was already chambered before he removed the clip. While he waved the gun around, it fired, killing Kath instantly. Reportedly, his last words were "Don't worry, it's not loaded."
Did he have any family?
His survivors included his wife, Camille, and a daughter, Michelle. Camille later married actor Kiefer Sutherland. Michelle recently was married and is working on a web page dedicated to her father. The Chicago Records CD "Chicago Presents the Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath" was dedicated to her. Kath's father, Ray, passed away about two years ago. His mother, Evelyn, is buried alongside Kath in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, Calif.
Camille (Ortiz) Kath was a former Caribou Kitchenette (background singer at Caribou Ranch, where many of Chicago's records were recorded.) She was in a movie with Sutherland called "The Killing Time," which was released in the late 1980s. She received good reviews. (Thanks to Melanie Sanchez for the information on Camille Kath).
This photo shows, from left, Hank Steiger, long-time Chicago guitar tech and close friend of Terry Kath; Ray Kath, father of Terry Kath; and Dawayne Bailey, former lead guitarist of Chicago and big Kath fan. The photo is copyright 1994 Dawayne Bailey and used by permission of Dawayne Bailey.
Are there any unreleased Terry Kath songs?
A few have surfaced on the Rhino Records reissues of early Chicago albums. Kath was working toward a solo album at the time of his death. In fact, he was to have started rehearsals on Jan. 24, one day after he died.
Whether Kath made any demos of songs for that solo album is unknown. Some sources have told me he had a home studio and recordings may exist. A recording Terry made with one of his early bands, The Mystics, exists, but has not been released to the public at this time.
What was Kath's relationship with the Pignose amplifier company?
Kath had Pignose decals all over the Fender Telecaster guitar he used extensively. According to an article\ about history of Pignose amplifier, Kath helped found the Pignose company. He also was featured in a Pignose advertisement that\ appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine. Kath, dressed as a gangster, tried to make prospective amp buyers an "offer they could not refuse."
What other instruments did Kath play?
He tried banjo, accordion, bass and drums before going on guitar full time. He played bass as a sideman in bands before joining Chicago. He occasionally played bass on Chicago songs, often on his own compositions, and occasionally in concert. He played bass on Robert Lamm's solo album "Skinny Boy" and also was bass player for the soundtrack of the film "Electra-Glide in Blue."
Tell me about the song "Tell Me"
This was the closing song for the 1970s film "Electra-Glide in Blue." Chicago producer James William Guercio wrote the song and Kath's soulful vocals are featured on it. The song also was used on the final episode of\ "Miami Vice."
Did Kath read music?
Terry had basic music reading skills, but was not capable of reading music as complex as that performed by Chicago. Obviously, he learned that music by ear. He once expressed a desire to return to school and study music.
Did he really play rhythm and lead guitar at the same time?
While some would say this is physically impossible, Kath's playing probably gave this impression. In some cases, he would rapidly alternate between playing chords and lead lines. In other cases, his rhythm playing was so creative that it sounded like lead playing. As good as Kath was on lead guitar, his rhythm playing may have been his strong suit. Robert Lamm has said as much, describing the guitarists who followed Kath as great lead players, but not able to match Kath's rhythm playing. Kath had the difficult job of being the only guitar player in a seven and eight-piece band. He also sang either lead or backing vocals on most songs, and was the on-stage leader.
Is the song "Little One" from Chicago XI about Terry's daughter?
No, it was written by Danny Seraphine and David Wolinski and dedicated to Danny's two daughters. However, one could speculate that Terry had his own daughter in mind when he sang the song. It is one of his best vocal performances.
What is the history of "Mississippi Delta City Blues?"
When Chicago first started doing their own songs in concert, this Kath composition was one of the first ones they performed. It first appeared on record on the 1972 "Live in Japan" album, which at that time was available only in Japan. A studio version made it on Chicago XI, and the live version was included on the Terry Kath tribute album. Yet another version surfaced on the Rhino Records re-releases.
What kind of guitars and effects did Terry use?
A separate article on this web page covers that, but here it is, briefly:
In the last years of his life, Kath favored a heavily-modified Fender Telecaster. He used a Cry Baby wah-wah and various effects pedals. His amplifier preferences included Knight, Acoustic and Fender brands. Other guitars he usedincluded a Gibson Les Paul Professional, Gibson SG and a Fender Stratocaster.
Why didn't Kath get more recognition?
This was probably due to his desire to be a team player and not seek the individual spotlight. The fact that critics loathed Chicago didn't help matters any. Nonetheless, he received some recognition. He was featured as the cover story in one of the early issues of Guitar Player magazine, and at least two books have listed him as one of the top 1,000 guitarists of all time. There is a line in the movie "One Trick Pony" when two characters briefly discuss Kath, describing him as a "Monster with a Telecaster who could stand toe to toe with (Jimi) Hendrix.
Did Jimi Hendrix like Kath?
Hendrix once told Chicago saxophonist Walter Parazaider "Your guitar player is better than me." The two guitarists knew each other, and when Hendrix took Chicago on tour, he reportedly jammed with Kath on stage.
A long-time Chicago fan has reported that at one Hendrix concert, Jimi made a reference to Kath out of the blue, saying something to the effect, "You gotta check out this guy Terry Kath. His band is CTA. He's the best guitar player in the universe."
Why in the world did you do this web page?
Terry's guitar playing, singing and songwriting really connected with me. I think it's a shame that he has not received the recognition he deserved, so this web page is my small attempt to right this wrong.
Who is Hank Steiger?
Steiger was a close friend of Kath and has been an assistant (roadie) to Chicago for most of the band's history. He is regarded as one of the best in the business.
Is the story told in the song "Byblos" (from Chicago VII) true?
A Chicago fan told me that a band member had told a friend of his that the song was based on a true story. However, the location of the nightclub Byblos has been placed in South America, Japan and, (most probably) in Los Angeles.
Copyright © 1998 Timothy M. Wood All rights reserved. Reproduction, re-transmission and storing without permission is prohibited.