Video of the Week: Chicago–The Terry Kath Experience

Video of the Week: Terry Kath and Vintage Chicago Tear Up ’25 or 6 to 4′ in 1970

If you’re one of those wondering why the band who sang “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” was just elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I submit Exhibit A.

In their heyday, Chicago smoked. And lead guitarist Terry Kath was breathtaking.

Robert Lamm wrote the song. Peter Cetera sang it. But as Lamm acknowledges at the song’s end, it’s Terry Kath’s showcase.

Know what makes Rock and Roll great? The fact that a song about sitting around a recording studio doing nothing can sound this exhilarating.

Where’s the Money for a Terry Kath Documentary?

This writer has long been a champion of Terry Kath, lead guitarist/soulful vocalist of Chicago on their first eleven albums, and the man who, more than any other, lent a counter-culture soul to their early work. The comments below this YouTube video make for interesting reading:

Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarist issue didn’t have terry kath listed…….i’d say his rep has faded.  the fact that he’s not in the top 2 or 3 is a joke….

If Hendrix acknowledged TK’s “superiority”, and Hendix is Stone’s number 1, then that makes TK “Guitarist Zero”

Any so called rock magazine that lists U2’S  Edge as a top guitarist and leaves Terry Kath off the same list isn’t worth the match it would take to burn the shitty rag

Neil Young could not put strings on Terry Kath’s guitar.

This is true. Young is a amateur plunker compared to Terry.

In 2011, Dweezil Zappa, a pretty amazing guitarist, gave his “My Top 10 Guitarists” list. Terry Kath is #1, and Clapton is, very instructively IMO, NOT listed: “1. Terry Kath- This man was simply the best guitarist in the world. A full-forced powerhouse of energy. Just as good as, if not better than Hendrix. Terry could play blues, jazz, and all that feedback stuff people love Hendrix for playing. Not to mention he had a superb voice.

In fairness, there are also many comments calling out the author of the post for singling out Robert Lamm, for being negative in tone, and for sounding like the adult narrator from The Wonder Years.

Another comment gives this explanation for Kath’s relative obscurity:

Well, keep this in mind: The radio plays singles from the albums. Most of the songs he performed on the albums were never released as singles; furthermore, most of the singles that were released, especially in the beginning (like 25 or 6 to 4), had his guitar solos cut out. Most people don’t know who he is because, vocally, Peter Cetera out-shined everyone else, and when it came to writing, Robert Lamm and James Pankow wrote most of the hits that Terry sang and performed on. Let’s take Terry’s 4 most successful singles: 1) “Make Me Smile” (written by James Pankow) had the solos cut out in the beginning and the middle as “Now More Than Ever” was merged with the first part of “Ballet”; 2) “Colour My World” (again, written by James Pankow) was vocally strong (as his entire performance on Chicago II), but lacked guitar work; 3) “25 or 6 to 4” (Vocals by Peter Cetera, written by Robert Lamm) had the middle solo removed for radio play and is still missing 45 years later in most versions released; and 4) “Wishing You Were Here” (written by Peter Cetera) had a good (not great) vocal by Terry, but he was playing Bass Guitar, while Peter Cetera played lead. Other singles that had Terry featured prominently (“Dialogue Parts I & II” & “I’m A Man” & “Little One”) were either cut even worse than “25 or 6 to 4” or just didn’t chart very high at all.

In any case, respect is high among musicians and in-the-know rock fans old enough to remember Kath’s work. Hopefully Michelle Kath’s upcoming documentary Searching for Terry will enlighten those who haven’t yet come to appreciate the man’s work.


See also:

38 Years Ago Today We Lost Terry Kath


(Reprinted from The College of Rock and Roll Knowledge)

There is a story that says that Jimi Hendrix, when asked what it is like to be the greatest guitarist in the world said “I don’t know you’d have to ask Terry Kath.” (It has been said that Hendrix made that comment about Rory Gallagher also).

Terry was the original guitarist for and a founding member of Chicago. It was 38 years ago today that we lost Terry.

By 1978, Kath was regularly carrying guns around, and enjoyed playing with them. Around 5 p.m., on Jan. 23, after a party at roadie and band technician Don Johnson’s home in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, Kath took an unloaded .38 revolver and put it to his head, pulling the trigger several times on the empty chambers. Johnson had warned Kath several times to be careful. Kath then picked up a semiautomatic 9 mm pistol and, leaning back in a chair, said to Johnson, “Don’t worry about it … look, the clip is not even in it.” To satisfy Johnson’s concerns, Kath showed the empty magazine to Johnson. Kath then replaced the magazine in the gun, put the gun to his temple, and pulled the trigger. However, there was a round in the chamber, and Kath died instantly. Terry was only 31 years old.

His guitar playing on the first few LP’s by Chicago is legendary.

What is the first song you think about when you hear Terry’s name?

RIP Terry. You had the whole world watching and listening.


…and Kath was extremely underrated as a singer, too. Take a listen.

Songs You May Have Missed #161


Chicago: “Brand New Love Affair, Part I &II” (1975)

When Chicago, and the world, lost Terry Kath in 1978 due to an unintentional self-inflicted gunshot wound, they not only lost a most formidable and innovative lead guitarist (supposedly Hendrix called him the best he’d ever seen) but also the most soulful singer in the band. Without his gutbucket delivery to offset the sweeter vocals of the Robert Lamms and Peter Ceteras of the band, it quickly became a blander affair in his absence, and the downward slide (“If You Leave Me Now”, “Baby, What a Big Surprise”, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry”, “You’re the Inspiration”…) began.

The contrast between Kath and Cetera, though, made for great chemistry in the songs they shared the lead on. “Brand New Love Affair” was one such example, as was 1972’s “Dialogue”, in which Kath’s growl perfectly suits the pessimism in his lines, while Cetera’s sweet, high-register croon matches the sunny optimism of his character in the song:

If further irrefutable proof is needed of what the loss of Kath did to neuter a great band, watch the first four minutes or so of the long version of “Make Me Smile” with him (make sure you catch Kath cutting loose with his solo):

…and at least the first three-and-a half or so of the same song performed by a latter-day incarnation of the band:

’nuff said.

See also:

See also: Songs You May Have Missed #700 | Every Moment Has A Song (

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