Your joy is your sorrow unmasked
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.- from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Terry Kath was born in Chicago on January 31, 1946 to Raymond and Evelyn Kath. While Terry started out on drums, in 1956 he switched to “guitar” using his mother’s banjo to teach himself how to play. As a young boy he would play along to records by The Ventures. Inspired by The Ventures, Terry decided to put together an instrumental group of his own, called The Mystics, to perform instrumental music in that same vein.
After graduating high school, Terry went to DePaul University where he met a young Walt Parazaider and Danny Seraphine forming a band called the Missing Links. The Missing Links were the pre-cursor to what became The Big Thing and later Chicago.
Known for his blistering guitar solos and his remarkable ability to play rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously, Terry was held in very high esteem by many of his peers including the great, Jimi Hendrix. While the horns may have been the heart of Chicago… Terry was the soul. Songs like Oh Thank You Great Spirit, Mississippi Delta City Blues, Takin’ It On Uptown, Scrapbook, 25 or 6 to 4, and Poem 58 all demonstrate Terry’s soulful proficiency and precise rapid-fire playing style and demonstrate his ability to play guitar melodically as if it were the 4th vocalist in the band.
Providing not only blistering guitar solos and working with Peter Cetera and Danny Seraphine as the rhythmic backbone of the band but also giving Chicago some of their most bluesy soulful vocals. Terry was a free-spirit living a life on the edge with a sense of urgency that the rest of the band fed off of. Listening to hits like Make Me Smile, Colour My World, and Wishing You Were Here gives an encapsulated portrait of what a soulful vocalist Terry was.
In 1977 Chicago finished up Chicago XI. The album opens with Mississippi Delta City Blues, a song that Terry had written back when Chicago was still called “The Big Thing” and doing the club circuit in the Chicago metro area. The song opens with a troubled laugh from Terry and then the lyrics that showed his discontent… “I’ve got a smile that I put on, when I’m not at home, when I’m not alone, but it’s so hard, to fake that smile, when my insides are cryin’ and my heart’s torn in half.”
On January 23, 1978 Terry’s laughter died in sorrow. At roadie Don Johnson’s house Terry pointed a gun at his head, he showed Johnson that the clip was empty, not realizing there was a bullet in the chamber, restored the clip to the gun and pulled the trigger. Just one week shy of his 32nd birthday Terry’s life ended abruptly, leaving behind his wife Camelia, his 2 year-old daughter, Michele, and a legacy as a soulful, free-spirited musician.
*The accompanying photograph was something I photoshopped back in 2002.