Terry Kath's Official Bio Pages
Written by Tim Wood
Guitar Player Magazine - 1971
Everyone has heard of Chicago, the most popular band in the country. But how many know of The Big Thing or of The Missing Links? The Big Thing and The Missing Links and Chicago are all part of Terry Kath, one of the most frequently requested guitarists in GP's history.
Terry was born in Chicago, Illinois 25 years ago. By the eighth grade he had been pounding on his older brother's drums for a year. His mother had a banjo around the house and Terry gravitated toward it, retuning it to sound like a guitar.
In the ninth grade Terry got hold of a Kay guitar and amp, and took up with a local kid band, copying every Ventures record they could get their hands on. No gigs, but a lot of fun and experience. Three years later the self-taught guitarist felt it was time for some lessons, so he spent a year with a jazz teacher trying to learn to read chord patterns."He just kept wanting me to play good lead stuff," Terry recalls, "but then all I wanted to do was play those rock and roll chords."
Dick Clark was big then. He had a massive TV show going for him. Clark also had two tours on the road simultaneously as the Dick Clark Show. A friend of Terry's was playing lead with the second group and told him there was an opening-- for a bass player. A newly acquired Fender Jazz in hand, Kath took to the road for a year. When the Fender was stolen, he replaced it with an Eko.
Terry still played bass when he met Chicago drummer Danny Seraphine, and they formed a group called The Missing Links to play the area's many bars. But the Eko, too was ripped off one night, so for $80 Terry picked up a used Register.
"The band doing pretty well," he says, "so we thought we had to have a manager. This guy kept telling us that rock was the big thing, everyone's talking about the big thing, our band was the big thing. So he made us change our name to The Big Thing. Can you believe that?!"
They practiced for three or four months with Terry back to guitar, then started playing gigs doing everything from Tijuana Brass to Hendrix. James William Guercio, the former bassist with Clark's other road band, was by then producing records in Los Angeles for groups like Blood, Sweat and Tears. He, as well as members of the band, knew their future was limited in Chicago. Now called Chicago Transit Authority, they were expanding their music and jazz-- the Chicago bar crowd just wasn't ready.
Guercio brought the band to Southern California in 1967, changed their name to the simpler Chicago, added a bassist to the sextet, and produced that first double LP for Columbia. The rest is in the books. Three successive top-selling double albums in two years, 200 concerts annually, a European tour that was sold out months before the band left, and on and on.
As Chicago's lead singer and only guitarist, Terry Kath is probably the performer most easily identified with the band. His guitar sound has been called "slippery, but with clear definition and a churning propelling beat" by one critic, "bluesy" by another, "damn fine rock and roll" by a third. Chicago trombonist James Pankow says simply, "He's the best soloist we have".
Though he doesn't read music, Terry manages to "write" most of the band's charts. "Actually, I just tell the guys what I want, maybe play the different parts, and then they just pick it up from there.When one of the other members writes a tune, Terry's part has to be hummed to him. "I have a pretty good ear," he says, "but I think it's starting to go from playing in front of the amp all the time". Because the band developed by playing in one tiny bar after another, they are used to setting up close together on stage, and the only way Terry can hear what he is doing is by standing directly in front of his gear.
Allied Electronics of Chicago made his 60 watt Knight amp. It has two speakers to get the sound he wants without being too loud. In concert, the amp goes through their custom-built PA system which was designed by the people at Columbia Records. Terry says that the Acoustic Control people heard his amp, dug it, and designed the 150 series after it. Today Terry shares amp duties between the Knight and the Acoustic, depending on the sound of the auditorium they are playing.
After the Kay guitar, he bought a Fender Stratocaster which he still uses on the job. Thirteen other guitars have been acquired over the past few years, but it is the Stratocaster and a Les Paul Professional Gibson that he regularly uses. On the band's first LP, Terry played a Gibson SG double cutaway. "The Stratocaster has the best vibrato, but I have trouble bending the strings without slipping off", he says. "But my hands are pretty strong, I guess from playing bass all those years." He uses each guitar for different songs. Both utilize standard tunings.
His stringing is highly unique. For the first, Terry uses a tenor guitar A. The rest is a Fender 10 set, with the Fender 1st being Terry's 2nd string, the Fender 2nd being Terry's 3rd and so on. "I just toss away their 6th string". He has tried some of the various ultra light gauges, but breaks them too easily. With his strength, he finds he has little trouble bending the heavier strings.
Kath uses low action on both guitars, particularly the Fender, but isn't really sure he likes it. "I like more grip. Like the strings to work against me, so I can really feel them when I'm getting into something."
The pick he uses is a Herco light gauge nylon. "They're really unbreakable" he claims. "The only thing that ever happens is they eventually wear out. Sometimes I'll be playing along and find I'm missing the strings. I'll worry about it for days until I notice that the pick has worn down to half its size."
At first, Terry utilized a Basstone pedal that plugged into the guitar and had its own distortion. But now he uses a Cry Baby Wah-wah, "but it breaks up a lot. They are all too distorted. None of them seem to get a good natural sound."
Anyone who has seen Chicago, has to admire the speed with which Terry plays. It's all natural. No special techniques, no exercises. "I just get all jacked up when we start cooking," he says, "and don't think about how I'm doing anything." Normally he anchors his little finger to the guitar just below the strings. But when he's building one of those incredible solos, or rocking the entire band with an intensely strong rhythnic pattern, he just hammers away with his entire forearm.
"I'm too busy playing to worry about the movement or the fingerboard," he muses. "I just listen to it as it's all happening."
Today Terry doesn't listen to other music much. When you're on the road 10 months out of a year, there really isn't a lot of time. "After The Ventures I dug Johnny Smith quite a bit," Kath remembers. "And George Benson when he was with Brother Jack McDuff. I heard him recently with (saxophonist) Stanley Turrentine, and he really knocked me out. I listened to a lot of Kenny Burrell when I was starting, too. And Howard Roberts. Man, I had all of Howard's albums. Mike Bloomfield's East/West was a fine record. I used to sit around the house all the time, and play guitar with it. Let's see....I also dug Eric (Clapton) on the Fresh Cream album. I guess that's about it." And then he became excited. "But then there was Hendrix, man. Jimi was really the last cat to freak me. Jimi was playing all the stuff I had in my head. I couldn't believe it, when I first heard him. Man, no one can ever do what he did with a guitar. No one can ever take his place."
Because of time, and maybe because he's playing so much, Terry doesn't practice guitar. "I wish I did practice more," he says half-heartedly. "But mostly I play the jobs or when I'm working on a tune, I sit around and play drums. Got myself a set not too long ago."
It is surprising that a guitarist of his reputation and popularity hasn't been approached with free amps or guitars from assorted companies, but it's true. No one has ever offered to supply him with anything. If the Gibson people were to design a guitar to Terry's specifications, what would it be like? "Well, first I'd want a better vibrato," he states. "Even the Bigsbies I've used haven't been good. They may make some great ones, but I haven't found them. You know, I'd like to be able to keep a chord in tune while dropping it an octave."
"And I'd like a longer neck, so I can move around on it. A neck with a heel that doesn't start until the 14th fret. Most guitars have necks that get fatter as you go up the fingerboard.
That means you have to change your hand position as you play, and sometimes I'm really getting off, you know, and the fingerboard starts dragging my hand as I'm going up."
"About the only other thing I'd want would be a wider neck. My fingers are so fat that sometimes I deaden the string next to the one I'm fretting. Otherwise, everything's fine. My Gibson has a good clean sound, and I like my low impedance pickups. I haven't modified either guitar at all."
While he's dreamin about what he'd like, he gets into a couple of ideas he's trying to develop now. "On 'Free Form Guitar' I plug my Knight into a Dual Showman for an unusual effect. The Knight distorts when I crank it up, but the Showman keeps it so I can control the sound. But on a job, I can't stop everything after the tune and change back to my regular set up. So I'm working on having a foot pedal that will be able to change from one set up to the other immediately."
Terry is more hesitant about speaking of his other project. "All I can say is that it's a machine that will get me a bowing effect,like if I was using a bow on a guitar---sort of. I'm not going to explain anymore than that, though,until I've got it built" Kath likes to play long flowing lines, but Chicago's fans would hardly know it. "Usually I solo on these wild tunes where I have to play as fast as I can. I get all jacked up on a gig, man, and I just can't slow down."
Terry, always interested in new ways to cook and new effects to get, tried playing slide for a short while, but never on record or in concert." I just couldn't seem to get anything going. After I'd play a few hours at home, I'd done all I could do with it. It was just to limiting for me."
Chicago's first album was produced in a week, Terry sometimes playing a Stratocaster whose neck was held together with a radiator hose clamp." We just didn't have time. It was the same way on the second album. 'Prelude' ( a nearly symphonic piece with strings, woodwinds and brass) was a line I had in my head. We needed another tune so I played it for Peter Matz and he arranged and orchestrated it for some other guys to play."
But generally, a good deal of time is spent on the albums. Keep in mind that not many bands, particularly ones utilizing tight arrangements and a horn section, can produce six excellent records in two years. In most cases, Terry tracks his solos on albums. "Except for 'Poem 58 and 'Liberation'," he says. "Oh yeah and 'I'm A Man', and ..." he drifts off naming a few others. In session, Kath uses a Dual Showman amp and the Knight, always miked. On the third LP he utilized a Leslie on a couple of tunes, but doesn't recall which ones.
The future looks pretty good for Terry Kath, ex-Dick Clarker, ex-Missing Link, ex-Big Thing. Commercially, Chicago can do no wrong. They sell out Carnegie Hall for a week, play before 20,000 at a time, see their albums sell a million dollars worth even before they are released. And artistically, even the critics who once mistakenly called Chicago "another Blood, Sweat and Tears," are realizing just how wrong they were, and just how creative and adventuresome this young band really is.
Terry Kath featured in Guitar One Magazine
Terry Kath was featured in the August, 2001 edition of GuitarOne magazine. He was in an article titled "Gone Too Soon: A Tribute to 65 Fallen Heroes."
The article was about great guitarists who died young. Kath died on Jan. 23, 1978, at the age of 31.
Interestingly, the article says a lot about Kath's vocals, as well as his playing. Here are some quotes from the article:
" ... the legendary axe man, whose soul-fired vocals powered early hits like "Free," "Dialogue (Part I & II)" and the ever-popular smooch ballad "Colour My World." Early on, Kath's warm-and-fuzzy tube tones added a touch of fire to Chicago's sleek horn section, giving the jazz-pop combo instant credibility in the rock world. Watching the group perform live for the first time, a stunned Jimi Hendrix told Chicago sax man Walter Parazaider, "Your guitar player is better than me."
Essential listening, according to the article, are Chicago's first album (Chicago Transit Authority) and the 1997 "Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath" compilation.
The article quotes session ace Reggie Boyd and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, who lists Kath as a vocal inspiration.
Phone interview with Jimmy Pankow
-(question is asked why Chicago didn't play in Great Britain for 12 years)
-[Laughing] I didn't know that!
-[Also laughing] Okay. Oh, dear. I didn't know that story.
© Debbie Kruger - 27 April 1999, Los Angeles
Terry Kath links
Items of interest on the Internet about Terry Kath:
- Article about history of Pignose amplifier - This article sheds some light on Terry's involvement with the legendary Pignose amplifier.
- Terry's Guitar Club - Tim's article about those guitarist that joined the band and attepted to follow in the man's foot steps.
- Electra Glide in Blue - Tim's article about the film and soundtrack.
Chicago Guitar Club
By Tim Wood
Talk about big shoes to fill.
In 20 years since the death of founding Chicago guitarist Terry Kath, the band has used a variety of musicians to fill the void he left.
Kath was such a tremendous talent, it would be unfair to negatively compare any of his successors to him. This article will mention some of the musicians who have strapped on a guitar to record and/or perform live with Chicago.
Kath's last album for Chicago was XI. According to reports published at the time, Chicago had great difficulty in finding a guitarist to replace him. Reportedly, the band auditioned at least 30 guitarists. According to published reports, the band turned down some guitarists because they played Kath's parts just as they were recorded. The band, however, was looking for someone who would add their own style to the mix.
Finally, they settled on Donnie Dacus, a musician from Texas who had played with Stephen Stills and recently had had a major role in the movie version of "Hair." One article stated that one point in favor of Dacus was his ability to sing and play "Little One" (from Chicago XI) simultaneously.
Dacus was a talented player and his vocals, while not like Kath's soulful voice, nonetheless were strong. His high range opened up opportunities to harmonize with Peter Cetera, and this was used to good effect on "Alive Again" on the "Hot Streets" album, the first release since the death of Kath.
"Hot Streets" was a strong comeback effort by the band, and Dacus contributed significantly to the success of the album.
Dacus' last album with Chicago was XIII, which featured his song "Must Have Been Crazy." This song was a big contrast to the established Chicago style, even though it was released as a single. Dacus and Chicago would part ways between XIII and XIV.
Enter Chris Pinnick, who was the main guitarist for Chicago XIV. In a published article from that time, Robert Lamm said Pinnick sounded so much like Kath that it was "spooky." Pinnick's approach to rhythm guitar playing was close to that of Kath, and he was a blazing lead player. However, he was neither a singer nor a songwriter.
On the next studio effort, Pinnick was not listed as a band member, but as a contributing musician. Two other guitarists of note also were used on this album: Steve Lukather and Michael Landau. Lukather is well know for his work with the band Toto and also is a very active studio musician. He had taken Landau under his wing, steering recording dates his way. Landau went on to success with his own bands and also as an in-demand studio musician.
Pinnick was listed as a band member on the highly successful Chicago 17 album. Also playing guitar on that project were Landau, Paul Jackson and Mark Goldenberg, who also had played on Chicago XIV. Bill Champlin is listed as playing keyboards and guitars on the album as well.
Paul Jackson is another sought-after studio player, known for his exceptional rhythm guitar playing. He has played on records by Whitney Houston and other top-rank artists. Chicago 17 would become one of many platinum albums to which he added his talents.
Pinnick, who was Chicago's touring guitarist from 1980 to 1985, departed the band prior to the recording of Chicago 18. Landau and Lukather were back to play guitar on this album. Buzz Feiten also is listed as a guitar player, and it is possible that the only song on which he played was "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now," which he co-wrote with Jason Scheff, who was making his Chicago album debut.
Liner notes on the post-Kath albums usually did not state who played what instrument on what songs. However, in the case of Chicago 19, a knowledgeable source said that co-producer Chas Sandford played guitar on the songs he produced, with Dann Huff doing the guitar parts on the tracks produced by Ron Nevison. The exception is "I Stand Up," featuring new Chicago guitarist Dawayne Bailey.
Huff is another studio legend. The son of noted Christian music composer/arranger/director Ronn Huff, Dann Huff started out with the Christian rock band Whiteheart. He subsequently was in a rock band called "Giant" along with brother David Huff, a drummer.
Dann Huff conquered the Los Angeles studio scene, then decided to take on Nashville, where also has been a huge success. He is heavily in demand as a guitarist and also produced some songs for Peter Cetera's solo projects. Huff is noted for his catchy lead guitar lines, many of which emerge as the "hook" in hit songs.
Dawayne Bailey joined the band for the Chicago 18 tour. He had played with many different bands since his early teen years.
Among those groups was Bob Seger's Silver Bullet Band. Chances are, if you watch television, you've heard Bailey's guitar playing countless times. Bailey played acoustic guitar on the classic song "Like a Rock," which has been featured in Chevrolet advertisements.
Bailey also toured with Seger, rocking arenas around the country.
Just prior to joining Chicago, he led the band "Private Parts" in his native state of Kansas. The group recorded an album called "Dancing The Marmara." (The album is available from Dawayne Bailey's web site. Bailey showed his skills as a vocalist and guitarist on this rare recording.
He also had played in a band with Scheff and drummer John Keane before he and Scheff joined Chicago. (Keane went on to play drums on Chicago 21 and on Scheff's solo project "Chauncy.")
Bailey had gone back to his home state of Kansas and was fronting Private Parts when Chicago invited him to audition. They hired him and he stayed with the band from 1986 to 1995. In addition to being a brilliant guitar player, Bailey possessed a very high vocal range and contributed background vocals and occasional lead vocals in concert. Chicago made extensive use of his background vocal skills in the studio.
He brought an exciting stage presence to Chicago's live shows. His soaring, inventive solos marked one of the high points of Chicago's concert history.
On Chicago 21, Landau was back to do the guitar work. Bailey again contributed muck of the backing vocals.
Bailey emerged as a composer and lead singer during the 1993 recording sessions which resulted in the "Stone of Sisyphus" project. The song "Stone of Sisyphus" was released on the "Overtime" compilation. Bailey and Lee Loughnane are listed as co-writers. Bailey and Lamm sang lead on the song, and Bailey played the guitar parts. Bailey also played guitar on "Bigger than Elvis," another S.O.S. session song that ended up on "Overtime" and "The Very Best of Chicago" European market compilation. Bailey also played guitar on his own composition "Get On This."
Bailey and Chicago parted ways in January of 1995. Since Bailey's departure from Chicago, he has toured with the legendary French vocalist Veronique Sanson. He also has worked with the acclaimed Australian bass player Rebecca Johnson. and continues to compose and release his own music through his official website. He recently released a collection of his recordings entitled "Sketch." It is available at Dawayne Bailey's web site.
The band's next studio effort, "Night and Day," featured studio musician Bruce Gaitsch on guitar. Gaitsch also had played on many of the S.O.S. tracks.
Also on "Night and Day," Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry played lead guitar on "Blues in the Night," performing one of the most sizzling solos heard on a Chicago recording since before Kath's death. Tonino Ballardo of the Gypsy Kings played lead guitar on "Sing, Sing, Sing."
Also in the 1990s, Chicago released the song "Hearts in Trouble" on the soundtrack of the Tom Cruise movie "Days of Thunder." Kevin Dukes played guitar on "Hearts in Trouble" and co-wrote it.
The song originated as a Bill Champlin project. It was done primarily in his home studio, with the Chicago horns added later.
Chicago's current guitarist is Keith Howland, who came on board in 1995, crashing the auditions to do so. He is a long-time Chicago fan and has been described by Scheff as an "encyclopedia" of Chicago music, sometimes even pointing out when old Chicago songs are not being played the same way as the original recording.
He and Bill Champlin have done an "unplugged" duet version of "Look Away" in concert. Chicago has not made a full studio album since Howland joined the band, so he has not had much opportunity to contribute in the studio. Howland has been well received by Chicago fans and carries on the tradition of great Chicago guitarists.
Special mention must be made of Bill Champlin's contributions. Champlin, known mainly for his soulful singing and top-notch keyboard playing, is a fine guitarist who has often teamed with Chicago's lead guitarist in concert. In many ways, he is the true replacement for Kath, for Champlin brought top-notch songwriting and vocals to the band, in addition to his guitar skills.
The album Chicago XXX had numberous gutar guitarists. Howland played in some of the songs, while the bulk of the playing appeared to fall to Tom Bukovac and Dan Huff.
But in truth, no one could ever replace Terry Kath. But many distinguished musicians have carried on the tradition of outstanding musicianship he brought to the band.
Thanks to Dawayne Bailey for coining the term "Chicago Guitar Club" and granting permission to use it.
Electra Glide in Blue
By Tim Wood
As Chicago was growing into a highly successful musical act, their producer, James William Guercio, decided to fulfill a desire to go into movies. An unverified report states that Guercio's desire was to work in movies, and that music was a means to that end. In any event, Guercio masterminded a 1973 United Artists film with the title of "Electra Glide in Blue." Robert Blake starred, and several members of Chicago had small roles.
This movie definitely is not "A Hard Day's Night." It is a dark, violent movie that utilized unusual camera angles and cutting-edge cinematography. I have seen it only on the small screen of video, but it's clear that many scenes were shot in order to take advantage of the big screen. Multiple movie theaters hadn't taken over the country in 1973, and so you could still see a movie on a truly large screen.
Blake plays a motorcycle police officer in the Arizona desert. The film follows him as he goes through several turns in his life. He wants to become a detective, but seemingly is sandbagged by his higher-ups. Then, he gets the chance to investigate a murder. That leads to a new job which seems to offer him what he wanted, but it turns out to be anything but that.
Chicago members play minor roles. Lee Loughnane plays a pig farmer in a commune. Walter Parazaider is a member of that commune who gets roughed up by a law enforcement officer. Peter Cetera plays a murder suspect who undergoes a grueling interrogation. Terry Kath plays a role that is small, but critical to the movie. To reveal it here might give away the movie's plot to those who haven't seen it.
David "Hawk" Wolinski plays the driver of a Volkswagen Van which appears in several portions of the movie. He's also part of a rock band that plays a concert in the movie. Wolinski played keyboards on some of Chicago's albums and co-wrote some songs with Danny Seraphine.
A soundtrack album of the movie also was released. It contained "Tell Me" ( the closing song written by Guercio and sung by Kath which would later appear on the final episode of "Miami Vice) and several other musical pieces. It is rare and is quite a find for collectors. Chicago didn't perform as a band on the soundtrack, but several members of the group performed in the orchestra that recorded the sound track. Interestingly, Kath played bass, not guitar. Studio legend Larry Carlton played guitar, along with Louie Shelton and Ben Benay.
Pianist Michael O'Martian went on to work with Peter Cetera on a post-Chicago solo album. Ross Salomone, drummer for the rock band in the movie, played on Robert Lamm's "Skinny Boy" solo album along with Alan DeCarlo, the guitarist in the movie band.
One of the string bass players is named James Bond. Percussionist Guille Garcia also played on some Chicago records. James Pankow, Parazaider and Loughnane performed in the orchestra.
Electra Glide in Blue was not a commercial success, but is an arresting movie that probably will affect each person differently.
Here's a list of the movie's songs and musical personnel, as listed on the soundtrack album:
Electra Glide in Blue -
Produced and directed by James William Guercio
Side 1: Morning - Prelude - Meadow Mountain Top - Overture - Most of All - Jolene's Dance
Side 2: Concert - The Chase - Song of Sad Bottles - Monument Valley - Tell Me
Guitars: Ben Benay - Larry Carlton - Louie Shelton
Pianos - MIchael Lang - Michael O'Martian
Electric Bass - Terry Kath
Drums - Ross Salomone
Percussion - Dale Anderson - Sanora Crouch - Victor Feldman - Guille Garcia
Moog & Organ - Paul Beaver
Woodwinds - Gene Cipriano - Walter Parazaider - Johnny Rotella
French Horns - Vincent De Rosa - David Duke - William Hinshaw - Richard Perissi - Gale Robinson - Henry Sigismonti
Chorus - Shirlie Matthews - Patricia Hall - Andra Willis - Jackie Allen
Trumpets - Bud Brisbois - Conti Condoli - Chuck Findley - Lee Loughnane - Oliver MItchell - Tony Terran
Trombones - Harold Diner - Robert Knight - Lew McReary - James Pankow
Violins - Sidney Sharp - Arnold Belnick - Assa Drori - Henry Ferber - Ronald Folson - James Getroff - Bernard Kundell - William Kurash - Tibor Zelig - Wilbert Nuttycombe - Ralph Schaeffer
Violas - Sam Baghossian - Allan Harshman - Harry Hyams - David Schwartz
Cellos - Jesse Erlich - Armand Kaproff - Raymond Kelley
String Basses - James Bond - Abe Luboff - Lyle Ritz
Music copyists - David Ward - M. Lee Allman - Jeffery Jones
Orchestra Conractor - Charles Stern
Title, Artist, Author
Most of All, Marcels, Alan Freed - Harvey Fuqua
Meadow Mountain Top, Mark Spoelstra, Mark Spoelstra
Song of Sad Bottles, Mark Spolestra, Mark Spoelstra
Free from the Devil, Madura, Alan DeCarlo
Madura: Alan De Carlo, guitar; Hawk, organ; Ross Salomone, drums.
Appearing through the courtesy of CBS Records
Soundtrack album produced by Armin Steiner - Jimmie Haskell - Jim Nelson.
Copyright 1973 United Artists Corporation