The Rolling Stones Article

Chicago's Terry Kath: Inside the Life and Tragic Death of an Unsung Guitar Hero

Admirers such as Joe Walsh remember Kath's genius, as chronicled in a moving new doc directed by the musician's daughter

By David Chiu     December 11, 2017

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Michelle Kath Sinclair still has a vivid memory of her father, original Chicago guitarist Terry Kath, who died nearly 40 years ago when she was only about two. She and her parents were traveling in a boat near a Wisconsin lodge owned by her grandparents. "I was on my mom's lap," she tells Rolling Stone. "[My father] was driving the boat and he said, 'Oh, we've got to turn around because the dam is up here.' We turned around, and that was the memory. I was totally questioning it for such a big portion of my life. I thought it was a dream. And my mom was like, 'No. That happened. I can't believe you remember that. You were probably five, six months old.'"

Sinclair never really got to know her father, though his legend loomed large. In the early Seventies, Terry Kath contributed standout guitar work – famously admired by Jimi Hendrix and other giants of the instrument – and soulful vocal performances that were key features of Chicago's progressive jazz-rock sound. But at the peak of his career, on January 23rd, 1978, Kath died in a gun accident at the age of 31, a tragedy that effectively marked the end of Chicago's first successful era, and that still resonates with his friends and loved ones.

To understand more about her father's life, Sinclair recently produced and directed a documentary on him, Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience(Previously shown at film festivals and on AXS TV, the film comes out Tuesday on DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon, iTunes and other streaming platforms.) The project was born out of Sinclair's frustration that her father had been largely forgotten by a wider public. "On one hand you have all these people saying, 'Oh, my God, this is the most amazing guitar player ever,'" she explains, "and on the other hand, you never see him recognized in the top 100 [guitarists] lists. I was inspired to expose his talents, like who he was as a guitar player, and to get him known more."
"Unfortunately, his guitar playing has been overlooked," Chicago trumpeter Lee Loughnane said in 2016, "and probably because of being in such a large band, particularly a brass-oriented band. If Terry had been in a trio, he probably would have been right up there with Jimi Hendrix, who idolized Terry. He has still been with us in spirit all these years."

In addition to archival footage of Kath in performance and conversation, Sinclair's documentary includes new interviews with the original surviving members of Chicago – Loughnane, Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, Walt Parazaider, James Pankow, and Danny Seraphine – along with the group's former producer/manager James William Guercio, and Kath's widow (and Sinclair's mom) Camelia. "I think that for everyone, it was very much driven around the fact that they loved this guy," Sinclair says of her interviewees' participation in the film. "Everything started out with how much my dad meant to them."

Also featured in the film describing Kath's talents are guitar heavyweights including ELO's Jeff Lynne, Toto's Steve Lukather, the Heartbreakers' Mike Campbell, Stone Temple Pilots' Dean DeLeo and Joe Walsh, a friend of Kath going back to when he was a member of the James Gang. "He was a big guy," Walsh recalls. "Your first thought was, 'Boy, I don't want him to be mad at me.' He was a great guy; he was a brilliant musician. He was a songwriter and a great singer. He was such a monster on guitar. He really didn't have any rules or boundaries. He studied all kinds of different styles. He would plug anything into anything and see what that did. He was just a total experimenter. And you can hear that in his records."

One key piece of Kath lore was when Jimi Hendrix once told Parazaider after a Chicago gig at L.A.'s Whisky a Go Go that "your guitar player is better than me." "They were opening up for Jimi Hendrix when they were still Chicago Transit Authority," says Sinclair. "They spent a lot of time on the road together and apparently hung out a lot then. Guercio said that when they were at the same festivals, they had a nice relationship together."

With Chicago, Kath performed blazing guitar on such tracks as "Introduction," "Free Form Guitar," "South California Purples," and "Dialogue (Parts One and Two)," while his deep, Ray Charles–like vocals were heard on tracks like "Make Me Smile," "Colour My World," and "Little One." Most recognizable is Kath's legendary guitar playing on Chicago's classic hit "25 or 6 to 4," performed onstage as an extended solo showcase in contrast to the original studio version on the Chicago album. "It's relentless from note one," says Walsh of Kath's performance on that song. "Just to try and figure out what he's doing takes four or five days. To have the guts to do that on a song – to play a [long] solo – who does that? Maybe Carlos [Santana], but you don't play the same thing twice. How does he do that?"
Aside from exploring his life in a hugely popular band, The Terry Kath Experience also delves into Kath's substance abuse and his ultimately fatal interest in guns. The film's emotional peak comes when Jerry Vaccarino, Chicago's road manager at the time, describes to Sinclair the tragic incident that killed her father. (While cleaning his firearms at the home of Don Johnson, an employee for Chicago, Kath accidentally fired a gun into his head after showing a concerned Johnson that the clip was empty – not realizing that there was a bullet remaining in the chamber.) "I remember just listening to him and thinking, 'Wow, no one has been this open and said it in this way,'" Sinclair says of her conversation with Vaccarino. "Almost everyone said that the last thing they ever expected was my dad to kill himself with a gun because they trusted him so much with guns."

Prior to the tragedy, Kath was working on his first solo record. "I could only imagine what that would be," Sinclair says. "I think that could've have been the thing that put him more on the map as a guitarist." Adds Walsh: "With that [band] dynamic [in Chicago], he needed to do a solo album. I don't know how much of it was recorded, but he was going in that direction. And it's a shame it didn't happen. He would have never remotely thought about suicide. That was a complete accident."

Chicago carried on after Kath's death, recording and touring with a number of guitarists throughout the years, among them Donnie Dacus, Chris Pinnick, Bill Champlin, Dawayne Bailey and, currently, Keith Howland. But Kath's memory lives on in the music (a collection of his notable performances were compiled for the 1997 album Chicago Presents the Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath), and most recently on Now More Than Ever, a documentary about Chicago. In 2016, Kath and the other founding Chicago members were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Sinclair was present at the festivities on behalf of her father. Footage from the ceremony was added to Sinclair's documentary at the last minute. "It was important to stick it in there because I personally went on this mission to get him known, and here's the evidence," she says.

"His part on the first couple of Chicago albums is all we have to work with," says Walsh of his late friend. "It's a shame that young people never got a chance to see him live [onstage]. That's a whole different dimension. All we have to go on are the records he's made. He wrote a lot of it, he sang a bunch of it, and his guitar work is long forgotten. And that's a shame, because he was a complete monster [on guitar]."

Ultimately Sinclair, who is a parent herself, explains that she and her production team were really focused on capturing her father's legacy through this project. "If people want to go to listen to the music, I've done my job," she says. "If you listen to the music, it's heavily driven by his sound. If you remove my dad from this song, you have a completely different song. I always found that quite fascinating. Hopefully people will go explore that a little bit more."

Posted on June 15, 2018 and filed under Press.

The Variety Article

‘Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience’ Documentary Set for Release in 2017

By Dave McNary  //  @Variety_DMcNary

FilmRise has acquired worldwide distribution rights to Michelle Kath Sinclair’s debut documentary “Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience” and plans a 2017 release.

The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and recently screened at the DOC NYC festival.

Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience” centers on Kath, a founding member, guitarist and lead singer of the band Chicago. Sinclair is Kath’s daughter and the film is an homage to her late father, who passed away in 1978 at the height of the band’s success following the group’s 12th album, “Chicago XI.”

“I am over the moon that FilmRise will be distributing our film, as they truly understand the essence of what my film is all about,” said Sinclair.  “It is very exciting to have found a great home for my Dad’s legacy alongside such a great repertoire of films.”

Sinclair’s film is a mixture of present-day interviews and archival material, including family relics covering Kath’s pre-Chicago youth to his years of touring with the band. The rock band was formed in 1967 in Chicago and released its first album, “Chicago Transit Authority,” two years later. The band has sold more than 100 million records.

“We are proud to be releasing Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience, a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a great artist,” said Danny Fisher, CEO of FilmRise. “Michelle Sinclair has crafted a tender and well-rounded tribute to her father that we’re confident will resonate with viewers.”

Sinclair directed and produced along with Tony Papa and Jordan Levy. The deal was negotiated between Fisher and Max Einhorn with Submarine and Preferred Content.

Posted on June 1, 2018 and filed under Press.

The Hollywood Reporter Article

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A founder member of the phenomenally successful rock supergroup Chicago, Terry Kath was a self-taught musical maestro with a rich, soulful baritone voice and superhuman guitar skills that even Jimi Hendrix came to envy. But huge success proved to be a double-edged sword for Kath, who developed a fatal attraction to guns and cocaine. In January 1978, at the height of his fame, he accidentally shot himself dead while fooling around at the end of drug-fueled party. Dying just a week short of his 32nd birthday, Kath left behind a young wife, Camelia, and a two-year-old daughter, Michelle.

Now older than her father was when he died, DJ turned first-time film director Michelle Kath Sinclair pays bittersweet tribute to the dad she barely knew in this heartfelt rockumentary. Eight years in the making, and backed by almost $100,000 of Kickstarter crowdfunding, The Terry Kath Experience premiered in Toronto last week. This is a competently assembled debut, with a poignant personal back story. But because Kath was never quite a mainstream rock star, Sinclair's tender memorial will most likely have connoisseur interest only, touring music-friendly film festivals before finding a small screen home.

Knitting together vintage footage, private family archive material and contemporary interviews, Sinclair revisits her father's boyhood in Chicago, his meteoric rise through the city's bar-band scene, and his peak years as a multi-platinum rocker with an ambivalent attitude to commercial success. Besides interviewing the surviving members of Chicago, Sinclair meets some famous friends of her dad including Jeff Lynne of ELO and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, who claims "the whole audience were as high as we were in those days."

Sinclair and her mother also return to Caribou Ranch in Colorado, an idyllic recording studio compound built by Chicago's manager-producer James Guercio in 1972 and later used by dozens of superstars including Elton John, Michael Jackson and U2. In the Seventies, the Kath family spent long periods living at the ranch, where Terry indulged his Wild West gunslinger fantasies. On the day the film crew visit, the studio is closing its doors for the last time.

The Terry Kath Experience is clearly a sentimental journey for Sinclair, an attempt to come to terms with a huge emotional void in her life. Her personal connection to the subject is both strength and weakness, as she has access to archive material never seen on film before. The early performance footage is certainly electrifying, capturing Kath on molten form as he combines jazz, soul, blues and hard rock into epic experimental jams, including one composed in the brain-melting 19/8 time signature. The dorky Seventies hair and fashions are a joy too.

But Sinclair is also constrained by her blood ties to Kath. On camera, friends and relations dutifully paint the late rocker in reverential terms, as a doting dad and musical genius. Most of these anodyne interviews play down his conflicts with other band members, his drug problems and his reckless open-carry attitude to guns. A recurring subplot about the search for Kath's favorite guitar, a Fender Telecaster customized with striking geometric patterns, also feels like a contrived attempt to inject a minor note of suspense into an otherwise shapeless narrative.

That said, Sinclair is admirably restrained in dealing with her father's death, steering well clear of the salacious sensationalism that might have helped sell her film for all the wrong reasons. Part of Kath's tragedy is that he died too early to leave behind a substantial enough body of work to fill a great documentary, but this warm-hearted labor of love is still a welcome reminder of his immense talent. One of its agreeably bizarre final twists is a wedding-video cameo by Kiefer Sutherland, who ended up becoming Sinclair's stepfather.

Production company: Searching for Terry Productions
Cast: Michelle Kath Sinclair, Terry Kath, Camelia Kath, Peter Cetera, Robert Lamm, Walter Parazaider, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, James William Guercio, Danny Seraphine
Director: Michelle Kath Sinclair
Producers: Michelle Kath Sinclair, Tony Papa, Jordan Levy
Cinematographer: Jordan Levy
Editor: Micah Levin
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF Docs)

Posted on May 25, 2018 and filed under Press.

The KLOS Interview

VIDEO: Gary Moore sits down with filmmaker Michelle Kath Sinclair for a chat about “Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience”

95.5 KLOS resident Chicago fanatic Gary Moore sat down with filmmaker Michelle Kath Sinclair for a chat about “Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience,” the documentary she made about her father. Gary’s hosting a screening of the film Tuesday December 12th at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre, 8556 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, at 7:30.

Posted on May 11, 2018 and filed under Press.

The LA WEEKLY Article

Never Heard of Guitarist Terry Kath From the Band Chicago? He's Ah-Mazing

ANDY HERMANN | AUGUST 15, 2014 | 4:15AM

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In Canoga Park in January 1978, a young guitar player and singer named Terry Kath died of an accidentally self-inflicted gunshot wound. Joking around with a friend, Kath held what he thought was an unloaded handgun to his temple and pulled the trigger, Russian roulette style. But there was a single bullet in the chamber, and Kath died instantly. He was 31 years old.

Kath left behind one of the most successful rock bands in history, Chicago – a group that, at the time of his death, had released 11 consecutive platinum-selling albums, and would go on to release seven more. He also left behind a wife, Camelia, a two-year-old daughter, Michelle, and a complicated legacy that Michelle, now 38, is exploring in a forthcoming documentary, Searching for Terry.

Fans of Chicago call Kath one of rock’s most underrated guitarists, with a unique way of mixing together blues, funk and jazz techniques into propulsive rhythm parts and fiery, unconventional leads.

An often retold story has Jimi Hendrix approaching the band’s sax player, Walt Parazaider, after a show at the Whisky a Go Go in 1968 and saying, “I think your guitarist is better than me.”

But over the years, treacly pop hits like “Baby, What a Big Surprise” and “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” diminished Chicago’s credibility as serious musicians. Though songs like “25 or 6 to 4” and “Make Me Smile” from the band's jazzier, horn-driven early days remain staples of classic-rock radio, they seem like the work of a completely different band – one whose guitarist was forgotten by all but a few diehard fans.

Kath’s daughter, Michelle Kath Sinclair, was cruelly reminded of this when she began trying to finance Searching for Terry about five years ago.

“The question was always, ‘Who is your target audience? Where would this project end up?’” she says, still unable to hide her frustration.

Only the drug-fueled circumstances of her father’s death sparked any interest. Sinclair recalls one would-be producer telling her, “If you were a fucked-up drug addict and struggling with the same demons as your father, this would be great.”

(While there was no definitive evidence that Kath was high when he shot himself, he was known to have substance abuse issues: “Coke had its hooks deep into Terry and his behavior spiraled out of control,” drummer Danny Seraphine wrote in his memoir, Street Player: My Chicago Story, describing Kath just before his death.)

Finally, Sinclair took the project to Kickstarter, where the Chicago faithful have thus far supported two separate crowdfunding campaigns to the tune of over $98,000. With her latest fundraising goals met, Sinclair anticipates she can have the film finished by 2015.

So far, Searching for Terry includes interviews with every original Chicago member except Peter Cetera, the bassist with the silky, high tenor on all those soft-rock ballads, who left the band for a solo career in 1985. “He’s a tough one,” says Sinclair. “He doesn’t do interviews or anything regarding Chicago. So we’ll see.”

Sinclair was also able to interview the band’s longtime producer, James William Guercio, and guitarist Joe Walsh, a friend and admirer of Kath’s. But some of her favorite moments in the film are interviews with her Uncle Rod, Terry’s brother, and her mother, who surprised her with a few stories she had never heard before.

“Some of the great stories are just learning a little bit more about his personality,” says Sinclair, who grew up with only the haziest memories of her father. She cites one story, told more than once, about a kid who ran up and stole one of Kath’s more expensive guitars after a gig. Before the roadies could chase after him, Kath called them off: “If he needed it that bad, just let him have it.”

In a way, even before Searching for Terry gets released, Sinclair has already achieved one of the project’s goals: She knows more about her father now than she ever did before. But her other goal with the documentary is “giving him the recognition he deserves as a guitarist, which I felt he never really got.”

Based especially on Chicago’s many live recordings from the ‘70s, which really showcase Kath’s skills as a bandleader and soloist, it’s recognition that’s long overdue.

Posted on April 20, 2018 and filed under Press.

Why the MEMBER's LOUNGE is going public

Hello, Members and Fans,

We are going public with the Member's Lounge and turning it into a blog. 

Now that the film is out there, thanks to your amazing contribution, we would like to make the Terry Kath Website a place to host the history of Terry's news.  Since our first Kickstarter, there has been a host of articles and exciting Terry developments that we would like to keep a register of, here on the official Terry Kath website, for all future inquiring minds.  Sort of like an official collection of all things Terry.  Or an online record of Terry Kath.  Fun!  This will also help those Members that have lost their password (man that was hard to keep up with)  

Thank you again to all that have become a part of the Terry Kath Community.  It has been an amazing experience for me and I have loved every minute of the journey

Michelle Kath Sinclair

Posted on April 10, 2018 .