Terry Kath's Official Bio Pages
Written by Tim Wood
"Oh, Thank You Great Spirit"
(Originally published in "Scrapbook," the publication of the Chicago True Advocates fan club. Some updating to the article has been done by the author.)
By Tim Wood
As a guitarist and a Chicago fan, the prospect of a Terry Kath tribute album was a dream come true for me. I ordered the CD "sight unseen" and wasn't disappointed at all. You don't have to be a guitar nut or a Chicago enthusiast to appreciate "Chicago Presents The Innovative Guitar of Terry Kath."
In one sense, my expectations for this CD were too high. I was hoping for some previously-unreleased Kath music. There have been reports that Kath was working on a solo album before his death, but it is not known if any music actually was recorded. Chicago Records has stated on the fan forum that a search was made for unreleased Kath music, but none was found.
The music you do get with this CD is a very good representation of Terry Kath's genius. As I grew up listening to Chicago, I often wondered why a guitarist this good never got the recognition that other players received. I often wondered if my judgment was biased, in light of how much I liked the band. William Ruhlmann's liner notes for the Kath CD address this question and offer considerable insight.
I don't agree completely with the selections for this CD, but there are only 74 minutes on a CD and the producers used almost every one of them. Highlights of the CD include the live version of "25 or 6 to 4" from the "Live in Japan" album. I've heard four recorded versions of Kath soloing on this song and he never used the same solo twice - an example of his creativity and originality. "Mississippi Delta City Blues," a song that appeared on Chicago 11, appears here in a live version also from the "Live in Japan" record.
More cuts on this project come from Chicago Transit Authority than from any other Chicago project. Kath was allowed to cut loose on this album more than on any other Chicago studio project. CTA always has sounded very much like a "live" album to me. CTA cuts are "I'm a Man," "Listen," "South California Purples," and the classic "Free Form Guitar."
One interesting choice was "Darlin' Dear" from Chicago VI. This is the only song I'm aware of on which Kath played slide guitar. In a Guitar Player magazine interview published a few years before this song came out, Kath was quoted as saying he had tried slide but was frustrated with it. He obviously figured something out in the interim, as the slide work on this song is sizzlin'.
Although the cuts have appeared on other albums, this compilation also includes some "pre-song chatter." We hear Kath mumbling about taking his sandals off so they wouldn't make much noise and someone telling him to slow down the tempo before he launches into the classic guitar intro to "Dialogue." He sings along with his acoustic guitar a la George Benson before cranking up "Hour in the Shower."
Other cuts include "Once or Twice," "Ain't It Blue," "In the Country," "I Don't Want Your Money" and " Scrapbook." Two songs which I wish could have been included are "Byblos" and "Thank You Great Spirit." "Byblos" is my favorite Terry Kath song and one of my all-time favorite songs - period. However, I'm at a loss to suggest what should have been cut to make room for those two songs.
There are some photos of Kath and Chicago which have never appeared on any Chicago album I've ever seen. The liner notes are excellent. The CD itself features a shot of Kath playing his "Pignose Telecaster" guitar and wearing one of his trademark hockey shirts.
I hope this CD is heard by someone besides Chicago fans. It makes a good case for Kath being one of the best guitarists of the 1960s and 1970s. It raises the question of what Kath could have accomplished had he not died. He certainly would have gone nuts over the incredible leaps in guitar technology. He was a master of using the crude (by today's standards) effects devices of the late 1960s and 1970s. Today's digital guitar processors would have been a dream come true for him.
Nonetheless, Kath left a rich musical legacy which is captured on this CD. Even if you already have all of this music in your collection, consider tracking down this CD. There's nothing like listening to 74 minutes of great guitar. And who knows? the fans of the 1990s just might discover "the innovative guitar of Terry Kath."