Terry Kath: Wishing You Were Here

The persona of The Blues Blogger has allowed me to do a lot of soul searching and ponder aspects of my life in a way that was never possible before. It’s given me a canvas in which to express myself, and at the same time feature artists that have inspired and motivated me along the way…

Throughout the course of this blog, I always wanted to do an article on guitar legend Terry Kath… This weekend it will be 32 years (on Jan 23rd) since Kath tragically lost his life. And Sunday January 31st marks what would’ve been his 64th birthday, so the timing seemed right.

I could spend days thinking of the right words to express how talented and versatile an artist Kath was, but I’m going to let the music speak mostly for itself… I’m hoping this brief post gives those who remember, and perhaps others not so familiar, a taste of this man’s extraordinary work.

The First Ten Years of My Life

I grew up listening to my brother play guitar to a wide range of blues, jazz and rock tunes. He would practice endlessly into the night the grooves from albums he listened to earlier that day… On Saturday afternoons my brother’s band rehearsed in the basement of our house. I remember on several of those daze way back when they added 2 sax players and worked on some songs from Chicago Transit Authority‘s 1969 debut album.

For many people Terry Kath was one of the main focal points on that record and his finesse at one time even had Jimi Hendrix shaking his head in disbelief… Terry Kath’s incredible guitar work coupled with his distinctive style, tone and phrasing was simply remarkable.

Terry Kath

was born in Chicago on January 31, 1946. He began playing drums and at 10 years old switched to guitar; teaching himself by using his mother’s banjo. He gained inspiration playing along to records by The Ventures, and put together an instrumental group of his own, called The Mystics. After graduating high school, Kath met Walt Parazaider and Danny Seraphine while attending DePaul University and together formed The Missing Links. It was this band and The Big Thing that would later be known as The Chicago Transit Authority. Known for his scorching guitar solos and his astounding ability playing both rhythm and lead guitar, Kath was held in very high regard by many of his peers and inspired many guitarists along the way.

Terry Kath’s guitar playing and vocals continued to be heard on such signature Chicago hits as “25 or 6 to 4,” “Make Me Smile.” and “Wishing You Were Here.” Kath would appear on a total of 11 Chicago recordings from 1969 through 1977; all achieving at minimum a gold certification. Original band members Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera and Kath formed a group with a unique vision and the result was a diverse powerhouse that created, “a new rock sound with horns.”

As most people already know, the band shortened its name to Chicago for their second album and eventually became a pop ballad juggernaut. While they gained massive appeal, many of their fans went in a different direction after the loss of Kath. However for older music lovers and rock historians that first album has gone into the history books as a hugely creative, experimental and very musical piece of work on the same level as some of the best music ever produced in a debut effort.

Chicago Transit Authority or CTA was actually the first double LP I could call my own and a gift from my brother when he moved out of the room we had shared all our life… Over 40 years later this LP stands out as a major influence and also brings cool memories of growing up in changing times…

Terry Kath has played a huge significance in remembering moments from my past. Does Kath’s music play any significance in time for you? Do you have any favorite songs that strike a chord? If so I’d love to hear from you.

Please share this post with others you think may enjoy it. Let’s not forget this very important artist in music history. Your comments are always welcome…

Remembering the Times,

The Blues Blogger

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14 years ago

I had forgotten how much I loved Chicago! Their music was unique and incredible, always. Never got old. Listening to it again, 40 years later, I’ve fallen in love with it all over again.

I saw them live in Detroit in 1970. One of the best concerts I’d ever seen. Don’t remember the name of the venue — it was a theatre that someone had taken the seats out of. We all sat on the floor and that was just fine.

Thanks for the memories!

14 years ago

…. of course “Chicago Transit Authority” …. their “debut” album into the “then… ever-evolving music scene”…. a brilliant masterpiece of rock & roll with horns…. with a “symphonic” sound !! A new genre of rock & roll…. almost unheard of for that “special” time back then !! Thank you BluesBlogger…. for reminding us all…. of those very special days in music history…. the “BluesBlogger101 Course” of Musical Discovery !! 🙂 🙂

Marcel Lemieux/starflight

Chicago has always been a favourite group of mine…they were and still are perfect..i listen to their albums off and on…well mp3 now..actually i never knew who was who in the group….i just accepted the harmony of it all…now with your article and video clip here i know a bit more…indeed very good musician ….thanks

14 years ago

Great blog, and great post about Terry Kath! He was a killer guitar player!

I dig your Ruthie Foster post too! Keep it coming!!!

Deb Gray
14 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this blog! Sorry I didn’t read it sooner. Terry Kath fans are welcome to check out the fansite–www.terrykath.ning.com. This May we helped coordinate a Terry Kath Tribute Concert that was at Taft High School (Kath’s alma mater) and featured performances by Danny Seraphine, Jim Guercio, and Kenny Cetera. We are working on next year’s event which will be at a different, larger venue.

Bill Janis
Bill Janis
13 years ago

I worked with Chicago many years at Reprise, and they were always my favorite band, out of the MANY, to work with. Sadly, it was after Terry, but the respect I felt for this band was based on a powerful musical heritage. Even though some on the staff didn’t get it (because they weren’t as “cool” as the Smiths or Replacements) it never bothered me. I knew they were missing the truth.

Thanks for these videos. I especially like Wishing.

13 years ago

I grew up in Syracuse, New York and graduated High School in 1970. My dad had been a Navy Radarman/Radio Op in WWII in the Pacific, went on to get his Electrical Engineering degree, a Ham and CB Radio enthusiast, (I had my 3rd Class FCC license when I was 12 because of him) and huge audiophile. We had the first FM radio receiver in the neighborhood (as well as the first Color TV). Guess you could say he was the modern equivalent of a geek. He loved Jazz, Big Band Music and Comedy. In 1964 he bought the first Ford Mustang in Central New York and and a couple of years later on a visit to New York city bought an 8 track tape player that he immediately installed by himself in the Mustang. The very first 8 track tape he bought was Blood, Sweat and Tears. The second was Doc Severinsen and the third Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass’s Whipped Cream. He LOVED horns! Christmas of 1969 he gave me the CTA’s first album. I had actually taken a trek to NYC and gifted him the same album in 8 track that I bought there. A girl I had been dating at the time loved CTA and played it constantly, wearing out a couple of albums and later on 8 track and cassette tapes. My favorite song of all from the album is South California Purples. But I must have listened to parts of that double LP at least every day for the better part of two years. It always brings a smile to my face remembering those days and a musical connection that I shared with my Dad. He passed away in 1981 at 55, way too early.

Keep up the good work.

4 years ago

I love the early recordings. The later years are a wash. No guts. All wishy washy, IMHO.