Terry Alan Kath (January 31, 1946 – January 23, 1978) was an American musician and songwriter, best known as a founding member of the rock band Chicago. He played guitar and sang lead vocals on many of the band’s early hit singles. He has been praised by the band for his guitar skills and Ray Charles-influenced vocal style.
Growing up in a musical family, Kath took up a variety of instruments in his teens, including the drums and banjo. He played bass in a number of bands in the mid-1960s, before settling on the guitar when forming the group that became Chicago. His guitar playing was an important component of the group’s sound from the start of their career, and he sang lead on several of the group’s singles. He used a number of different guitars, but eventually became identified with a Fender Telecaster fitted with a single neck-position humbucker pickup combined with a bridge position angled single-coil pickup and decorated with numerous stickers. Kath was also said to be Jimi Hendrix’s favorite guitarist.
Kath had a self-admitted history of drug abuse, including alcohol. Seraphine knew that Kath had a high tolerance for drugs, but later recalled Kath telling him, “I’m going to get things under control … if I don’t, this stuff is going to kill me.” Chicago bandmates have indicated that he was also increasingly unhappy. However, Guercio has said that Kath was finishing writing a solo album before he died, and Pankow adamantly denies that Kath was suicidal.
By 1978, Kath was regularly carrying guns around and enjoyed shooting them. Around 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Monday, January 23, after a party at the home of roadie and band technician Don Johnson, in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, Kath began to play with his guns. He spun his .38 revolver on his finger, put it to his temple, and pulled the trigger. The gun was not loaded. Johnson warned Kath several times to be careful. Kath then picked up a semi-automatic 9-mm pistol and, leaning back in a chair, said to Johnson, “Don’t worry about it … Look, the clip is not even in it.” Those were his last words. To assuage Johnson’s concerns, Kath showed Johnson the empty magazine. Kath then replaced the magazine in the gun, put the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. Apparently unbeknownst to Kath, the semi-automatic had a round in the chamber. He died instantly from the gunshot, eight days shy of his 32nd birthday.
Kath left a wife Camelia Kath (born Camelia Emily Ortiz), whom he had met in 1974, and a two-year-old daughter, Michelle Kath (now Michelle Kath Sinclair). He married his first wife Pamela Robinson in 1970, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1974.
After his death, his widow married and later divorced actor Kiefer Sutherland. Kath is interred near his mother, Evelyn Kath, in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, in the Gardens of Remembrance.
The group’s members were devastated over losing Kath and strongly considered disbanding, but were persuaded by Doc Severinsen, musical director of the Tonight Show band, that they should continue. Kath’s position as guitarist in Chicago was subsequently filled by Donnie Dacus, then Chris Pinnick, Dawayne Bailey, and Keith Howland. At Chicago concerts, original members Lee Loughnane (trumpet) and Robert Lamm (keyboards) have, on occasion, performed lead vocals originally sung by Terry Kath.