Terry Kath’s talent as a guitarist, which he exhibited during the classic rock era, earned him the recognition of many renowned guitarists. Referred to as The Best Guitarist in the Universe by Jimi Hendrix, Terry Kath’s legacy in music lives on as Chicago continues with their music.
“What do you think I’m gonna do? Blow my brains out?” were Chicago guitarist and singer Terry Kath’s last words as he accidentally triggered a supposedly empty pistol to his head, dying at the young age of 31.
The Universe’s Best Guitarist
Many people would mention the names of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or Jeff Beck as a response to who was the greatest guitarist during the classic rock era. With that said, only a few would mention Chicago’s guitarist, Terry Kath, who Jimi Hendrix named as the best guitarist in the universe. (Source: Classic Rock History)
Born on January 31, 1946, in Chicago, Terry Alan Kath emerged as the son of two music-loving parents, Ray and Evelyn. Terry Kath eventually learned to play numerous musical instruments such as accordion, banjo, and the piano. Inspired by George Benson and The Ventures, Kath soon played the guitar.
In 1967, Kath, Lee Loughnane, Danny Seraphine, Walter Parazaider, Robert Lamm, Jimmy Pankow, and Peter Cetera formed The Big Thing, a band that soon changed its name to Chicago. Chicago’s first meeting with Jimi Hendrix occurred when Hendrix and The Experience’s Mitch Mitchell visited Chicago’s gig at the Whisky A Go-Go. In this encounter, Hendrix mentioned to Parazaider that Kath was better than him.
Chicago got its break when an edited version of Chicago’s Make Me Smile reached the Top 10 in the United States. Chicago eventually became famous, releasing numerous hit albums. With their fame came the band members’ rise in drug use, and in addition to Kath’s cocaine addiction, he soon became heavily involved with guns. (Source: Louder Sound)
The Tragic Death of Terry Kath
In a Louder Sound article written for Terry Kath in 2015, Danny Seraphine mentions Kath’s gun addiction, with the piece continuing to state that the bandmates feared Kath’s fixation on guns.
He collected guns and started taking them everywhere. And guns and drugs are a bad combination.Danny Seraphine
In The Eyes That Smiled Beach Boys biography, writer Paul Mendoza remembers when Kath played Russian Roulette at a party. When Beach Boy member Carl Wilson removed the gun from Kath’s hand, Kath became violent and punched Carl’s face.
On January 23, 1978, a few days before his 32nd birthday, Kath arrived in Canoga Park, California, at Don Johnson’s apartment. Johnson, a Chicago roadie, regularly did drugs with Kath, and during this night, Kath had already been on cocaine for some days.
Kath brought his guns into Johnson’s apartment, and there, he started cleaning them on the kitchen table. As he was ridding bullets from his 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, John advised him to be careful. In response, Kath showed the pistol’s clip, which would render the gun unable to fire.
With the belief that the gun chamber was empty, Kath began waving the gun in the air after putting the clip back in. “What do you think I’m gonna do? Blow my brains out?” were the words Kath uttered before accidentally triggering the gun, which previously had one bullet left.
As the band members coped with his death, they debated whether they would continue as a band. The band remained after Kath’s passing. Even with Kath gone, his legacy persists in Chicago’s music. (Source: Louder Sound)