“All I wanted to do was play those rock and roll chords.” – Terry Kath
Terry Kath was, unbelievably, one of the most underrated rock guitarists of all time. Acting as the soloist, lead guitarist as well as bandleader for the rock group Chicago, Kath produced some of the most transcendental guitar solos that could positively blow your mind. And to think he was completely self-taught? That’s right. No professional guitar lessons. It was all him and his natural talent.
Kath had a long history with Chicago, even before it became what it was. What originally started out as The Big Thing, after multiple changes in lineup and undergoing a series of handovers, eventually the band became known as Chicago Transit Authority in 1968 and then, finally, simply ‘Chicago’.
The band have been one of the longest-running and most successful rock groups in the world. To date, they have released over 37 albums and received multiple awards and accolades. Terry Kath’s contribution to Chicago has been extraordinary.
Here, we explore some of Kath’s most impressive solos on the guitar.
The top five Terry Kath guitar solos:
‘Song of the Evergreens’ (1974)
From the album Chicago VII released in 1974, ‘Song of the Evergreens’ has an almost breezy, atmospheric vibe to it, featuring vocals by trumpet player Lee Loughnane. Accompanying him were Robert Lamm on the keyboard and Terry Kath on the guitar.
The song, for the most part, is pretty basic. While Loughnane is in no way a bad singer, it just felt like there was something missing on the vocals. On the contrary, Robert’s slight out-of-tune piano turned out to be perfect for the track. And, as always, Kath on the guitar was phenomenal. Albeit short, the song fades away with a final solo guitar piece played by Kath.
‘Free Form Guitar’ (1969)
‘Free Form Guitar’ was a solo guitar track by Terry Kath on the album The Chicago Transit Authority, which was released in 1969. Chicago fans have a love-hate relationship with the song, probably because it’s the Terry-Kath-and-his-guitar duo that we are talking about here. You’ll either think it is mind-blowing or it’ll just be a major turnoff.
This guitar piece in itself sounds like (bear with the analogy here for a second) a racing car on the tracks doing lap after lap at a thousand miles per hour, with sparks coming off the engine and the tires are melting from being overheated until he then wins the race. What follows afterwards is just a thoroughly overworked engine being worked overtime. It’s brutal, and it certainly isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.
Another song from their debut album The Chicago Transit Authority, ‘Introduction’ has been a perfect blend of rock and jazz, much like what the band’s sound primarily consisted. It was a mélange of genres including jazz, blues, rock and roll and pop. And all these influences made their way into their ‘Introduction’ beautifully.
The song begins with a grand horn piece, and meets with a rhythmic but smooth first stanza. The vocals, the drums, the trumpets are as lively as they could be. The subtle jazzy bridge was the perfect addition, and Terry Kath worked his magic on the guitar is mesmerising as always.
‘Make Me Smile’ (1970)
There’s just something about the trumpet playing in the background in this song that just lifts the spirit — not to mention when it converges with the guitar solo, which then fades into a drum piece and, of course, the vocals.
‘Make Me Smile’ is a song where we find Kath’s skills as a vocalist as well as a guitarist both come to life. The song was one of the singles on their self-titled album Chicago, released in 1970, and evidently, it was a hit. Even with a run time of 4:25, it makes you feel like you just couldn’t get enough of it.
‘25 Or 6 To 4’ (1970)
The ultimate masterpiece, ’25 Or 6 To 4’ is a demonstration of Terry Kath’s genius as a guitarist. It is a grand ensemble of rhythm, rock, jazz all in their greatest glory. The crystal-clear vocals, the harmonies, are simply incredible.
Kath’s guitar solo is otherworldly. There are no two ways about it. Kath’s guitar pieces feel so extremely organic… like it’s a part of him. He knows his instruments like the back of his hand and that is probably why he is so fluent in it. Kath’s guitar solos truly speak to you, and ’25 Or 6 to 4’ is a perfect example of that.