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Chicago: the life and tragic death of Terry Kath

When Chicago founder Terry Kath accidentally shot himself dead, the world was robbed of one of its greatest guitarists.

"What do you think I'm going to do? Blow my brains out?" These were allegedly Terry Kath’s final words before he accidentally put a bullet in his head in 1978. It was never meant to end like this. A fatal gunshot wound. Blood on the walls. A dead body. Lee Loughnane, trumpet player with the US rock band Chicago, vividly recalls January 23, 1978. It was the day his friend, Chicago’s guitarist Terry Kath, shot himself dead after a game of Russian roulette went horribly wrong.

“I took a call from our manager, who said: ‘Lee, are you sitting down?’” Loughnane says now. “He told me what happened. But I had to see for myself. They’d taken Terry’s body away, but there was blood everywhere.”

Terry Kath was just a week shy of his 32nd birthday when he accidentally killed himself. A singer, songwriter and wildly adventurous guitar player, Kath was the bedrock of Chicago, the daredevil group who had been meshing rock, jazz and classical styles across 11 hit albums since 1969.

Prior to his death, though, Kath’s love of booze and cocaine was impacting on his talent and his judgment. Kath’s accidental shooting was a tragic final act for a husband and father, and a musician once described by Jimi Hendrix as “better than me”.

Chicago are still touring and making music. Their last album, Chicago XXXVI: Now, appeared in 2014. But the memory of Terry Kath is in danger of fading with each passing year, which is why in 2012, Kath’s daughter, Los Angeles club DJ Michelle Sinclair, decided to try to make a crowd-funded documentary about him. The result of her work, Searching For Terry: Discovering A Guitar Legend, is now complete and will hopefully find distribution at some point later this year.

“I wanted to discover more about my dad and preserve his legacy,” says Sinclair, who was just two years old when Kath died. “But also because whenever you see those lists of Top Ten guitarists, he’s never on them.”

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