The year is 1967. Jimi Hendrix is at the Whisky A Go-Go in Hollywood. He’s checking out this new band and says to their sax player, “Your guitarist is better than me.”
The sax man is Walt Parazaider. The guitarist is Terry Kath. The band was Chicago Transit Authority, later shortened to just Chicago. The rest is music history and today they are recognized by being elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with NWA, Cheap Trick, Deep Purple and Steve Miller.
It’s been quite a ride for these guys. Forty-Eight years, Thirty-Six studio albums, Six lives albums, and over 100 million records sold. Quite a legacy.
You’re probably wondering what took so long for this day…me, too. I’ve been on the Chicago for the R&R HOF bandwagon for years…hell, I’ve been leading that bandwagon…and yet I understand why.
There’s the early years of Chicago. The influential years. In the late 60’s, you didn’t hear rock bands with horn sections. It just wasn’t done. Chicago did it. It was one of things that attracted a guy like Hendrix to this band. A horn section as good as the Memphis sound with a guitarist that rates among the greatest of all time. You can hear this in their first few albums with songs like “25 or 6 to 4” and “Questions 67 and 68”. Plus, these guys could play live. Their early concerts were fantastic.
But then came the Peter Cetera era. It happened even before the tragic death Terry Kath. Cetera’s love ballads were taking over from the songs of Kath and Robert Lamm. Cheesy love songs like “If You Leave Me Now” became the norm for this band. Sure it made them a lot of money and those songs were their biggest hits but this was the point where critics lost their respect for Chicago and long time fans like me, lost interest in the band.
Still, you can’t deny the history, the influence and amount of music. This piece was originally going to be a look at Chicago’s Ten Greatest songs. I’m now up to thirty and still counting. Very few bands and artists have a catalog as extensive as Chicago.
It’s a day of celebration for these guys and their fans and yet I can’t help but wonder, what if Terry Kath hadn’t been messing around with a gun. We’ll never know what might have been.
Congrats Chicago. Welcome to Cleveland.
Saturday we’ll look at their greatest songs. Here’s a look at some of the best guitarists of all time. Terry Kath was an honorable mention.
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