Local Current Blog

Gary Burger of the Monks passes away

As the lead singer of the pioneering ’60s garage band the Monks, Gary Burger is often cited as one of the unsung heroes of early punk rock and one of the originators of guitar feedback. And as the mayor of Turtle River, Minn., Burger spent the later part of his life modestly tucking away his status as a musical trailblazer, intent on living quietly and occasionally remembering back to wilder days gone by.

It was a fascinating dual life, and one that Burger laughed about when I spoke to him in 2009 for a City Pages profile. Even when I told him that famous modern rock bands like Green Day and the Beastie Boys cited the Monks as inspiration, he politely declined to take any credit for his band’s enduring influence.

“We all knew that we were doing a different sort of music, but as far as being a forerunner band—that was the furthest from our minds. We really weren’t thinking that,” he said. “We were thinking that we were playing rock and roll with a twist, and the twist was the electric banjo, the feedback, the drums, basically not using cymbals but lots of tom toms. We had no idea that we were creating a new movement. And I’m still thinking, hey, we were just a rock and roll band that really had a lot of fun, and was able to be lucky enough—or unlucky enough, depending on your point of view—to work on the album.”

The Monks formed overseas in 1964, when the band’s five members had been shipped to Germany for GI duty. Soon after they were discharged from the Army and started playing the German club circuit—where another rock ‘n’ roll band, the Beatles, had gotten their start—and out of sheer boredom they began incorporating bizarre sounds like amplified banjo and squealing guitar feedback into their shows.

Monks_2They also got a look: black robes tied shut with white rope nooses, and hair that was shorn straight down the middle of their heads into traditional monk tonsures.

“We didn’t like it that much, the haircut,” Burger chuckled. “You had to shave the thing almost every day, or else you’d get a stubble like a guy gets after a day of not shaving. So we all had electric razors—it was a funny sight, you’d see us all in our room shaving our heads.”

In recent years, the Monks’ underground cult following bubbled back up to the surface after Light in the Attic reissued the band’s one and only studio album, Black Monk Time, which had become an invaluable collector’s item. And Burger himself had started playing shows again with other members of the Twin Cities garage rock scene; just this past December, his cover of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” was included on the fifth volume of the Minnesota Beatle Project compilation. Nearly 50 years after the Monks were active, Burger’s music has been connecting with a whole new generation of audiophiles and music fans, a sure sign that the Monks’ legacy will live on.

“It amazes me that the beat goes on,” he said. “It just keeps going and going.”

Burger passed away early this morning at the age of 72 from pancreatic cancer.

Gary Burger (right) with Keith Patterson at the 331 Club in 2012 (photo by Andrea Swensson/MPR)
  • Mitch Blessing

    Love to the best step-father-in-law ever. He was working in the studio just this week… Keep him in your hearts.

  • Joe Hastings

    He was brilliant- at the end of a three day recording session up at Gary’s place, my band at the time was listening to final mixes. Gary said, “well I’ve been listening to you guys for three days, how about we listen to some of my new stuff?” We all became silent like little boys whose teacher just said to be quiet and listen. As he threw on a track, it started out like a creepy insane political pep rally with a megaphone style vocal sound with huge crowd responses that launched seamlessly into some of the coolest rock I’ve heard. I won’t ever forget that moment. His energy, style, persona, and musical contributions over the past 50 years will be looked at by many generations as a quintessential underground icon of artistic intelligent provocative brilliance. He was awesome…

  • matt olson

    Sad to hear of his passing. Loved that I saw him play. Learned of the Monks via Keith Patterson way back (who should be credited in the above photograph.) Keith was a Monks evangelist and did so much for the band being “re-discovered.” I’ll always be grateful to Keith for having turned me on.

  • Nathan Ex

    Gary was the coolest ppl Ive ever met, he recorded a demo for a band I was in a few years back, during which we had to take a break as he had to do an interview over the phone live on a radio station in England somewhere, he will be missed…….

  • Louise Hockenson

    Our sympathy to the family.

  • Rick Fricano

    I knew 2 of the Monks. Eddie (Tom Shaw) was my Producer and friend for many years and Gary my
    engineer to 40 of my tracks we recorded in 2 days. I slept on the floor in his studio, in Turtle River, then he took me for a boat ride. I wish I hadn’t felt so sick. Great guys.

  • Jeanne Patterson

    So sorry to read of his passing. Prayers to his family.

  • cate Belleveau

    …a highly loved member of our north woods arts’ community … the man knew how to give graciously , embrace humility , and delight all with whom his path crossed … we will so miss him … our love to Cindy , a wondrous woman , and family …

  • Bryan Aaker

    I am sorry to see of Gary’s passing. He was an innovator and his record with the Monks should be in everybody’s collection. My old college friend, Dan Blegen (Blegen and Sayer…remember!?) was a friend from the early days.

  • darrintodd

    Truly a shame, a loss to his family & great loss to music previously undefined.

  • Lily Winter

    Gary was nothing but completely kind to me. Shattering.

  • Teri Randy Bauer

    He will be greatly missed I play keys for Gary on his new songs burgermonk along with adding keyboards tracks on his movies also play sax for him also on a lot of differnt projects went hunting with him on times off when Iam not on the road he was a very great guy Randy Bauer

  • Gary Frei

    Very sad news. I was privileged to attend The Monks one and only UK gig in London some 8 yeas ago. That night the band played with such energy and joy, producing a sound of power and rawness that will stay with me for many years to come.
    Thank you for a great night and my condolences to all Gary’s family and friends.
    I shall now go and give Black Monk Time a spin.

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    He will live forever in many ways. Our condolences the same.

  • Matt

    I was in a really rough relationship one year, which required me spending a lot of time in a girlfriend’s friend’s bar, waiting for her to do an obscene amount of drugs with her friends before leaving. The one thing I took away from it all was one night hearing a DJ play “Shut Up!” by the Monks. I walked over almost involuntarily and asked what it was. It was so mesmerizing. Thanks for the music!