Artist News Obituaries

Gary Burger 1943-2014

By | Published on Wednesday 19 March 2014

Gary Burger

Gary Burger, frontman of cult 60s garage rock band The Monks, died at the weekend, aged 70. He had been suffering with pancreatic cancer.

Growing up in Minnesota, Burger enlisted in the US Army after leaving high school, and later was shipped to Germany. Here he met his future bandmates, Larry Clark, Eddie Shaw, Dave Day and Roger Johnston and, in 1964, they formed a group called The Five Torquays, mainly performing covers of the popular acts of the day.

However, they quickly began to experiment with their own music, developing a rhythmic sound that used a lot of feedback – a sound described by Shaw in a 2009 interview with CMU as a “deconstruction” of rock n roll. To match their strange new sound, they took on a strange appearance too – donning cassocks, tying nooses around their necks, shaving the tops of their heads and renaming themselves The Monks.

After being discharged from the army, the group stayed in Germany and began to tour Europe, as well as recording their sole album ‘Black Monk Time’. However, the pressures of touring took their toll and the band split in 1967, ahead of a tour of Asia.

Burger returned to Minnesota, attending the Bemidji State University and later taking a job digging septic systems. He also built up a recording studio over a number of years, where he worked with new bands, and since 2006 had been serving as the mayor of the small, 77 person strong town of Turtle River, where he had settled.

In the late 90s, Burger discovered that The Monks had gained something of a cult following, with original vinyl copies of ‘Black Monk Time’ exchanging for up to $1000 a piece.

This led to a brief live reunion of the original line-up in 1999 for a show in New York. Later the band performed in Spain in 2004, and then Austria and Germany in 2007, though without the full line-up. Drummer Robert Johnston died in 2004, while banjo player Dave Day followed in 2008. Burger also played some solo shows in recent years, largely consisting of Monks and Five Torquays songs.

Over the decades, The Monks were cited as an influence by artists including Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, The White Stripes, Beastie Boys, The Dead Kennedys and The Fall. For many now, their introduction to the band comes via YouTube videos of German teenagers attempting to dance to their music during a 1966 TV performance (see below).

Burger’s funeral took place in Turtle River yesterday. He is survived by wife Cindy Burger, two sons from his first marriage Adam and Micke, sister Barbara Stephens, two aunts, two step-daughters and two granddaughters.