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Gary Burger of the Monks Dies

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Gary Burger, the frontman for the cult garage band the Monks, died on Friday (March 14) from pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

The Monks were formed as the Torquays in 1964 by American soldiers stationed in Germany. According to a 2009 interview, the decision to change the name and adopt the look of monks — complete with black robes, nooses and tonsures — was the decision of marketing executives. “We didn’t like it that much, the haircut,” he said. “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.”

Their lone record, 1966’s ‘Black Monk Time,’ went nowhere and they broke up shortly afterward. But its raucous mixture of guitar feedback, swirling organ and electric banjo made it a favorite of crate-digging record collectors and like-minded musicians for decades. In 2006 an award-winning documentary, ‘Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback,’ was made in Germany. The renewed interest in the band resulted in the 2009 reissue of ‘Black Monk Time’ and a collection of demos and early singles. Burger was nonetheless modest about his status as an unsung hero of rock n’ roll.

“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.”

From 2006 until his death, Burger served as mayor of Turtle River, a town of about 75 in northern Minnesota.

Next: See Other Rockers We've Lost in 2014

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