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Gary Burger, former guitarist and singer for The Monks, included on Minnesota Beatle Project CD

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BEMIDJI — When the call came last spring from the producers of the “Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 5.” Gary Burger did not think twice about accepting the invitation.

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“I picked one that The Monks used to do in 1965 called, ‘I Feel Fine,’” Burger said. “We recorded it (the song) in a cool little studio in south Minneapolis owned by a guy named Dave Russ. All of the musicians had come to my studio before and the guitar player, Russ Pahl, did a lot of work for me for ‘Bemidji The Middle Years.’”

The Minnesota Beatle Project supports arts education for Minnesota public school students. This year’s CD cover features Paul Bunyan and forest friends and includes such hits as “Nowhere Man,” “Daytripper” and “Please, Please Me.” All the of the artists contributed their time and talents and all proceeds go directly to the project. The CD’s are available locally at Target.

Burger, of course, was invited to play on Volume 5 based on his legendary music roots. Burger, who now lives in Turtle River just north of Bemidji, and a few buddies formed a band while stationed in the U.S. Army in Germany in the early 1960s. The friends’ time in the Army ended about the same time in 1964, so they decided to stay in Europe and ride the wave created by the burgeoning rock and roll scene.

For the first year or so, the band, then dubbed The 5 Torquays after a small coastal town in the south of England, had an agent who booked them to play for a month at a time in different venues where they played American rock and roll.

“If you weren’t playing the music of the Beatles, Kinks, Troggs and the Rolling Stones, people weren’t interested and that’s what happened to us,” Burger said. “We were playing in a club in Frankfurt and the owner told us that we weren’t playing the music people wanted to hear. So we took about a month off and learned 20 new songs and went on the road again. In October of that year, we were playing in Stuttgart in Club Rio when a couple of young German guys were there to see us.”

The birth of The Monks

As it turned out, the Germans were looking to make a name for themselves in advertising and music and decided to work with the band. They took The 5 Torquays and renamed them The Monks with shaved heads and black attire. The original band members were Dave Day (banjo), Roger Johnston (drummer), Larry Clark (organ), Thomas Shaw (bass) and Burger (guitar and lead singer).

“We were a pretty intimidating five-piece band walking down the street in our gear,” said Burger. “The stuff we were playing was a little bit beyond rock and roll and we came to be known as the godfathers of punk.”

The Monks added a banjo to the band, changed the way they played and recorded a demo that the young advertising men marketed to various record companies. An executive out of Hamburg commented the music was strange enough to be heard, so a debut record was made, “Black Monk Time,” in 1966. It did not make much of a splash right away, but the band soon secured a new booking agent who got them gigs opening for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Troggs, The Kinks and others.

Eventually, The Monks had a world tour booked starting in the Far East.

“We had taken a month off, our drummer sent me a note saying that he couldn’t take it anymore and he quit and was back in Texas,” Burger said. “The booking agency said that without the original members it wasn’t a go; they weren’t going to do it. So that pretty much ended the band and we headed back to the states after four years touring Europe.”

In the early 90s, Burger was already living in Turtle River and running a small recording studio. He heard through the pipeline that The Monk’s record was now a collectors item, going for as much as $1,000 for an album in pristine condition, and singles were fetching $250 to $500. Burger was astounded, he said, and he soon began to receive phone calls asking if The Monks would be willing to do reunion shows. Amazingly, their first U.S. show came in 1999 at CaveStomp, a garage rock/punk rock festival in New York City. The band also played a few shows in Spain in 2004 and did a German and Austrian tour in 2007.

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