Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Wick Fisher
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Goodbye, Monty Lee Wilkes

Wick's World


This fall, Monty Lee Wilkes passed away at the young age of 54. This high school graduate of Barnum, Minnesota, became known as one of the world’s greatest audio engineers. He was a sound man — the unseen member in the band who worked his butt off and all he got for it was a smaller butt.

Monty joined his dad’s band, the Leisure Brothers, as their sound man. His dad pointed out how his house was filled with musical magazines from which a self-taught Monty became one of the most skilled audio engineers in the world. His career took off with The Replacements. Soon he was working with Nirvana.

Grunge had been introduced to the music world and audio engineer Monty Wilkes was riding this new wave of punk. Although Monty was the sound man, he was much more than that. His job had morphed into the unpleasant task of becoming Kurt Cobain’s babysitter. He used those skills later in life with Brittany Spears and Prince.

One of the greatest quotes in rock and roll history came from Monty upon returning to Nirvana’s hotel room. With the television lying in pieces, he asked Nirvana just what the heck they thought they were doing. Cobain replied they were trying to throw the television out the window, but it wouldn’t open so they broke it on the floor.

Monty’s disgusted reply, “A real punk-rock band would have thrown it through the window!”

Monty left the tour. Nirvana’s world was imploding and he could no longer be a part of it. Cobain had plunged deep into heroin and even deeper into depression. For all those years in the music business, Monty prided himself on staying drug-free. He witnessed firsthand drug use and the consequences.

Two weeks before Kurt Cobain ended his life with a shotgun blast, Monty appeared at Howie and Sandy Wilkes' door. Monty needed to talk.

“I had to get out of there,” Monty told his parents. "Something bad is about to happen.”

His father, Howie Wilkes, a lifetime musician, introduced him to the world of rock and roll at age 12 by taking him to a Grateful Dead concert. Although Howie passed on his love of music to his son, Monty never became much of a musical player. Although he played in a band called Iron Youth, his talents as a musician can be summed up by this statement from Moose Lake’s legendary roadie, “Lightning,” who once said, “You think they get paid for that?”

It was widely known that Monty and Prince often clashed while working together. It wasn’t because they didn’t like each other. It was due to the fact both were perfectionists. Despite the spats over sound, Howie said Monty was the only member outside of Prince’s close friends who ever called him by his first name. That shows the respect Monty deserved and got from his peers in the music industry.

Each Christmas, a local bartender would cut a CD and give it to Monty. To put it kindly, the music was drastically bad. Once during break at a Kid Rock concert, Monty decided to give the bartender his due. He played the harsh CD with the volume at full tilt. Sure enough, Kid Rock came up to Monty and asked, “Just what was that?”

Monty stumbled around trying to give an answer when Kid Rock said, “Keep playing it!”

This is a microcosm of the many bands for which Monty was the audio engineer. Carrie Underwood, Mariah Carrie, The B-52s, Alice in Chains, The Go-Go’s, Jennifer Lopez, Paul Metso, Lisa Marie Presley, REM and old-timers like Tommy Dorsey, Englebert Humperdinck, Taj Mahal and BB King.

A few days before he left us, the legendary night club First Avenue honored Monty with a star. The sound guy is usually the unseen hero. Although a handsome, charismatic character, Monty played the role quite well. While on tour in Europe, Monty once stated how amazed he was about all the attention he would receive from the female groupies over there.

Monty would say, “I don’t play in the band, I’m just the sound guy.”

He said a groupie once replied to him, “Over here, if you’re with the band, you are in the band.”

This certainly held true for Monty. While many of the great rock stars of our era would pile on the coal, Monty was the engineer who drove the train. He is a great example to the world of music that “It is not how long you live your life; it is how full you live your life.” Monty was one fat cat.


Reader Comments

Rockstar writes:

That was an awesome article hats off Monty well deserved in all your adventures your spirit rock on forever


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